Radiu5 – Data Visualisation

Author: Andy Hartwell

Over the last 12 months, Substrakt has noticed a very positive trend in the West Midlands – organisations learning the value of digital data and using it to empower and encourage local people to make the most of the places and spaces around them. Our most recent completed work, the Radiu5 Project, is a great example of how this can work really well as a collaborative and engaging initiative for young people in particular.

Radiu5 is the brainchild of Sampad, a dynamic development agency for South Asian arts based in Birmingham. It has a particular focus on youth arts projects, encouraging young people to grow their skills and experience and further them whilst taking part in cultural education opportunities. Radiu5, a key Sampad project for 2011, saw volunteers collecting digital data which highlighted the creative and arts opportunities available within a five mile radius of mac Birmingham for young people, with the intention of inspiring wider involvement and creating a lasting online archive.

Substrakt’s job was to design and build a digital way of showing the data that the young volunteers had collected.

From the start, the project was fun and hectic to work on for all the team. The 30 young adult volunteers had some fantastic ideas of groups of information they wanted to collect, from Birmingham’s graffiti art, venues for band rehearsals and affordable places for groups of friends to meet. We worked with them in groups, helping them decide on how they wanted to see this material come together, and importantly, how it can be connected to create an overall story. The Substrakt team coached the volunteers in data collection methods and upload techniques, subject matter brainstorms and feedback sessions at every stage of the design process.

Front-end interaction with the exhibition was via a touchscreen which in turn powered a matrix of large displays. We had to think carefully about using animations that responded to touch, avoiding ‘hover’ effects. The specification of the displays was still an unknown at the time of design, so we opted to design an interface that intelligently scaled to the dimensions of any given display. This way users were able to play using any type of device. The data points bubbled up on the left of the installation, changing in radius depending on the popularity of the tagged content. Navigating through the bubbles brought similar ‘linked’ data points into view. Any content (images, video, audio, editorial) that related to the data points then appeared on the right. Content that was geotagged was displayed on a minimap. The whole interface was powered via jQuery & Ajax in order to maintain a smooth immersive experience, avoiding the need for jerky page refreshes.

We focused on ensuring that each visitor got a unique experience from playing with the visualistion, finding data that took them on an informative storytelling journey.

Substrakt trained the volunteer teams to guide young users around the exhibition and encourage users to upload new content of their own. The visualisation was also made available as a website for future use, with the project ending in May 2011.