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From June 18-20 we attended the DD4D (= Data Designed for Decisions) [dd4d.net] conference at the OECD Conference center in Paris. The conference was organized both by the IIID and the OECD with the goal to bring together statisticians, information designers, visualization researchers, and practitioners (or as the conference stated: "intermediaries between data, knowledge and empowerment"). The conference organizers had invited a number of amazing speakers, including such celebrities as Hans Rosling and Robert Horn.

The overarching question raised by most speakers was how to go from data and information to decisions and actions with a focus on both traditional and emerging deciders such as politicians and executives and also citizens and consumers. To address the challenge of making sense of large data quantities, several speakers discussed the potential of storytelling for communicating complex issues as well as the power of numbers in the form of social indicators and benchmarks. There were too many interesting talks/sessions to write about here, so below you will find our personal (of course highly subjective) best-of list.


National Accounts of Well-being


Nic Marks (from nef) presented (bio and abstract) work on the project National Accounts for Well-Being which takes new measures into account to assess the progress, feelings, and well-being of people within a country. Their website allows people to explore and compare subjective measures for well-being and objective measures on a per-country basis. In the spirit of Web 2.0, people can also create their own well-being profiles and contribute to the project.

Visual SenseMaking for ChangeMaking


Elizabeth Pastor (bio and abstract) from Humantific showed several recent case studies in which they applied information design techniques to raise awareness of complex social problems and induce change. In the The Measure of America project they turned a potentially boring stats report on the American Human Development into an information design exercise and came up with an intriguing design for the report with a focus on human rather than economic progress. The book can be found on Amazon and Google Books.

Visualizing Global Cities


Seth Flaxman (bio and abstract) from the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne presented CityRank.ch a web-based tool and community that allows the combination of multiple city quality indicators to rank and compare global cities according to personal preferences. In addition, selected indicators can be interactively weighted to put more or less emphasis on certain aspects. While the site lacks more sophisticated visualizations, the idea of bringing multiple types of city rankings together and allowing people to share them is really promising.

Isotype - representing social relationships pictorially


On the last day of the conference, Christopher Burke (bio and abstract) presented a fascinating retrospect to the Austrian socialist Otto Neurath who was involved throughout the 1920s with making statistics more accessible to the public. Neurath and his colleagues in Vienna designed Isotype, a visual language made up of pictograms and visual techniques for conveying complex issues following the motto: "it is better to remember simplified pictures than to forget accurate figures". Instead of creating diagrams of abstract shapes, these information pictures typically featured pictograms that individually resembled, for example, people and products. Taken together they represented more complex, social and economic issues such as health, working conditions, and global trade. A Google image search leads to many Isotype graphics.



This wasn't actually a talk but still one of our favorite events of the conference. T42 (tea for two) was a speed-"dating" event for conference attendees. At registration you could pick four people you would like to meet and the conference organizers matched you with as many of your preferred "dates" as possible. At the T42 event you and your partner were given a cup of tea and 20mins each to get to know each other, learn about the other's research or simply chat about whatever you wanted before you switched to your next "match." This was a great way to get to know people you wouldn't usually just start talking to in the hallway.

Mindmap Mural


Regina Rowland held an interesting workshop at the conference on "Co-creating Visual Maps for Transcultural Understanding." She also made a visual map of every talk at the conference which later filled all the conference hall walls. Hopefully the map will become available, soon.


Overall, we had a great time at the conference. The mix of participants from different backgrounds made for a very interesting program. The conference organizers put a lot of effort into making people connect - through T42, evening events in Paris, workshops, and plenty of discussion sessions at the conference. Conference proceedings are currently in the making. Check back on the conference website occasionally for more news and pictures.

This guest entry was written by Petra Isenberg and Marian Dörk. Both are PhD students at the Innovations in Visualization (InnoVis) Lab at the University of Calgary. Petra's PhD research is on information visualization for collaboration on large interactive displays and Marian works on visual information exploration on the Web.

See also a DD4D conference report at beyeblogs.com.


One thing I'd like to add as a key take-away from the DD4D conference was the request for high quality data. Many speakers pointed out how hard it is to get acces to holistic and accurate datasets. Hans Rosling briefly mentioned licensing for data as an important factor for the openess of datasets.

T42 was surely great fun and I wouldn't have expected such free and easy-going communications. Unfortunately the panel discussions had very limited time for real discussions but they were excellent for igniting discussions in the hallway.

Thu 02 Jul 2009 at 7:31 AM

Hi, I would say that among my strong impressions is Indian presentation from Kirti
T42 was perfect, but so short ((

Fri 03 Jul 2009 at 5:32 AM

T42 Sounds like a great idea, especially for people who are new to a conference community. Maybe this could be something to organize for future events, like InfoVis. Although I wonder if the size would be prohibitive.

Fri 03 Jul 2009 at 10:51 AM

I also really liked Kirti K Trivedi's (bio and overview) as well as Bruce Robertson's ( bio and overview) talk. However, they were a little hard to blog about due to the lack of online material about their talks (you basically had to be there for those).

Fri 03 Jul 2009 at 8:48 PM

I, too, very much enjoyed Christopher Burke's talk on Otto Neurath and the Isotype movement. One of the most interesting debates that came out of the conference for me was around how we can be sure that representing data using "funny little men" is any different to presenting raw figures. It's pretty obvious to me that it can have advantages, but proving it is not easy. (as I'm finding in my work at the moment... See www.pms.ac.uk/infographics/evaluation to join in if you like!)

Wed 08 Jul 2009 at 1:27 AM

Hi Petra and Marian and thanx for a great summary.
It was a great conference!
I must agree with Irina and Petra regarding Kirti's presentation. That was an unexpected blast.
Can't wait for the videos of the speakers to be published on dd4d's site.

Sun 19 Jul 2009 at 9:10 AM
Tom J Halsør
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