[This is a guest post by Justine Rudnicki*, about her project Chicago Blues]
In my second year Information Design course, our last project for the term was to create a network infographic that showed interconnected relationships.
With incredible option and opportunity in front of me to solve this problem, my mind gravitated towards one of my favourite things: music. Or more specifically, blues music.
Having been a fan of blues for as long as I can remember, I thought the genre would be a perfect field to explore and draw connections in. The incredibly rich history it has along with the vibrantly collaborative relationships between its musicians made it a perfect fit.
And so, I started my quest and looked more deeply into the sub-genre of Chicago Blues. From here, I began with a spreadsheet. A very detailed and very long spreadsheet. It contained just about every detail I could think to collect about each musician—from clubs that they frequently played in, to who their inspirations were, who they played with, their home state, and so on. Upon gathering all that data, I narrowed it down to the the few and fullest sections that applied to each artist: instrument played, record company, and who they performed/recorded with.
It was here that the real challenge began. Finding a manner in which to organize the data meaningfully, clearly, and with interconnection was much more difficult than I had anticipated. Initially, my inclination was to draw some sort of map between these factors, to create a web of influence and crossover. However, with such a bevy of detail and information, it became muddy rather quickly. Consequently, after going through a flurry of variations and modifications of this approach, it was back to the drawing board.
At this point I found great inspiration in the works featured in Manuel Lima’s “Visual Complexity,” a book which draws a clear and thorough history of information design and contemporary approaches to representing a wide range of subject matter through highly intricate network data visualization. This work inspired me to try a new approach that converged what I was trying to get across: cleanliness and ease in understanding, whilst embracing complexity and detail.
As a result, each segment of data collected became its own section of information, and the forms that drew connection became their voice. Soon, the mix of sparse and cluttered areas of lines in relation to the frequency of the information being represented began presenting the information on its own, as the multitude of lines emanating from highly collaborative artists such as Howlin’ Wolf or the popularity and influence of Chess Records became highly visible.
With artists listed from left to right in birth order, and record company by year of its founding, it also began to tell a chronological history. Such as the golden age of Chicago Blues in the mid-40’s to mid-50’s, and the multi-generational influence of various artists throughout the peaks and valleys of the genre as a whole. Read from bottom-up or vice versa, the piece can be gradually more or less specific, depending on what the viewer hopes to attain from the work. One can read the career of a single artist, record company, prevalence of a particular instrument, and any combination of factors in between.
Finishing this project left me with a new appreciation for blues music. It taught me just how collaborative and influential artists were with one another, showing their passion for each other’s music was just as strong as mine is for theirs. In the future I hope to continue the piece into a series on different genres of music, but for now, my eyes are still re-adjusting from all the lines and curves this one required.
And if you haven’t yet, look up and listen to the musicians featured in this piece. It’s worth it.
Go on, I’ll wait.
*My name is Justine Rudnicki, and I am a design student at YSDN, a joint Honours Bachelor of Design program at York University and Sheridan College. I believe in hard work and kindness. My favourite juice is a tie between cranberry and grapefruit. I appreciate puns, maps, and puzzles. When I was a kid, I wanted to be an astronaut. Now I can’t imagine being anything other than a designer. But I’d still like to explore space. I tried writing this in the third person and it felt weird.