Effective Information Design









Data Visualisation Does Political Things 

Joanna Boehnert  

University of Westminster, UK 


Keywords: data visualisation; controversy mapping; datawash; discourse mapping


In this paper I advance the theory of critical communication design by exploring the politics of data, information and knowledge visualisation in three bodies of work. Data reflects power relations, special interests and ideologies that determine which data is collected, what data is used and how it is used. In a review of Max Roser’s Our World in Data, I develop the concepts of digital positivism, datawash and darkdata. Looking at the Climaps by Emaps project, I describe how knowledge visualisation can support integrated learning on complex problems and nurture relational perception. Finally, I present my own Mapping Climate Communication project and explain how I used discourse mapping to develop the concept of discursive confusion and illustrate contradictions in this politicised area. Critical approaches to information visualisation reject reductive methods in favour of more nuanced ways of presenting information that acknowledge complexity and the political dimension on issues of controversy. 

This paper is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International licence.

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Cite this paper: Boehnert, J. (2016). Data Visualisation Does Political Things . Proceedings of DRS 2016, Design Research Society 50th Anniversary Conference. Brighton, UK, 27–30 June 2016.

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