The finished product
Q: Do you have an idea of what a visualization will look like before you begin your work, or does it evolve as your analysis progresses?
A: I have an idea of what the visualisation will look like up to a point: I keep experimenting with the data and try to see whether the shapes that I have in my head are feasible using this data set. Sometimes I have an idea in my mind, yet, when the data is actually gathered for this visual, I realise that the graphic that I was so fixed upon actually is impossible to create with the given data, which is part of the process, I suppose. Often I try to use forms to visualise the text that not only represent the data but also become a visual metaphor for some of the themes found within the text. For example, the Literary Organism method of visualising text, while merely a simple tree structure, was meant to look like a living and breathing organic being. I wanted to communicate how literature that has a particular resonance with someone has a vibrant, living quality. Also, comparing text and organisms works neatly as both are cellular in that they are complex structures produced of smaller and smaller components.
Q: How did you choose "Work of Art" as a
A: I worked with 20x200 for the selection of this essay. It was the first time that I ever read this essay, to be honest! Normally I either pick my favourite, most influential books to analyse or work with text that influences and inspires other people and use the project to understand their reasons for this love of the text.
Q: You've visualized both "Work of Art" and On the Origin of Species. How do they compare, and what insights can you
glean about their respective styles from their differences?
A: 'Origin of Species' was a collaborative project between myself and Greg McInerny,
a post-doc researcher at Microsoft Research (and my brother-in-law). Together,
we decided to visualise insertions and deletions of text across the six
editions of the book in order to communicate to the viewer the complexity and
exceptional level of refinement to the text that Darwin undertook. [Ed.’s note: you can see the representation of the changes across the
editions here; Greg McInerny’s description of the project is here.]
For 'Work of Art' I decided to visualise the basic structure of the essay and also tried to analyse each sentence according to its role within the essay, figuring out whether Benjamin was making a key point in a particular sentence, or whether he was providing evidence to uphold his point, and so on. I wanted to focus on making clear the structure of his argument in this essay.So, while these methods of analysing the text could be applied to both texts, Greg and I/I selected which type of data we/I wanted to visualise based on what we wanted to communicate about the text to the viewer.
Q: Your First Chapters project seems to involve exclusively works of fiction, while you have charted several works of nonfiction using your literary organism method. How do you find that your representations of fiction and nonfiction differ?
A: For the First Chapters project I wanted to keep it consistent and only look at
20th century English-language fiction in order to compare it with On the Road,
by Jack Kerouac, which was the focus of my 'Writing Without Words' project. Theoretically all the approaches that I use could be applied to both
fiction and non-fiction, however, with non-fiction I think it would be less
exciting for me to analyse on the basis of theme or upon the rhythm of the
sentence because non-fiction is, as its name says, factual and less taken to
expressive, poetic sentences (at least, in the small sample I have worked with,
this is a generalisation!). I have noticed that when working with non-fiction I
am more interested in the analysis of the structure of the text (how it is
divided into chapters, sub-chapters, points, etc.) and the structure of the
arguments and evidence within the text, whereas in fiction I am more fascinated
with trying to represent the poetic style of language and the text's key
Q: As a jacket designer, what do you see as the differences between the ways you represent written works-- jacket vs. visualization? Which kind of work did you do first, and to what extent does each type of your work inform the other? Do you enjoy one kind more than the other?
A: I created any of the Kerouac visualisations that you see around the internet on
my MA Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins College of Art &
Design, London, so I took this work into my interview at Penguin: I like to think that it
helped me get the job! It also meant that I was given the opportunity to design
covers for some unpublished Kerouac works at Penguin, which I never
thought I would have the opportunity to do while I was painstakingly analysing On
the Road a couple years previously.
My ultimate project would be to somehow merge book cover design and text visualisation, though I have yet found the perfect book cover to make this happen. As for which method of working with text I enjoy the most, I would say text visualisation as it is something that I do only for myself and is derived from my obsessive enjoyment of analysing text in a microscopic manner. Yet, I love book design as I think it is quite possibly one of the best commercially-centred jobs in the world: in book design you are helping to promote people's ideas, and to be part of this excites and inspires me daily. Both text visualisation and book cover design appeal to me because through both, I often become attached to the text and the project on a personal level, which is more than can be said for other jobs I've had.