Speculative Designs

What is the story we tell about the origins of modern data visualization? What alternate histories might emerge, what new forms might we imagine, and what new arguments might we make, if we told that story differently?

Speculative Designs presents one such story, drawing from the understudied visualization work of Elizabeth Peabody. The web-based project combines original archival research with interactive visualizations in order to demonstrate how the tools and techniques of data visualization carry very specific assumptions about how knowledge is produced and perceived.

Speculative Designs will be released in Summer 2016. You can see screenshots from the work-in-progress below, or click here to explore a prototype of the interactive version. (ETA 5/15/16: A direct link to the “build” mode prototype is here).


Screenshot of landing page. Design by Caroline Foster.

Interactive "build" mode (in progress). Design by Caroline Foster. Implementation by Caroline Foster and Erica Pramer.

Screenshot of interactive “build” mode (in progress). Design by Caroline Foster. Implementation by Caroline Foster and Erica Pramer.

UPDATE: We’ve begun a physical computing project aimed at recreating Peabody’s mural charts at full scale, and have been blogging about the process here.

Presentations and publications related to this project include:

  • With Catherine D’Ignazio, “Feminist Data Visualization,” IEEE VIS 2016 Workshop on Visualization for the Digital Humanities.”
  • “Speculative Designs: Lessons from the Archive of Data Visualization” 3DH: Three-dimensional Dynamic Data Visualization and Exploration for Digital Humanities Research Lecture Series, University of Hamburg, Germany, June 2016. Also presented at Davidson College, April 2016.
  • “Feminist Data Visualization: The Theoretical Work of 19th-Century Women Educators.” Program in Comparative Humanities, Bucknell University, February 2015. Also presented at the NULab for Texts, Maps, and Networks, Northeastern University, November 2015.
  • Floor Charts on the Floor Screen,” Medium, January 2015.
  • Visualization as Argument,” Genres of Scholarly Knowledge Production, Umea University, December 2014.

Project Contributors: Lauren Klein, Caroline Foster, and Erica Pramer.