Students in a Graphic Design Studio Use Complex Data to Create Interactive Research Projects

a student presents a project on a long scroll of paper

Students in a Wintersession course offered through the Graphic Design department are learning to organize, interpret and present raw data to create compelling visual narratives. Grad students Dohee Kim MFA 25 GD and Shiyue Wang MFA 24 GD co-designed the class, DataTelling, to help students identify topics of personal interest and develop creative approaches to telling stories that draw the viewer in.

“Learning how to choose the right materials and mediums is crucial in storytelling,” Kim explains. “Our goal is to help designers communicate complex information in engaging ways, whether that be in the digital or physical world.”

Wang is very much interested in teaching after she earns her MFA and really appreciates the challenge. “The grad teaching experience at RISD is unique,” she says. “We were encouraged to design our own class from the ground up and learned so much from the process.”

In late January, the class looked for inspiration in Special Collections at the Fleet Library, where Librarian Claudia Covert shared relevant projects dating back to the 1970s. One of the publications she selected—Pig 05049 by Dutch designer Christien Meindertsma—is the very piece that drew Wang into data representation as an undergrad at Willem de Kooning Academy in Rotterdam. Meindertsma tracked all 185 products made from a single pig—everything from insulin to antifreeze to X-ray film—and organized them by body part.

students check out compelling projects in Special Collections
Special Collections Librarian Claudia Covert shows the class a piece from the 1970s
The class visited Special Collections at the Fleet Library, where Librarian Claudia Covert (bottom photo) showed them inspiring data-focused projects from the collection.

After Reasonable Research by RISD alum Miranda Maher 88 PR presents a timeline of wars dating back to the year 0 arranged on a long scroll of paper reminiscent of French wallpaper. It Is What It Is by Richard Kraft is a series of bound volumes documenting comments by former president Donald Trump, each one color-coded by level of impropriety.

After poring over the projects on view, the class heads back to the studio, where Wang and Kim meet with the students to discuss final project plans. Brown/RISD Dual Degree student Tiffany Huang BRDD 26 ID is planning to create a foldable poster augmented with scannable digital filters that documents her online relationship with a childhood friend. “I’m interested in the idea of online relationships, particularly in the ways that the histories of friendships are catalogued in chat logs, providing a tangible way to reflect on how two people grow closer over time,” she says. Wang encourages her to create some personal and surprising categories when she organizes the chats.

Senior Muskan Jain 24 ID is considering making a board game presenting data about the relationship between the climate where a person lives and the kinds of beverages they use to hydrate. She plans to create a basic survey to gather information about the drinking habits of fellow RISD students.

a student holds up a poster archiving her online relationship with an old friend
Hydration Heroes is a board game about staying hydrated
Above, Tiffany Huang created a project documenting her online relationship with an old friend; below, senior Muskan Jain investigated hydration and presented the data she collected via a board game. 

Wang and Kim are delighted with the progress the students have made in such a short period of time and remind them to think about the audience for their projects and to keep it personal, focusing on “small data” rather than “big data.”

On the last day of Wintersession, the class gathers one last time to review their final projects. Senior Keyu Zhu 24 FD is interested in extinct languages and has created a wooden box to house a long scroll she unrolls for the class containing a map and carefully organized data, such as who the last speaker of each language was. Kim enjoys the interactive nature of the piece, and another student in the class is surprised to learn that one of the extinct languages Zhu discovered is a form of sign language.

Industrial Design major Xore Huang 24 ID presents a project called SEISMO focused on earthquakes (of 6.0 magnitude or greater) and their effect on human society. He presents the data via an interactive website that includes historical images, geological samples and more. “It is amazing how much data you’ve analyzed,” Wang notes. “I love the aesthetics of this project and appreciate all the subtle details you’ve incorporated.”

Simone Solondz / photos by Jo Sittenfeld MFA 08 PH
February 22, 2024

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