Hannah Williams :)

ideas. design. open data. social change.

The Future

This station looks out onto the sports fields of Milnerton High School and this infographic is a visualisation of the future as seen through the eyes of the pupils at the school. Created as Black hat and Nimbus with Mark Henning.

Scroll down for a detailed description of the artwork and some observations.

Data Visualisation Public Art
Project 01b

The graphic was created using data collected via a survey of the pupils of Milnerton High School. The survey presented a variety of possible future events of both local and global relevance, and allowed students to check a box next to the time period they believed it might happen, if ever.

Using the principals of the steam graph format this striking visual is reminiscent of a ray gun or graffitti from a distance. The steam graph format works well as there is no definative date assigned to any particular event, rather it depicts the spread of predictions and clearly shows areas of strong agreement.

Like most of the bus station artworks it is designed to be viewed as one enters the station and the horizontal format allows commuters to choose an event and follow its line as they walk through the entrance corridor. The graphic has enough detail to be interesting even to regular commuters, as each time they can follow a different event.

The future events on the graphic are:

  • Whales become extinct
  • An artificially intelligent band has a number 1 hit
  • A white president is elected in South Africa
  • A cure is discovered for HIV/AIDS
  • Teleportation becomes the primary form of travel
  • Table Mountain is used as a giant electronic advertising billboard
  • A woman is elected president of South Africa
  • A dinosaur is cloned from fossil DNA
  • When students think they will die
  • A South African is awarded another Nobel Peace prize
  • Milnerton floods due to rising sea levels
  • Humans land on Mars
  • South Africa hosts another football world cup
  • MacDonalds introduces beef chow mein to their menu
  • African Union with a single currency
  • Humans make contact with intelligent extra-terrestrial life

The Process and some observations

We drew up a survey form with a range of questions (about 24 I think – not all of them were included in the final graphic) and handed it over about 1200 copies to the school. That was the easy bit. Then when we got the questionnaires back we had to capture all the data – 24 x 1200 = 28 800 data entries. It took us almost 2 solid days of calling out and typing in numbers, which was not any fun at all, but it was worth it and we ended up with a crazy futuristic ray gun graphic.

Some interesting observations can be made, that not only shed light on the students’ attitudes and expectations of the future but also show some common cognitive biases in action:

  • The only event to have more than 50% of pupils say it would never happen was humans making contact with intelligent life
  • The events that had the most concurrence amongst pupils was South Africa having a woman as president (in 5-10 years)
  • There was a degree of patriotic optimism regarding South Africa, with most pupils predicting that events such as South Africa hosting another world cup or a South African winning a Nobel Peace prize were very likely to happen in the next 40 years. It might also be a result of the recency effect, a psychological bias often exhibited that causes people to give more weight to recent events.
  • Most pupils predicted they would live another 65-85 years, and almost 24% said they would never die.
  • Generally their outlook on the future of the environment was a bit bleak, with events such as Milnerton flooding due to rising sea levels and whales becoming extinct being rated as having a very low percentage of ‘nevers’, with most pupils predicting that these events would happen in the next 40 years.

Special thanks to Milnerton High School for their cooperation on this project. We hope it has made the bus trip to school a little more interesting.