MD2 – Week 4

Projecting a New Perspective

“There is a need, a very human need, to tell stories and to understand the world around us” – Stuart Tolley, Falmouth University Lecturer.

Data seems to be everywhere at the moment, whether it’s seeing it, understanding it, protecting it, giving it, using it, collecting it or having it stolen. It impacts us on a daily basis.

And yet this isn’t something new. Collection of data goes as far back as 1086, The Domesday Book, being the oldest surviving public record of Britain.

The Domesday Book

The difference today, is that we can have access to and are exposed to all kinds of different data.

Through technology, more and more news, events, people and subjects, are being recorded. The data collected is readily available to be analysed and shown to the world – to tell a story. This can allow us to broaden our knowledge and help us better understand many complex issues.

Whether we realise it or not, our own interests and activities, through computers, phones, websites, social media, banking, shopping etc., are all being recorded, and this data can be extremely valuable to many businesses.


There is a lot of work and effort that goes into collecting and recording data but equally once the data is there, it can be just as hard to make sense of it and convert it into something comprehendible.

So how do we go about understanding it all, in a clear a simple way? How can it tell a story or get a message across to others?

As I mentioned in my previous blog, we learn as children through images and colours and so information, numbers and statistics can be quite overwhelming. What better way to understand data, than telling a story through images and colours therefore creating ‘Data Visualisation’ – the graphical representation of information and data.

Charles Joseph Minard

Through data visualisation we can better understand a lot more subjects that we knew little about and which in turn, can impact the way we live.

The way we treat our environment and the world around us had never been as important as it is right now. Climate change is having an effect on many different areas and we know this because of all the data that has been collected on the subject.

Seeing all the data in black and white, in numbers and text, might not make us change our ways but seeing a piece of data visualisation which we understand and tells a story, might just stay with us and make us think twice about how as individuals, our own behaviours are affecting the environment.

Climate change -BMJ

Of course, not all data has to be converted into an image. There are many ways to tell a story and for me personally, watching David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II on plastic pollution, really struck a chord. Watching a sperm whale trying to eat a piece of plastic was upsetting for me and my children and has made us think about how much plastic we use as a family and where we can make changes.

Blue Planet II

I was aware that as a country we produced and use far too much plastic, but to watch how our human behaviours can impact the world’s oceans and especially the life under the sea, really gave us a shock. We could have read about it in a newspaper or online but by watching the programme, it ‘projected a new perspective’, which ultimately changed how we felt.


Workshop Challenge

How can data visualisation help communicate issues about science, culture or environment?

For this week’s challenge, I wanted to focus on a subject that interested me and that I knew something about.

It was a big birthday for my Mum this week and I was talking to my family about how she has lived longer here in England than she ever did in Ireland having emigrated to the UK in 1964.

I have always known that there had been big emigration from Ireland to other countries and so I wanted to look into further to see if I could find some interesting data around this subject.

We have a big family in Ireland and have been many times so see them but have also holidayed in other parts which have been truly stunning. It is a very beautiful country.

So, I was surprised to discover that it only has a population of about 5 million and that there are between 70 and 80 million other people in the world that claim to have Irish heritage!

Further research showed that the population of Ireland peaked at about 8 million in 1840 just before ‘The Great Famine’ in 1845. The cause of the famine was a disease that infected crops in particular the potato. Many of the population died from famine or disease, while others emigrated abroad to seek jobs and better opportunities. The countries which had the biggest immigration were America, Canada, Australia and the UK.

For my piece of data visualisation, I wanted to show how the population of Ireland fell so drastically in 1845, what the causes were and of those that emigrated, where did most of them go to?

When putting some sketches ad ideas together I was looking at the potato plant and how I could use this plant to tell the story and perhaps incorporate some potato stamping to illustrate it.

Sketches SketchesSketches

I realised that this was a subject that had be written about many times, but I thought I could highlight some of the main points and illustrate the story in a different way.

After a group crit and a chat with my tutor, I decided to change my subject. I still wanted to do something related to Ireland and started to look at news stories. I actually found a story about reintroducing Beavers in the UK and decided to research further.

I discovered that the Devon Wildlife Trust, working alongside the University of Exeter, Clinton Devon Estates and the Derek Gow Consultancy, conducted a major five-year study into the impacts of beavers on the English countryside from 2015 – 2020. The trial concluded that the water-living mammals can bring measurable benefits to people and wildlife. Reading an article published by the University of Exeter they had listed the key findings of the trial, which I thought I could use to create my piece of data visualisation about.