The Physical Visualization of Information: Designing Data Sculptures in an Educational Context

  • Andrew Vande Moere
  • Stephanie Patel
Conference paper


This paper is a qualitative case study analysis of the issues involved in designing and implementing data sculptures, the physical “embodiment” of data in a tangible presence, shape or form, within the context of an undergraduate design studio. It demonstrates how approaches and theories from the field of data visualization can form a rich contextual resource and motivational tool for teaching principles of creative design. A relatively short, two-week assignment challenged students to investigate and convey a meaningful data-driven insight through a tangible representation. In this paper, we analyze the resulting collection of physical artifacts developed by the students to reveal notable design approaches of embodying abstract information. We present a novel classification of data sculptures based on a semiotic taxonomy (symbolic, iconic, or indexical) and consider the qualities of representational fidelity and narrative formulation, for instance when the unfolding of the data-driven narrative is seen as a process, rather than an outcome. In addition, we investigate how the introduction of digital fabrication techniques influenced the design strategies chosen by the students versus handmade approaches.


design education data visualization information aesthetics data Sculpture digital fabrication 


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We would like to thank all the students, tutors and teaching assistants who took part in the past infostudio courses, and in particular Justin Clayden, Sucharita Patra, Nick Cawthon, Monika Hoinkis, Andrea Lau, Martin Tomitsch and Gabriele Ulacco.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag US 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Design Lab, Faculty of Architecture, Design and PlanningThe University of SydneySydneyAustralia

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