Interaction designer Benjamin Wiederkehr is the managing director, user experience lead, and one of the founders of Interactive Things, a design studio that helps people make their products and information more interactive and visual. His own interests lie in persuasive technology, knowledge visualization, and cartography. As he says, he’s basically interested in “making complex processes more simple to understand.”

Wiederkehr first got in touch with data visualization while studying Interaction Design at Zurich University of the Arts, where he documented all of his research and production work for his bachelor’s thesis on a public website so that he could share what he found with others. Once he translated all of the content on his site to English, the Datavisualisation.ch blog created an open discussion with people from around the world not only about Wiederkehr’s research, but about other people’s work that he had presented.

We started to bring some attention to topics that we didn’t feel that we were experts in, but that are of interest to us… It was a part-publication, part-learning instrument for us, and we just decided to do this learning process quite publicly… It worked out very well because we were able to get in touch with so many experienced practitioners in this area.

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The blog was gaining a huge amount of traffic and Widerkehr was overwhelmed with interesting project proposals, but couldn’t find the time to engage in all of these while juggling a full-time job because, as he says, “you only have so many hours during the night.” That’s why one year out of school, Wiederkehr used his bachelor’s blog as a foundation to begin Interactive Things – a design studio – with two of his peers, adding two more from the same class by the end of 2010.

I was very fortunate to be able to collaborate not only with friends… But also co-workers that you already knew how they work, what their specialities are, how they communicate with each other, so of course that made it very easy for us to be productive.

Below is an infographic Wiederkehr and his team put together for Khan Academy, a non-profit organization dedicated to offering free world-class education to anyone, anywhere. Interactive Things consolidated a huge amount of data into this image to display the topics of the 3,101 lectures that they offer online.

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Of course, great work evolves from great work models. Here, Wiederkehr lists his top three sources of inspiration:

  1. Visual Complexity: Authored by Manuel Lima, Wiederkehr describes this site not as a blog, but as “a library of projects” with a “consistency of documenting interesting projects in the field of data visualization.”
  2. Flowing Data’s Nathan Yau: Described not only as an inspiration, but also as a source of news and knowledge in this field.
  3. InfostheticsAndrew Vande Moere: He praises Vande Moere as one of the most active bloggers covering a broad variety of projects.

Wiederkehr says that luck has allowed him to work with each of these people, and that travelling has opened the floodgates to meet others in his shared field.

I’ve really enjoyed the exchange of this community, and not just the people writing about these things – but the people actually creating visualizations. So sometimes I have two hats, one hat being a designer myself and creating visualizations, and the other is documenting what other people do.

When looking forward to the changes that 2013 could bring, Wiederkehr says that it’s hard to pinpoint only one area of focus. The most important on Interactive Thing’s agenda:  Growing as a team, and not by size, but in collaboration. He’s most looking forward to being more active in the data community and sharing ideas with other practitioners.

It’s all very open – the exchange is very big and active and I really like that… Completing visualization projects that are challenging by adding people that we feel are experts in a certain area… What I would really say is, improving the quality of our work is one of the biggest things that we want to achieve. I don’t know if this sounds exciting but it is for me, and I think the rest of my team would agree.

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This excitement is mirrored by all of us at iCharts who can agree that ‘big data’ is a big deal in today’s constantly changing business world. These days, more than half of the work at Interactive Things deals with international clients, and their Datavisualisation blog acts as a premier news resource for visualization and infographics. We’re definitely looking forward to seeing the cool projects that Wiederkehr and his team will share in the future.

Follow @wiederkehr to keep up with all Interactive Things, and stay tuned for our next spotlight interview to come!