Apr 06, 2017
THEME: Technology + Innovation

Analytical Tools and Data Visualization for Design: Three Trends

One of our most important roles as designers is to provide effective ways to convey dense analytical information for efficient consumption. Throughout the course of each phase within every project (buildings, campuses, interiors, etc.), embedded spatial data is critical to understanding current conditions and comparing the goals and objectives pursued by our clients. Extracting and refining information enables the audience to grasp complexity, identify new patterns, and formulate dimensional parameters. This provides an opportunity to showcase our design ability along with an analytical prowess – integrating graphics with innovative tools for clear communication.

Our work in data visualization requires that we design complicated holistic systems, reduce information down to an intended core message through details or narrative, and present the illustrations in different formats to help the reader gain the intended message or theory.

Beyond the classic work by Edward Tufte, three emerging trends can help transform any data set into a design deliverable:

Break Out of the Spreadsheet

Let’s be honest: spreadsheets aren’t sexy. Instead, import data into a visual program such as Adobe Illustrator, InDesign, Tableau to create dashboards, figures, graphs, and tables that convey rich information. (Tableau can also track changes in the data set, so you won’t have to redo any work.)

Examples of Perkins+Will’s campus planning visualizations

Several techniques can help data visualization. Data Display in Qualitative Research depicts a useful way to think about the range of techniques for different purposes. The table below reveals a breakdown of strategies for Visual Displays and Purposes:

Source: https://www.ideals.illinois.edu/handle/2142/45262

Make it Accessible

Our teams use tools that enable interaction with data in real time, allowing clients active engagement in direct decision making throughout the design process. We maintain a database of online engagement tools that provide a wide range of alternatives for collecting data from constituents.

The process of collecting, storing, and sharing data can be challenging at times, but many familiar third-party cloud services provide free platforms for data collection, visualization, and display. For example, Box.com offers online shared access to both Microsoft Excel Spreadsheets and Google Sheets – a great combination for collecting data from online sources (like Google Forms).

At Perkins+Will, we use Box.com to collaborate with internal teams and clients.

Get Interactive

Perkins+Will has recently developed new tools that can transform data sets into visual displays with geolocation and three-dimensional implications.

Computational design tools created in-house (such as MassMetrics, a collection of digital tools built specifically for our planning and large scale design projects, and Space Plan Generator) streamline data-driven decisions during the programming process. The outcomes of these processes can then translate into design software through Revit and/or Rhino.

Screenshots of our MassMetrics tool.

Online surveying provides instant feedback from stakeholders expressed geospatially. The Internet of Things (IoT) is quickly becoming our first stop for data collection, which can help display patterns, heat maps, and trends of live data. Static web based surveys provide access to a broad range of project stakeholders for quick and efficient data gathering. Geolocation data provides immediate spatial information from input received directly from users, as shown in the examples below. At the University of Oregon, our team was able to glean feedback from thousands of university community members in just two weeks to document usage across the campus, informing trends and patterns of future growth for long term planning.

University of Oregon Campus Physical Framework Vision, 2016.

University of Oregon Campus Physical Framework Vision, 2016.

How to best utilize these tools and emerging approaches for translating data analysis is up to our design teams, and Perkins+Will is engaged in the latest innovations within graphic visualizations, computational design, virtual reality, and data management resources (to name a few). How are we doing it? We are finding new ways to create and translate accessible data that inform our designs, and providing collaborators access to visual documentation for making informed decisions.

“To clarify, add detail. Imagine that, to clarify, add detail. Clutter and overload are not attributes of information, they are failures of design. If the information is in chaos, don’t start throwing out information, instead fix the design.” – Edward Tufte

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