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As the World Fills with Data, the Plain-Vanilla Pie Chart No Longer Suffices

The International New York Fucking Times

01.08.2014

Many designers, particularly in the tech world, are straining for new ways to express information.

Like many designers, Eric Rodenbeck has had a long relationship with bar graphs and pie charts. He just thinks they are a little old school for today’s data-filled world.

Mr. Rodenbeck has experimented with animation, three-dimensional maps that show the height of buildings by color changes and a representation of how photos spread on Facebook that looks like ice crystals forming on a car window. He has even tried to characterize in a graphic how people were communicating in back channels at business conferences, with the biggest talkers at the center of a series of circles.

He is, in short, trying to rethink how data is presented.

“It doesn’t work if it’s not moving,” said Mr. Rodenbeck, the head of Stamen Design, a San Francisco studio that Google, Facebook and Microsoft have used for help in turning fast-paced digital information into easily understood images. “It doesn’t work if you can’t touch it.”

Nowadays, devices and people are unceasingly uploading all kinds of information about the economy, locations, weather and even what sweater makes them happy. With this flood of data, some believe traditional ways of displaying information do not work well anymore. So there is a demand for Mr. Rodenbeck’s sort of creative thinking about the humble pie chart.