Primary Tools & Materials:
NATURAL ELEMENTS, DATA VISUALIZATION

Additional Tools & Materials: paper, tweezers, camera

I have always been fascinated by seashells. Despite how commonplace they are, I'm still amazed when I find one intact on the beach. Amazed to be holding what is essentially the little house of a tiny creature long gone. So it shocked me to be able to purchase a giant bag of tiny, intact, beautiful seashells for about $4 at Michaels. I thought they were small enough and similar enough that I could use them as modular pieces to a type study of natural elements. The matchup for today was between natural elements and data visualization. I've seen examples of charts that already look like letter Js - bar charts of data that originate in the same place, begin descending vertically, then curve off to the side. In my opinion, they're not terribly legible or informative - in fact, they can be misleading - which string is the best? Is the shortest best? Is the worst string the one that curves back the furthest? Not incredibly clear. But nonetheless, a data visualization I knew I could work with. 

The bag of shells I bought included hundreds of small shells, most of them in multiples of ten or more. I decided to pull out the similar shells and use them as the variables to "chart" through the data visualization. I even arranged them in descending order according to size. For scale, the largest shell in the top left is about 3/4", the small black cone shell on the far left is about 1/4". 

What occurred to me as I assembled this chart is that this could easily be a representation of real data, related to these actual objects. I'm already showing a relation between the number of objects in each category, as well as the size of the objects within that category. I am actually visualizing the qualitative data of this group of objects. But there could be an additional layer of information here. What if this showed the percentage of marine life belonging to these four shells, and what if these were the four most common shells found in a particular geographical region? Or a graph relating endangered species and how their numbers may compare? I've seen a lot of charts and graphs that do use imagery or iconography to relate informational data, and that's what I'm doing here. What's weird is that I didn't realize that's what I had done until I had already done it - I was just using these objects to define a shape that resembled a chart.