longing for light (petals)
The assignment: Build a paper-based data visualization, as directed by the infosthetics.com website. That’s short for information aesthetics, and they have a passion for representing information in graphic form — not an easy challenge, as anyone who’s tried to figure out a poorly designed subway map knows.
The inspiration: Strips of paper discarded next to the school’s paper trimmer. My yearning for sunlight.
I was living in Umeå, a city at latitude 63° 50? N in northern Sweden. The winter days are short and summer days are long. Using the actual and predicted lengths of daylight for the first of each month in 2009, I created a visualization with 12 “petals”.
The outer loop of each petal is 24 cm from start to end point, representing the 24 hours in the day. The inner loops vary depending on length of daylight, ranging from 4h 33m (a little over 4.5 cm) for January 1 to 20h 34m on July 1. The white thread where the loops are joined is the start/end point.
When assembled, like a clock, the top loop is 12 (December 1); the bottom one opposite it is 6 (June 1).
I like how the simple lines suggest the passing of time and the cycle of the months as well as the promise of spring to come. There are multiple flower forms suggested, from the symmetrical outer petals to the drooping flower formed by the inner loops, to the spikier poinsettia-like flower formed by the negative space in the middle.
I do feel compelled to point out that in terms of a pure visualization of data, the petals are a bit flawed because it’s easy to misinterpret the “volume” of the petals as the amount of daylight. I was primarily concerned with the medium, that is the paper strips of varying lengths and the shapes that would result — working with the limited material I had, just as you have to make the most of the limited daylight. Perhaps the “volume” is more of an artistic statement about how little or much sunlight it *feels* like there is in a given month, rather than a strict data visualization. An interesting lesson in visualization for me, in any case!
And, oh my gosh, my design won! Yay!