Putting Physicality into Data Visualizations

Creating Tools

Data visualization is increasingly becoming a popular tool to understand complex data, but there are equal challenges getting the data in and out. Collecting meaningful data is about making the gathering an interesting task, and one that doesn’t become a chore. During the early stages of a data visualization project I identified a possible solution that would let users dynamically add data points through a physical act, that would then be digitized for reuse later. That solution utilized the children’s toy Lite-Brite.


Design Objective: The Lite-Brite

  • Create a collaborative input device.
  • Collect the analog data and digitize it.
  • Store that data so that it can be used later as an archive OR
  • To use the data collected and feed it into a new digital visualization


Building the Experiment


To build this prototype I used a modified Lite-Brite, a Raspberry Pi, a Pi and LED’s and a diffuser to light contained in a box. The person could then add pegs to the top using various colours to create data points. The Raspberry Pi would then take photos at set intervals and save it. The photos would have to be parsed by some code to read the point values in the grid and then write those values as a file.

 The Prototype



The captured image is fairly clear from the BerryCam inside the box. However due to the refraction on the tips of the pegs, some of the colours are distorted taking the original 8 colours down to 6. The perspective is shifted by the position of the camera as seen in the gridded second image. Overall the results are promising for future experimentation.




The Next Steps

The image capture is clear enough to be able to parse the holes out to individual elements and read the colour value present. The next step is to write the code to parse through the rows and store that value into a .CSV file. In that form it could become spreadsheet date, or used into other visualization tools to see trends overtime.

So far I have experimented with letter forms, and could make an interesting pixel font. Experimentation is needed to find other opportunities, and perhaps one day it will find a calling.