Aaron Koblin loves bits and bytes and data. He thinks they’re beautiful and intriguing. He, and his large following of fans, even think data can be Art. As the key collaborator with Chris Milk on projects like The Wilderness Downtown and The Johnny Cash Project, Koblin has helped expand and energize the field of data visualization. Google likes his ideas too – he currently leads the one-of-a-kind Data Arts Team at Google Creative Labs. He swung into the New Frontier Lab last night for a softspoken and wonderful keynote as the finish to the lab’s week.
Koblin began with his own background as an undergraduate in computer sciences, fascinated with data sets and programming. When graduate studies came, he decided to change focus and study Fine Arts and Film instead, “Data is software, really. It reflects boundaries of thought, closed parameters and settings. I had a feeling I wanted to explore that visually. I wanted to take rules, constraints and limits and transform their chaos, complexity, beauty and meaning.“
Koblin ran through his impressive and surprising project reel: The Sheep Market, Flight Patterns, eCloud art installation at the San Jose Airport in California, the Ten Thousand Cents project and others. His recent TED Talk “Artfully Visualizing Our Humanity” can introduce you to his approach to blending data and artistic creative contexts.
Many in the Lab audience had seen Koblin speak before / many sat in awe – taking it all in for the first time. “Art speaks for itself, the intrigue is in the exploration of what’s possible,” Koblin said. “The interface is the message. Every decision we make in these experiments can affect the aesthetic result: color, zoom and scale are just some of them.”
The conversation flowed freely and intimately in the Sundance Screening Room. Occasionally, a question rose from the group, and he’d stop to toss it out to his collaborator Chris Milk. Koblin claimed Milk was probably slumped in his chair, hating the act of watching his own work only because he’s never quite satisfied. Koblin praised Milk, who he met in 2005, for his curious and fearless spirit in creating these experiences. “Chris always got his hands dirty, he was always asking questions and asking what’s possible,” Koblin smiled. “The Johnny Cash Project” they produced was featured in the Sundance Film Festival New Frontier section last year. The two have already teamed up for another project, to be announced soon.
At the end of the night, Koblin shared and rolled through his most precious chestnuts; a personal manifesto of learned-ideas for creative projects using technology in storytelling. We present them raw:
- Choose Collaborators Wisely
- Trust In Your Idea
- Being Novel Never Hurts
- First Impressions Matter
- It Never Sucks To Work With Radiohead
- Put Your Users First: Balance This With Your Vision
- You Are Competing With Everything Else Online
- Make It Real
- People Like To Be Treated Like People
- People Want To Express Themselves
- Often: Less Is More
- When Something Is Amazing, Point It Out Explicitly
- Technique And Technology Should Be Invisible
- Empathy With Your Audience Is Key
- Users Are Only Ever One-Click Away From Leaving Your Experience
- Under Promise – Over Deliver
You can follow Aaron Koblin on Twitter and thank him for his tips, here.