Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Information Aesthetics

Found a website that has a great variety of data visualization. The website update continuously and have a very stunning visual and interesting information.

Here's some examples

How Obama Won: Showing the Electoral Shifts through Visual Animation 

Explore the Words Spoken at the Republican Convention

Exploding NBA Basketball Shot Heat Map Analysis

Fat or Fiction: Nutritional Values Depicted as Food Based Infographics

The Historical Evolution of Europe's Borders

By Tongtach Tupavong

Monday, November 5, 2012

Beauty VS Function (Part 2) - Tongtach

Typography plays a big roll as a fundamental in the world of communication. From one letter that can expresses subjectivity feeling; to formal static message; to words that convey readability and show poetry harmony. In other words, typography contains a lot of information by itself. If one letter could deliver that much information, what’s going to happened if a huge among of them stay and work together? Does typography will lose its beauty, readability or can’t express feeling anymore? This leads us to the next challenge in the world of communication, information design.

Since the world in the present day is full of endless message and information, so we can’t deny that designing information is the necessary field. It’s a challenge for designers who are taking care of information design. Because they have to have a clear understanding of the message first, which might be the information that doesn’t relate to their field or hard to understand. Then you have to manipulate it to be as easy to understand as possible while doesn’t lose its original meaning or purpose. From this reason, information design is the next step for how typography balances its beauty and function in the design world.

Edward Tufte could be the very first one who notices that we have to do something with this boring massive text of information. As one of the pioneer in information design world, his works are focusing on data visualization and translate it into simpler format such as charts, graphs, or diagrams.[1] Tufte’s chart doesn’t only simplified the mass among of information, but also gives life to it. For example of this chart about history of pop/rock music, it shows the flow of information of music history, while giving sense of movement. As music is a moving subject especially pop/rock culture, it should be fun and lively presented instead of static information format.[2] 

Of course some information should be presented in formal format. For example, the chart of Napoleon’s army in the Russian Campaign of 1812, by adjusting some tiny elements like positioning group of text and old style type choice, gives the feeling like this data come out from the 1812 war document. While giving an interesting visual, the chart function as an information design that easy to follow.[3]

From the examples by Edward Tufte, information is not just a line of text or data that wait for you to go to understand it. It has character and identity, so it’s our job as a designer to emphasize their identity, while keeping the core of its meaning and purpose clear. Tufte’s designs are successful because he has a clear understanding about the message and he can deliver it in an effective way. Although understand the message is important, but there’s endless way to execute it, the other thing that you have to understand is your audience. Tufte’s strength is not only he in charges the information, but also as an instructor, he understands his target and delivers it efficiently.

            Edward Tufte could be the master of physical information designer, but information could be conceptual as well. I don’t see who’s better than the current president of the Rhode Island School of Design, John Maeda. Like David Carson, at first Maeda didn’t have background in art or design field. He studied in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT, where earned him priceless experience in different perspective. Maeda gained PhD in Design Science from the University of Tsukuba in Japan later, which now he has the ability of logical computation and art and design.[4] By this reason, it makes Maeda different from Carson. While Carson uses his own understanding and inborn artistic skill to create his works without art and design at all, Maeda has a deep understanding on both rational and conceptual thinking.

Maeda always inspire by the concept of infinity. As his works usually imply a hint of this concept. And digital could be the closest medium that can bring him to the idea.[5] For example of his work that shows his conceptual thinking, computer engineering, and abstract expression is, “CD Crash.” It’s an installation of PowerMac G3 that continue the loop of eject CD action (infinity concept) for three months. This work is an example that Maeda has a strong relation with technology in both conceptual and be able to present it in an art form.[6]

Back to typography and data visualization, his work for celebrate thirty years of Shiedo Advertising Films is a good example to show how he deals with information by his own method. The work contains three types of data: visual, audio, and film titles. By arranging all the information together and present in an abstract way, the work gives a sense of the film company. The sound wave align on the bottom, the square that pack of film visual, and the flow of film titles show the fundamental elements of film industry. The massive among of very tiny text and visual could show that the company has a lot of works during the thirty years in film industry. Besides the stunning visual and deep conceptual thinking, this work has the feeling of computer coding generated and sense of infinity, which is Maeda’s signature.[7]

In conclusion, in term of information design, function should leads beauty. Since understanding is more important than artistic satisfaction, but information won’t function without beauty. So it comes to balance it, but how we know this is the perfect balance? Where is the line that tells us? I don’t think the perfect design exist, as long as we, human is a subjective being. There’s no way to design something that everyone love. The best way to compromise this issue I found so far is the design that “most” of people love. I believe that’s the good design. I believe that’s the balance between function and beauty.


1.Digitalnature, Information Design: Edward Tufte. (accessed 5 Nov. 2012).
2.Edward Tufte, Popular Music: The Classic Graphic by Reebee Garofalo. (accessed 5 Nov. 2012).
3.Edward Tufte, Poster: Napoleon’s March. (accessed 5 Nov. 2012).
4.Holly Willis, Biography: John Maeda. (accessed 5 Nov. 2012).
5.John Maeda, Creative Code: Space (New York: Themes & Hudson Inc., 2004), 17-18.
6.John Maeda, Creative Code: Resume (New York: Themes & Hudson Inc., 2004), 7.
7.John Maeda, Maeda@Media: Static (New York: Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., 2000), 162-165.

Beauty VS Function (Part 1 Edited) - Tongtach

Design is a social activity, if you doubt on that please look around. Look at the label on the bottle of water you are drinking, the pen you are holding, or these lines of text you are reading right now. Everything around us is communicating with us. We receive messages and participate with them no matter we do it on purpose or not. But which kind of design element can do that? Actually every element plays their part, grid system arranges information, pictures call viewer’s attention, color expresses emotion, but one of the most talkative elements that interact with people is typography. It has been doing its job in design for a very long time, keep and send information, express feeling, teach history class, and so on. Nevertheless, social’s need change continuously, so typography has to adjust itself through different period of time. How typography manages to balance its beauty and function from the past to present and what’s going to happen in the future.

In the past, typography concerned on beauty and decoration, since it was the imitation from nature. So it has more sense of emotional feeling than we see in the present day. However, the changed of typography follow the social’s need and invention of technology. For example, the richly influence from religion in medieval era shows the use of shiny gold color and decoration, the invention of Gutenberg’s printing system, and so on. Typography changed in many ways from the past especially during 19th century. To adjust itself to the coming of modern world, it changed to be more function and objective. Even though, what Marinetti did in Les mots en liberte futurists (The Futurist Words-In-Freedom)(1919) was bent and twisted typefaces to express speed and aggression according to his poetry. This shows typography still carried the idea of emotion’s expression from the past.[1] 

Different from the past, in modern era typography has to concern on legibility and readability more than beauty like the old typography. This moment of changed, it created transitional typeface that concern both decoration of old style typography and high readability of modern typography such as Baskerville. El Lissitzky believed that, the idea of art will become materialism and can be mass produce in this world of industry.[2] So it comes to consideration of how to compromise the balance between functional and printing price. By that reason, to put a large among of text in printing industry, typography has to be simpler, so the use of geometric typefaces was the answer. The foundation geometric typeface, Futura by Paul Renner created by using all geometric proportion. Inspired by the Bauhaus philosophy, it shows a strong sense of simplicity and geometry shape, which still popular in countless corporate logo, commercial products, and advertisements in the present day, such as Louis Vuitton, Red Bull, Ikea, and so on.[3]

In the present day, typography has more variety of usage. Since there is a lot of differences media invented. For example, text that appears on digital screen instead of papers, moving text in motion media or animation, and so on. Also audience for typography has more variety than the past. There is no rule or standard, design depends on what you want to communicate with your audience. Even Comic Sans could be used efficiently if you use in a proper way. In other words, beauty and function of typography in the present day depends on target audience, if it communicates to your audience, it is beautiful and functional. One example that deals with subjectivity and objectivity very well was David Carson. Carson expressed his subjectivity by breaking all typography rules. He deconstructed typefaces, broke grids, and crashed text layout. With a tiny design background, he has no limit in design. He sat the whole article in Dingbat font once, while he was working for Ray Gun magazine.[4] Of course the whole article is unreadable, but that grab people’s attention to the magazine and makes them curious and want to know about the article. As Ray Gun was a magazine for teenager, it needs a strong sense of confidence instead of formal layout. However, while post-modernism and young generation love Carson’s works, but his works against the idea of practical designer, which design should aim for perfection instead of subjective expression. It’s still a debate until this present day, that Carson is a designer who worth to study or not, but without a doubt that his name has brought up to be an example countless times in design class.[5]

If the world keeps moving this fast, in the near future, typography would be faster and easier to consume as well. As you can see in phone’s text message or informal message, that the message has shorten in an inappropriate way. Such as “how are you” write in “how r u” or use symbol and emoticon. This might be a sign that affect typography in the future. We write and read less and less, and the book may be eliminated altogether. The time may come when we have to learn to communicate by electronic or extrasensory means. Again, that typography might change according to our need.[6]

In conclusion, typography has been changing for a long time in human history. It represents our life in differences period of time. As in the past, writing, reading, and book material is for rich or noble people so the typography at that time concerned on beauty and decoration. When time change, printing and digital technology came in and reading is for everyone, typography changed to be more functional than the past. In my opinion, we are living in the world of communication. If typography can send messages and interact with people, I consider it beautiful and functional.


1. F.T. Marinetti, Graphic Design Theory: Manifesto of Futurism, ed. Helen Armstrong (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2009), 20-24.
2. El Lissitzky, Graphic Design Theory: Our Book, ed. Helen Armstrong (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2009), 25-30.
3. Skylar Challend, Know Your Type: Futura. (accessed 12 Oct. 2012).
4. Exhibitions/Events Magazine, Helvetica VS Zapf Dingbats, 2012. (accessed 12 Oct. 2012).
5. Adam Banks, An interview with David Carson, wordpress/david- carson-riverside-quark-macuserinterview/1175/ (accessed 12 Oct. 2012).
6. Herbert Bayer, Graphic Design Theory: On Typography, ed. Helen Armstrong (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2009), 44-48.

Text In Digital Art- Jade (Part 1 Edited)

New technology is constantly developing, growing and providing innovative means of conceptualizing and creating art. In this Information Age, common media including film, video, audio, installation, performance, texts and computers are practiced by the collaborative artists and are collected as a broad range of practices under the term Digital Art. British artists Jon Thomson and Alison Craighead express their concepts on human foibles and society through digital media that features text as well as making use of all manners of interactive features that require the involvement of the viewer. These London-based artists are known for working with multiple media such as video, sound, installations and online art using communication systems and technology in their creative practice.

Artists are the foremost to reflect on the culture and technology of their respective times. They have been adopting and adapting the use of technology to express their concepts prior to the 1980s. The Digital Revolution was officially ignited in the 1990s.[1] During this period, the emergence of the World Wide Web and the increased availability of personal computers led to a new form of expression with a global platform for exchange and communities of interest. Technology’s constant progress with enhancement, speed, and affordability is the driving force behind the computer revolution. 

Consequently, it has seeped into the entire culture and currently provides fast access to information. This is an invaluable avenue that artists can utilize to take their message to the public, mass produce, mass- circulate and distribute their concepts.  Thomson and Craighead are fascinated by the breakdown of the boundaries of the global communication networks and its transformative effect on the individuals to perceive and comprehend the world around us.[2]
 Thomson and Craighead’s Attributed Text (1997) was created in the earlier years of the web featuring text. It expounds the use of text with hypertext links which were supported by web browsers.  It consists of the paragraph,“All rights reserved. No part of this text may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical,including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author of this text.[3] Each underlined word has a link to parallel information ranging from all facets of society. For example, “All” links to European Ice Age and the threat of global warming while the other words link to news relating to murder, conflict and a guide to making any woman your platonic friend.

In Attributed Text, reading is an integral part of the interactivity. No single word has one exact interpretation and  the meanings change with time and the context. Thomson and Craighead investigated that text with a poststructuralist and postmodernist frame can reveal that language has internal contradictions and hidden ideologies. [4] According to the postmodernists and poststructuralists there are many truths and many realities because different readers have their own worldviews and biased interpretations. Thomson and Craighead use text to stimulate commentary about real-world issues and explore language as a tool of authority and power. The combination of bold visual graphics and text allows these artists to challenge the ideas on specific issues and instigate critiques of society and human foibles.   

Subsequently, Triggerhappy (1998) is a gallery installation and online art that features the French philosopher Michael Foucault’s “What is an author?” (1969). It is similar to the early and popular arcade game from 1978, Space Invaders. The opposition aliens are replaced with quotes taken from Foucault’s essay. Thomson and Craighead referenced a game-like structure that combines a peculiar quest for information with a classic shooter game. The audience of Triggerhappy becomes part of the art and the concept.  The reader’s focus on the text is constantly distracted by the flashiness of the game and destroying the “What is an author?” text before it destroys the player.  Postmodernist and poststructuralist theorists have shared and recognised with Foucault’s belief on the importance of controlling language.  The control of what is put into words and who has the authority to speak publicly is an important means of gaining and wielding power. Also, the players are either in the role of attacking or defending themselves from the “What is an author” text which ultimately depends on the individual. The destruction of Foucault’s text has a powerful impact on the user that can relate to the censorship of the public and media and can also provide a sense of empowerment. Triggerhappy explores the affiliation between the author, audience and hypertext and gestures towards the electronic culture in which we coexist and interrelate. Thomson and Craighead employ an underlying sense of humor and irony as the user participates in the work.  The game also reflects on the scarcity of attention and the aesthetics of the narcissism of games and entertainment. In addition to using text to make statements about real-world issues, the artists have explored how language in culture is used to assert authority and power.

Conclusively, artists who incorporate words in a work of art often have a purpose beyond provoking an aesthetic and superficial reaction. Artists have employed text with the aim of examining the truth or authority of public issues. Thomson and Craighead’s combined strategy of language and interactivity helps to highlight the social, environmental and political issues and to ensure a strong impact is made on the viewers.  The user’s involvement with a work which features the interplay between the context and the production meaning of the viewer is part of the art-making process. Thomson and Craighead are using the computer and the internet as a mechanism for their realization of ideas rather than a medium in itself. Internet art has become diverse and complex but it is still in the early stage of development and is a growing art form in the contemporary art world.

1.       Cason, Nancy F. “Interactive Multimedia: An Alternative Context for Studying Works of Art.” Studies in Art Education 39, no. 4 (July 1, 1998): 336–349.
2.       London, Barbara. “Digital Art Takes Shape at MoMA.” Leonardo 34, no. 2 (January 1, 2001): 95–99.
3.       Paul, Christiane. Digital art. London; New York: Thames & Hudson, 2008.
4.       Robertson, Jean, and Craig McDaniel. Themes of contemporary art : visual art after 1980. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.
5.       Rush, Michael. New Media in Art. London; New York: Thames & Hudson, 2005.
6.       Tamblyn, Christine. “Computer Art as Conceptual Art.” Art Journal 49, no. 3 (October 1, 1990): 253–256.
7.       Thomson and Craighead. “Installation.” Accessed October 2, 2012.
8.       Thomson and Craighead. “Online Artwork.” Accessed October 2, 2012.
10.    Weil, Benjamin. “Art in Digital Times: From Technology to Instrument.” Leonardo 35, no. 5 (January 1, 2002): 523–537.
11.    Wong, Chee-Onn, Keechul Jung, and Joonsung Yoon. “Interactive Art: The Art That Communicates.” Leonardo 42, no. 2 (January 1, 2009): 180–181.

[1] Paul, Christiane. Digital art. London; New York: Thames & Hudson, 2008, 7.
[2] Vague Terrain. “Thomson and Craighead Interviewed by Martin John Callanan.” Accessed October 5, 2012.
[3] Thomson and Craighead. “Online Artwork.” Accessed October 2, 2012.
[4] Robertson, Jean, and Craig McDaniel. Themes of contemporary art : visual art after 1980. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010, 24.