The 2009 Creativity 50: Manuel Lima

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Credit: Remy Bourganel
Manuel Lima might well become the Edward Tufte of the 21st century. Whereas Tufte brought a designer's eye to presenting information and thus revolutionized the chart and graph, Lima endeavors to make sense of all the myriad ways—computer-aided to hand-drawn—to communicate data. Considering those techniques include algorithms, interaction and visualization software, and data sets can now be as big as the Internet, Lima's taken on one considerable task.

A London-based interaction designer and information architect, Lima started, a curated catalog of visualizations. Work posted to the site represents a variety of information sets, from biology to social networks, as well as different visualization methods, from generative art—where an artist feeds a data set through an algorithm to create a seemingly abstract image—to a knowledge network, which might link how Internet search terms are connected to each other.

While researching the visualization of complex networks during his MFA at Parsons School of Design, Lima found no comprehensive resource for works of information visualization (infoviz, for short). In October 2005, Lima compiled his existing research and started the site, which now houses more than 600 visualizations of anything from genes and power systems to subway routes. The site is a resource for other researchers, scientists and designers exploring how others use the technological tools available to communicate difficult data. Since the ever-growing body of work is relatively young and unstudied, Lima hopes to set up a kind of taxonomy for infoviz, a way to classify how designers and artists use colors, symbols, algorithms and interactivity to illuminate data. Lima intends's tagging system to be the beginning of that lexicon.

What's more impressive is that and Lima's infoviz lectures aren't even his day job. Lima is also part of the user interface design and prototyping team at Nokia Design. He says the connection between his Nokia work and infoviz is becoming increasingly apparent as the mobile phone, which is starting to track and map environmental factors and daily activities, develops into the data hub of a user's world.

Lima, on the relevance of information visualization: "Our ability to generate and acquire data has by far outpaced our ability to make sense of that data. Meaningful information is not a given fact, and particularly now, when our cultural artifacts are being measured in gigabytes and terabytes, organizing, sorting and displaying information in an efficient way is a crucial measure for knowledge and ultimately wisdom. This is where information visualization undertakes an important mission."

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