Information As Art

On a recent trip to the windy city, I was blown away by a current exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago aptly titled Rethinking Typologies: Architecture and Design from the Permanent Collection. In this eye-opening exhibition, designers like Aaron Koblin, Christien Meindertsma, Stefan Sagmeister and Scott Wilson, among others, boldly challenge viewers to rethink how we interact with information. Not surprisingly, technology—both analogue and digital—is at the heart of many of the exhibition’s featured projects and works.

According to curators, the exhibition takes a broad historical view of the innovations that have shaped contemporary life and the built environment through work devoted to historical and emerging typologies in architecture and design.

For example, today architects must keep up with advances in rapid prototyping (the ability to quickly create a scale model using three-dimensional computer-aided design  or CAD), green technology, and advances in structural engineering. Meanwhile, new forms of media continue to influence the way we think, live and communicate. The use of video and animation, info graphics, as well as logos and typography as a way to communicate a message or convey an abstract idea resonates with us more than ever.

One of the most impressive and mindboggling works at the exhibit was by Aaron Koblin, an American artist and designer specializing in data and digital technologies, who is well known for his innovative uses of data visualization and crowdsourcing. He used data from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to create Flight Patterns, 2011–animations of flight traffic patterns and density.

As the thousands of brightly colored flight patterns begin to multiply on the video screen creating an image of North America, viewers cannot help but wonder how so many flights can successfully crisscross the skies each day. Koblin, through the use of graphics, design and animation, takes an extraordinary amount of data and presents it in an extremely compelling way. This digital animation project surely wasn’t easy, but reminds us all, especially content marketers, just how impactful information can be when presented in a thoughtful and creative manner.

Koblin himself probably said it best during a talk sponsored by TED, a nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading: “An interface can be a powerful narrative device. And as we collect more and more personally and socially relevant data, we have an opportunity, and maybe even an obligation, to maintain [our] humanity and tell some amazing stories.”

To view Flight Patterns 2011 for yourself, click here: