Okay, below are the results of a survey carried out over a number of months, including level 3 (final year B/Tec), and level 4 – 6 (degree students)* across two linked Art Schools within the same city.
This part of the wider module  would also develop into an exercise in further developing my data visualisation skills and investigating whether visualisation of these results might help engage students with aspects of their own self-motivated learning that non-visual statistical data might not.
Before developing the graphics, the returned results of the survey below had to be examined and prepared for visualisation.
It was clear from early in the results collection that the information was going to be difficult to handle, whether this was to do with my inexperience of dealing with this type of data, or my sometimes rather pointed questions I couldn’t tell.
But everything fell into place once I decided to split the data around the results of question 4.
i.e. “Would you say that you only read when necessary”.
This question had arisen from watching some students in study avoiding where possible the act of reading, whilst seeing and hearing others discussing books they had read for pleasure. It seemed like a good idea to split the group here and compare the results of those students who might refer to themselves as what Bill Hicks might call “Readers” and those that do not.
I had considered several stylistic alternatives to showing the data. For example, this extension of a Venn Diagram I eventually abandoned as it felt somehow disconnected visually from the information it was trying to convey.
I also explored the possible use of rapid 3D visualisation software such as SketchUp…
This detail (below) shows how the data was to have been rationalised visually, with red and green stacked blocks representing positive and negative reading habits. Several motifs from this ideas where carried forward into the final visual, the stacked books in the same colours in the final version for example would not have happened without this iteration.
Eventually as I finished the final analysis of all the data, the visual scheme took a more graphical turn, I had, in another unrelated visual in progress, returned to the influence of Otto Neurath’s isotype designs (see illustration below).
I then went back to the sketchbook to work through the possible layout for the information using imagery closer to the style above.
Several other ideas came out of this process, including the extention of the results into a discussion on the development of “Personal Micro-Cultures”.
This image above also contains some of my early doodles towards a diagram (and possible 3D automata) showing the problematic natural “depth perception issues” brought about by the manifestation of the Dunning-Kruger effect in students.
It was then a case of refining those sketch icons into finished imagery… The examples below where created in Photoshop directly (the data regarding education and cultural tolerance where however related to another visual).
One of the developments I did not foresee was how good the icon sketches would look on the half-tone paper in my sketchbooks. This led me to create a background based on an extended (scanned and photoshopped) sketchbook page, see below.
After that it was simply a case of following my sketchbook notes…
…and slowly adding to the visual.
Much of the final graphics where collated and created using a drawing tablet, straight into Photoshop, much of which was repeated layers and repeated imagery to create the pseudo bar charts of book and CD stacks.
Wherever possible I asked and consulted with people in the demographic range I was aiming at where the iconography I was using was consistent with their own worldview (teenagers and adults in education).
A good example was the information below relating to Austin Kleon’s quote about us being “…a mash up of what [we] let into our lives”.
Mash up, in itself is a loan phrase from outside of visual culture (contemporary music) but when looking for appropriate visual metaphors and analogies (mix desks, mix tapes, dj decks etc) nothing seemed to fit directly, so alternatives with a similar meaning had to be sought.
I had developed a food related metaphor earlier (the micro-culture sandwich) and decided quite quickly to follow that train of thought.
My first instinct was to to run with a somewhat archaic image of one of the mincers that I remember so vividly as a child from the hotel kitchens where my mother worked when I was a child (we eventually had one at home too).
Typically, as soon as I had finished it I had my doubts. One that the process it suggested was not quite right, it suggested production lines, sausages, repeated outcomes. As well as the dated nature of the image itself.
Discussing its with my partner, she suggested a blender. Something I’d never owned, yet culturally was more contemporary, it also symbolically seemed more appropriate, the associations with healthy outcomes, bespoke mixing etc. seemed more in line with Austin Kleon and William Gibson’s intentions in their statements on combinatorial creativity.
Leading to this:
The final touch one the overall design was bringing this discussion of “change” avoidance and its relation to creativity.
So I tried to reflect the imagery above and showed two students, one refusing resolutely to approach or feeling that a barrier was present when the subject of reading was (for study or for pleasure) broached.
…the central image working in a two (or more) fold way, suggesting of course that “…the world is your oyster”, at least once you embrace change (here suggesting perhaps the possibility of starting that journey through the simple act of engaging with the written word).
Extending the metaphor, the oyster not only having the chance of finding a pearl in it (which is no doubt the foundation for the analogy/phrase/partial aphorism), but also a return to the food related metaphor above. Especially as oysters (possibly over and above any other food) seem somewhat symbolic for adventurousness in personal taste.
Many students and members of the public at large would perhaps not even recognise one if placed in front of them.
Again, a great teaching and learning opportunity for the classroom, to discuss this curious line drawn under that which is not in our immediate interest area.
With that final issue in mind, it was interesting to read recently the results of a survey that looked at the connection between poor cognitive capacity and racial intolerance. And to see that the underlying factors that caused this apparent correlation were not education based per se, but related to the higher abstract reasoning that perhaps develops due to experiences in ones early education that brings about a positive acceptance of situations that require complex adaptation and recognition of unfixed and shifting perspectives (something recognised in good students).
The lack of which causes a problematic adjustment to such shifting complexity or “change” (see above graphic) which in turns seems to result in individuals seeking solace in activities and organisations that promise order, structure and “a resistance to change” (repetitive tv, socially conservative opinions – both left and right**, and in the worst case scenarios extremist organisations) which in this study includes racial prejudice.
*the survey numbers represented approximately 10% of the HSAD art school intake across three years. Ideally this survey will be updated in time for the coming enrolment and a more comprehensive data visualisation graphic produced.
** (the report by Hodson et al, published in Psychological Science, Jan 5th 2012, suggested that a liberal who believes/purports “every child is a genius”, shows the same poor abstract thinking/cognitive capacity as someone who believes “foreigners are destroying their country”)
It is my intention to use the local results visualised above as part of the broad study skills teaching undertaken within the studio.