Path to Mars #975: Beautiful Information

Information is beautiful

Scientific American recently conducted a very pretty experiment. They asked Hilary Mason, the chief scientist at Bitly, to track web traffic and report back on frequent and common connections. While the most-linked topics were Education and Technology, there was one surprising pair frequently visited:  Physics and Fashion.

The online comments on this article range from despair and shame to healthy disbelief. “OldVic” states:

My only hope, as a passionate physics enthusiast who can’t stomach the fashion industry, is that these results may be a statistical fluke.

What’s an embarrassed scientist to do? Firstly, I think there needs to be a separation between the fashion industry and fashion to shed some possible light on this connection.

The horrific treatment of girl models, general objectification of women, and absurd posturing are just a few of the many, many evils inherent in the fashion industry. That’s easy to see. But to dismiss “fashion” outright is to miss the positive. I’m speaking, of course, of the aesthetics of fashion. The elegance of the perfect parabolic drop of a bias-cut gown is no less elegant than the perfection of a beautiful mathematical formula. The crisp joy in a charcoal tailored wool jacket fits together with the same satisfaction of a well-structured rocket engine. The lightest silk can float over deep navy crepe the same way a nebula glows like a puffy spiderweb. And the repetitive pop in a smart line of buttons provides the same joy as a data set lined up like planets in a civilized queue.

To dismiss physics as boring or difficult is just as heartbreaking as the flip notion that fashion is frivolous entertainment. There is interest and soul to be found where the two meet. But we must challenge ourselves to see it. Or else we fail greatly by missing the fullness of life, as yin dismissing yang.

If you feel able to rise to this challenge, one place that exemplifies the meeting is the website Information is Beautiful, run by self-named information designer or data journalist David McCandless. While not strictly focused on fashion, the site provides endless examples of how data can be beautified, much like the gorgeous web experiment above. At the moment they are running an information design contest, and you don’t have to be an illustrative expert to try your hand. You can enter via the Napkin Challenge, and convey your ideas with just a few hand-drawn scribbles.

If you are having trouble coming up with an idea, look to illustrator Nathalie Lees for inspiration. Here’s a designer who knows how to bring together aesthetics and science:

Fashionable Data by Nathalie Lees

Nathalie Lee's illustration from "Wonders of the Universe" by Brian Cox

Today, why not choose to put down that bias and pick up a pencil instead?

Blast off!


About Renate Pohl

Theatre Designer, Space and Stained Glass Artist, Writer.
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