Visualizing the Crisis

An Information Design workshop to track the unfolding global financial crisis

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“This time it will be different”.
— Every market commentator, ever.

Towards the end of 2015, a handful of financial experts began to warn of an imminent global crisis. Long threads on specialized blogs were rarely picked up by mainstream media outlets. Similar to what happened in 2008, it seemed that the vast majority of commentators were failing to recognize the symptoms of the looming disaster. Perhaps nobody was able to see them: the ways in which market dynamics are visualized have scarcely improved, despite the recurrent crises that have occurred over the past century.


Topics and Groups

The seven topics of research were chosen according to their relevancy to the contemporary financial discourse and their likely influence on an upcoming crisis: Central Banking, Employment, Energy, EU Debt Crisis, Gold, Real Estate, and Tech Bubble. The students were asked to become familiar with these issues by looking at daily news, with an insight into the connections between the reported facts and the role of politicians, countries, organizations, entrepreneurs, and their effects on the life of citizens. Besides this, they could also look at broader historical sources, in order to better frame their analysis and understanding of contemporary events.

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Employment, Issue #10
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Central Banking, issue #07 (front) and #04 (back)
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EU Debt Crisis, issue #08 (front) and #06 (back)

Outputs

The lab has three outputs. Firstly, a series of 10 weekly bulletins for each group, for a total amount of 70 double-sided, single A3 papers printed with a Risograph machine. Each of these bulletins has been collectively and entirely researched, edited and designed in seven days. The students collected and visualised through them all the crucial data relative to their specific area of investigation. As a fundamental design decision, the content was limited to text, vector diagrams and illustrations, requiring the students to design themselves everything that appears on each issue. Design possibilities were further refined by curbing the color palette to just three options: black, red and green (a choice that also takes advantage of the technical limitations of the Risograph). The complete series of the bulletins shows the evolution of different design grammars and languages for each group, while consolidating emerging threads of events throughout the overall 15 weeks of work. As one of the most outstanding examples, the consequences of the UK vote in the EU Referendum that took place on June 23rd (the day prior the final exhibition of the course’s outcomes) are often analyzed and reported in many of the issues. The PDF files of all the bulletins are collected here.

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Risograph-printed bulletins, detail
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Views of the interactive installation with the printed XML reports, June 24th

Methods and Tools

The premise of the course was to adopt information design as an investigative tool: to visualize news and data in order to get a better understanding of their evolving context, rather than turning to design as a polished mean of representation for a well-established truth. By focusing on finance, we wanted to address one of the most important — and, at the same time, obscure — domains of the contemporary world, where information is often conveyed through the lens of despair and conspiracy. The aim was to look at the evolution of current events by revealing the hidden connections between the actors at every level of local and global organizations, and by rendering complex patterns of data and relationships into legible diagrams.

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Final exhibition at IUAV, Venice, on June 24th, 2016

Resources

All the contents, tools and the complete documentation of the course are archived on a Github repository, entirely free to browse, download, copy, and use for your own research purposes. The entire series of the printed bulletins is collected here. A wider selection of photos from the printing process and the IUAV exhibition can be also found here.


Colophon

First and foremost, the credit goes to the students. Their painstaking research and design commitment allowed them to gain expertise in reading the complex world of finance; to craft a refined visual language for the representation of both mathematical, statistical and news information; and finally, to understand the differences between a printed output and an open-source, digital repository of the same information. Here are their names, organized by group:

  • Employment: Daniela Bracco, Ilaria Gava, Andrea Marson
  • Energy: Eleonora Di Bartolo, Serena Montefiori, Maria Tollot
  • EU Debt Crisis: Francesca Alaimo, Jacopo Faggian, Valeria Mento
  • Gold: Noemi Incardona, Fabiana Mangano, Alessandra Neri
  • Real Estate: Irene Chiappini, Giulia Serafin
  • Tech Bubble: Elisa Bianchi, Francesca Luzi, Federico Rita

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