Data visualisation is a constantly developing discipline that draws on programming, graphic design, science and research. This post shares some examples of ways data visualisations can find ‘stories’ from masses of data. Green Buildings Alive's mission is to share information, and we mainly use graphs to visualise the secret lives of commercial buildings. But there’s a wider world of intriguing ways to share data and to draw meaning from it.
A third dimension
Mitchell Whitelaw leads the Master of Digital Design at the University of Canberra. At a talk titled ‘data poetry’ during Sydney Design Week he explained an experiment in how to compress large data sets into comprehensible forms.
This ‘climate cup’ is a way of showing over 150 years of Sydney weather data as a physical object that is only six centimetres high. Dr Whitelaw’s blog explains, “Each horizontal layer of the form is a single year of data; these layers are stacked chronologically bottom to top - so 1859 is at the base, 2009 at the lip.”
When our team saw this 3-D data visualisation, we imagined a version that applies the same principle to commercial buildings but substitutes their energy use for temperature. If a building manager was reducing their power consumption, then it would create more of a vase than a cup, as it narrows towards the top. The sides would be similarly lumpy rings, corresponding to seasonal variation of the monthly average temperatures. Craig wondered whether receiving an ‘energy vase’ each year would help motivate building managers to keep their consumption tracking down, perhaps?
From: the teeming void
The team at ‘GPS Create’ worked with data from the movement of real sharks off the beaches of Australia's big cities to demonstrate the behaviours of these much-feared animals.
With access to access to data on Great White Sharks and Bullsharks from both the CSIRO* and the Cronulla State fisheries, the team selected specific movements that told stories about individual or groups of animals, including one that swam from Sydney to New Zealand (over 2,000km). Their work is displayed at Sydney Aquarium, where visitors can walk through transparent tunnels while sharks swim above their heads. In this environment, the video screens presenting this movement data provide another way for visitors look under the sea, making the data points come 'alive'.
*Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Australia's national science agency.
The team at the Design Lab at University of Sydney ran a project in an inner-city street, harking back to a pre-digital age by sharing households’ energy use on street-facing chalkboards.
The displays focussed on the change in energy use between time periods, not absolute use, and were updated manually every day of the one-month period. The study found that the group of houses with public display reduced their energy use more than control groups. Peer pressure does work, it appears.
In powering the kitchen, General Electric has tracked the five major energy sources of kitchen energy use in a typical American kitchen and published a set of interactive graphs that shows the refrigerator, the range (oven), dishwasher, plugs and lights. The interface presents different ways to digest this information, for example by day, by time of day, by week and over a 24-hour cycle.
We’re always keen to hear from facilities managers who are interested in finding stories in their data. Or are there data visualisation specialists reading who can share other examples of work illustrating trends that that can’t be gleaned from a spreadsheet?
Most of these examples are created at the end of a period of data collection and they tell a story in retrospect, rather than creating opportunities for near real-time response. Green Buildings Alive is looking to address this in its next interactive tool, to take another step in using data to make buildings run better, so stay tuned!