Q&A with Wes Grubbs
Welcome to our ongoing Q&A series, where we're introducing you to some of the designers behind the work you see at Visualizing.org. Join the conversation in the comments below!
Wesley Grubbs is the founder of Pitch Interactive, a data visualization and interactive studio that focuses on new technologies to solve complex needs. With a mix of both creative talent and programming ability, Wes and his team build visuals that are as fluid and artistic as they are statistically sound. Their designs engage and educate viewers in what would otherwise be daunting volumes of information.
V: How and when did you get started in data visualization?
WG: The seed was planted during my freshman year studying International Economics at the University of Arkansas (ca. 1994). It was my first day of Macroeconomic Theory and the professor discussed how the price of bread in Afghanistan could be used to help measure the amount of heroin in New York. From that point, I was fascinated by how everything in the world is somehow connected. Once I finished my Bachelor studies in 1997, I moved to Europe where I lived in Germany and Croatia for 5 years working as a Web developer. In 2002, I returned to the States to pursue a Masters degree in Information Systems where I had a chance to work with massive databases, neural networks and data theory. During this entire time, I had been working along some great designers and exploring some aspects of aesthetics myself. Everything seemed to come full-circle in 2007 when I started Pitch Interactive. I was able to combine my experience in data analysis, software programming and design together in a field where all of these elements are crucial to understand.
V: Tell us about a data viz project you're especially proud of.
WG: The diagram we did last for WIRED Magazine showing 311 calls in New York City was a piece that I felt was done the right way from beginning to end and the result was a visualization that fit perfectly with the story being told as well as being a strong stand-alone piece. We were given well-formed data files that allowed us to quickly find a few interesting topics to highlight. After just a few days, we determined that the stream graph worked great as an analytical tool to quickly see the number of calls over time as well as being aesthetically strong. With this, we were able to stimulate both sides of the brain and I think this is one element that helps make a data visualization successful. A visualization that engages us as viewers while informing us at the same time.
V: What's the most exciting development that's happened in the field in the past year?
WG: The leaders in this field are connecting with one another like never before and this is a great thing for the advancement of data visualization. One example is the Eyeo Festival that was held in Minneapolis in June this year where professionals, leaders and eager learners attended the event and we were all excited about the discussions and sharing of ideas non-stop for the 3 days the event was held. This type of community is going to help with the advancement of data visualization because we have more direct access to each other to give feedback, share ideas and discuss important topics.
V: Where do you see data visualization heading in the next couple of years?
WG: Right now, it seems like everybody wants to incorporate data visualization somewhere. Client presentations, annual reports, product launches, advertising, etc... The problem I see is that people often compare the creative process of visualizing data to the interactive media process that ad agencies have developed. But the actual process is quite different, especially because data must first be analyzed and understood before any form of creative process can begin when you visualize data. Within the next several years, I see more people understanding this process and, as a result, data visualization maturing. Less "fluffy" graphics and more informational graphs with actual data points.
I also see data quality becoming more of a focus over data quantity. There is an enormous amount of data out there and it can easily get overwhelming. I would love to see a more standard format for data delivery from more data sources (i.e. government, medical, educational, etc.) where queries for data will be better filtered and focused.
V: What is one visualization or data set you've always wanted to tackle but haven't yet had the time?
WG: I'm constantly trying to find time to work with the US Census data. To explore and look for deeper meaningful stories about how the United States has evolved over the last several decades intrigues me greatly. There's a wealth of information that I feel has yet to be tapped into, especially in terms of exploring many layers of information. For example, how has education, race distribution, income, family size and gender evolved across the country and then to explore potential factors responsible for the changes.