He’s an author, an architect, and a researcher exploring the web and beyond for beautiful, complex designs. He was even nominated by Creativity magazine as “one of the 50 most creative and influential minds of 2009.” Manuel Lima‘s passion is designing, and he’s been spending the last decade sharing and exchanging ideas with information visualizers around the world.

manuel lima

Lima’s website Visual Complexity showcases hundreds of examples of complex networks, mapped for the easy understanding and viewing pleasure of all audiences. He uses this site to visually explore the different ways that networks both online and in a physical-social community may intertwine. He recently returned to his old stomping grounds, teaching the same program that he studied at Parsons School of Design in New York. The best advice that he gives his students?

It may be overrated, but I really believe that ‘Passion is a Magnet,’ and I think that that drives a lot of really good projects. Being curious, being passionate about the topic, and really getting into the nuts and bolts… I think that says a lot about your character. Really, passion makes the drive for good design.

But this is just part of his extracurricular work. Lima spends his dayside at Microsoft Bing, where he works as a Senior UX Design Lead. His team, along with Microsoft Research in New York City, published a project called Viral Search on Tuesday. The program uses big data collected from Twitter (potentially adding more social platforms to the list in the future) to analyze ways that information – or tweets – go viral and are spread throughout the network. Check out their demo:

It all began to come together in 2004 when Lima was working on his thesis project for the MFA program in Design and Technology at Parsons. During this time, he was compiling all of his final research into Blogviz; a visualization model that mapping the connectivity and structure across the blogosphere. Lima wasn’t particularly interested in the blogs themselves, only the actual medium, and he dedicated this site to analyzing how information is spread throughout the web.

It was at this point that Lima began to collect examples of network visualizations, not those just focusing on the blogosphere, but “really expanding to every topics from food webs to social networks, biological networks, transportation networks… Really just collecting as many examples as I could.”

After graduation, Lima dedicated all of his free time to researching and compiling information for his just-published site Visual Complexity. Lima eventually manifested his website into a physical book, where he was able to provide more of a historical context for the projects that he had been collecting over the years. Creating Visual Complexity: Mapping Patterns of Information not only made this work accessible to the larger public, but made it available for future generations.

emma mcnally graphite illustration

One of the most popular sections of the book were the art-related projects featured in Chapter 6: Complex Beauty. Here, he compiles works from traditional artists, painters, and sculptors who use the coding work of designers and scientists to create visualizations of these complex networks. See an example from Emma McNally above, who uses graphite illustrations to imitate classic mappings of cyberspace.

As one of the world’s leading voices on information visualization, Lima frequently speaks at conferences and schools around the world. The speech below was filmed at an event hosted by the Royal Society of Arts, a charity in the United Kingdom that encourages the development of communities, individuals, and public services in order to face today’s social challenges.

To see more of Lima’s talks, projects and biography, you can check out his personal website. Keep an eye out for his ideas and others by following him on Twitter, and stay in touch to read our next Spotlight Interview with another data leader.