I’m joining the movement

towards interdisciplinary practices in Information Design. Are you in?

My last blog was in 2012 where I mulled the emerging applications of data visualizations, most notably differences in applications in journalism as compared to business statistics and scientific research. Since publishing that post there has been significant growth in the multidisciplinary approaches to data visualizations, a push towards more open data and improved open source tools for data preparation and visualization. Citizen science is now an emerging trend with countless ways in which information is being crafted into impactful interactive visualizations.

The concept of Business Intelligence (BI) is being replaced with a focus and promise that visual data analytics and big data is the way of the future. In businesses, information technology departments are challenged with managing bimodal IT shifting from traditional “BI” to rapid analytics.

University programs are shifting and academic/industry partnerships are emerging to help with quicker adoption that comes with applied research through joint projects and practices (check out VIVA Vancouver).

Information designers/data journalists like David McCandless continue to lead the way. There is evidence of this at the local level here in Vancouver with the Emily Carr University of Art + Design recently hosting Universities from over 8 countries at the Information+ Conference with an associated exhibition of works. Vancouver’s own data journalist celebrity Chad Skelton, formerly of the Vancouver Sun, jointly facilitated the hands on Information+ workshop about water conservation.

Somehow I find all of this cross disciplinary action comforting given that my own background is interdisciplinary with a combination of degrees and certificates that can look rather confusing on a standard resume: Computer Information Systems, Communications, Executive Management, Data Resource Management, Educational Technology. The latter mostly because I could find no true interdisciplinary program for data visualization so I focused instead on how I could connect between industry and formal academic programs with a grass roots approach. At the time I was a board member of the Vancouver Chapter of The Data Warehouse Institute (TDWI).

I started reaching out to the local university professors to present at TDWI Chapter meetings: John Dill (SFU) and Brian Fisher (UBC) came to speak about their research project with Boeing (prior to the establishment of VIVA); Andrew Gemino (SFU), the Associate Dean at SFU Beedie School of Business, came to share the direction of the University in setting up programs for Visual Analytics and Big Data; the course designers for the initial visual analytics course at BCIT demonstrated how they were engaging students with data by using Tableau Public and whatever data the students could get their hands on. This was an admirable challenge given that it was before ‘open data’ became a thing. After this round of sessions I realized the term ‘Data Warehouse’ was no longer a fit for my direction and hadn’t been for some time. I moved on to focus on the practice in performance measurement and applied visual data analytics. I also archived this blog as I worked to refocus.

I have recently reengaged with the academic community and am now developing an online course targeted to students (K-12) after hearing the advice from a couple of professors who believe visual literacy needs to be taught earlier. At the Information+ conference one professor pleaded ‘…teach the students the basics earlier so I don’t have to do it in University… then I can focus on more important things’. More on this later but I hope that this sheds light on why I’m joining the movement and re-engaging with the numerous communities involved while reaching out to my colleagues to join the movement.

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