The founder of Australia’s leading data visualization studio explored a number of projects before landing himself in the esteemed position he holds today. After developing two patents for a recommendation system and a data-mining algorithm, Ben Hosken realized that his experience had opened a world of opportunities for new projects and collaborations, and he switched gears to focus his work on the user-facing side of data in 2009 with Flinklabs.
I realized that we’re seeing a massive influx of more data as well as a need to use more tools and new ways of interacting with that data… We were trying to look at that sweet spot where data visualization is, where it’s that nice intersection of a bit of math, a bit of statistics, of design, coding… lots of bits of data-mining.
Of the many projects that he’s assisted with at Flinklabs, Hosken described his top three most illuminating examples of ways to make data visual:
1) Ebb and Flow of Melbourne Trains
One of their first and most successful visualizations, Hosken and his team show all of the trains in Melbourne running over the course of one day within only one minute. The crew had to compile information for every train’s time table off the web, geocoded each train station’s location, and determined the rate that each train accelerated and decelerated while moving between each station. The recognition they got for this project was undeniable, Hosken recounts that “just about every meeting we went into for the next year, people would say ‘Oh, you’re the guys who did the train visualization.’” He says that because trains are such a prominent part of Melbourne transportation, the content here really connected with local audiences.
2) Australian Institute of Sport: Movement of Field Hockey
This visualization shows how field hockey players interact with each other and move together around the field. Flinklabs tracked players’ movements to discover any patterns that a coach could then use to quickly identify the best possible strategy during a game. Hosken says that this project “highlighted the need to understand the data and the business domain in order to not just show something that was ‘obvious’ to anyone in the field.” This project was particularly challenging because it was such a complex dataset that largely relied on understanding the tactics behind the movements.
3) Department of Transport Customer Satisfaction
Hosken acknowledged this as one of their most functional visualization tools, designed to display the results of a customer satisfaction survey for a new railway train line being built over the next few years in Melbourne. It’s an exceptionally innovative project for the client as one of the first times they’ve displayed their data in an interactive way online. The large number of people that this information impacts made it especially important for Flinklabs to display this data clearly, concisely, and unbiased.
While Flinklabs primarily works with Australian clients and collaborators, Hosken agrees with Benjamin Wiederkehr that sharing knowledge with the global community of people in data visualization is valuable – if not necessary – in this line of work. Especially in such an emerging and varied field, he says:
Each particular market drives some differences, yet at the same time everybody’s got these works that they do that are exploratory and experimental… It’s interesting to learn from everyone and see what they’re doing in those respects.
Two weeks ago, Flinklabs had the chance to be a guest lecturer at the University of Melbourne, where a new data journalism course is being offered for the first time ever in Australia. Hosken says that there’s a worldwide recognition that data journalism is a huge area of growth and a way for smaller news organizations to add additional value by using these distinct techniques: “Journalism is more than just visualization of data – it’s that analysis and understanding of data, and the tools to be able to use that.”
Keep up with what’s going on at Flinklabs by following them on Twitter, and stay tuned for next week’s Spotlight Interview. In the mean time, happy charting!