30 March 2011

AN: Innovative genealogy information graphic

Yes, RootsTech was a month and a half ago, but this was important and I need to write about it.

I went to the lightning talks at RootsTech and saw a 5m presentation from Antoninus Niemiec, an MFA student from New York working on genealogy visualization. He called his presentation "Not Your Father's Chart".

With permission, here are two fuzzed views of the charts so you can get the overall picture.

Plate A is a traditional ancestry chart:

Plate B is the same ancestry, laid out in this new and innovative way:

Here is a close-up of a given family:

Antoninus presented a very innovative information graphic of a 5 generation ancestry. At a high level, his work is firmly grounded in Tufte's information graphic design priciples. There were no wasted pixels and no chartjunk, just content.

It was organized with a radial feel to it, with the descendant family clusters in the center, and ancestor family clusters radiating outward toward the edge of the page. Each family cluster was organized into two tree-rings, one for the father, one for the mother-and-children. Each tree ring meant a decade, birth and death dates were plotted on a 360 degree circle, angle determined my how far into the year the event happened.

He told me he is working on publishing this work on his website. He said he did it in Adobe InDesign using Javascript with some hand-tweaking afterwards.

This spawned an interesting conversation afterward about the possibility for a visualization challenge for RootsTech 2012:
  • fixed content corpus
  • released shortly before the conference
  • awards in traditional media (print, web, video)
  • award for most innovative visualization, regardless of format

BTW, this was the same lightning round that Tevya talked about.

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