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Weekend Longform Video: Media for Thinking the Unthinkable

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Bret Victor creates a camera path from a dataset.

Bret Victor creates a camera path from a dataset.

It’s time for the weekend longform video, something that’s a bit too lengthy or too chewy for a weekday, and really needs a cup of coffee and time to sit down with it over a couple of days.

This week’s is a talk Bret Victor gave in April at the MIT Media Lab on the design of graphical forms of scientific ideas.  It covers a lot of ground, from the mental need for mathematical notation, to the invention of infographics, to improvising physical models of your data, to new interactive graphical communication in scientific papers.  There’s some rich stuff in here for thinking about communicating understanding and intuition, particularly for interface designers, educators, coders, and researchers.

“To sum up:

We need to see the behavior of the system.  If we want a new medium for working with these systems, for understanding them in powerful new ways, we need to be able to see the behavior of the system.  That’s what we can do now that we couldn’t do on pencil and paper.

We need to see the entire state of the system, across all the variables, all at once, be able to make comparisons, recognize things.  We need to be able to adjust the system and immediately see how the behavior responds,make those associations between what we’re changing and how the behavior responds.

We need multiple representations of the system, looking at the behavior in different ways through different lenses, bringing out different insights, being able to compare them, make associations between these representations.

We need to not just see the behavior but also be able to interact with it, by measuring it, searching it, transforming it, whatever makes sense.

We need to be able to abstract over individual systems, see entire families of systems and be able to compare them.

We need multiple representations that are linked together, point to one component and all the other components are hooked up.

We need different representations for different types of data.

Most importantly, we need a way of creating these representations… and I think that means drawing it, direct manipulation of the picture itself.”

–Bret Victor (emphasis mine)

Bret’s added some annotations and more background on the projects he demonstrates to the talk’s Vimeo page.

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