IEEE Computer Society and GBC/ACM

7:00 PM, Thursday, December 11, 2008

Broad Institute Auditorium (MIT building NE-30)

Computational Information Design

Ben Fry

benfry photo The ability to collect and store data continues to increase, but our ability to understand it remains unchanged. In an attempt to gain better understanding of data, fields such as information visualization, data mining and graphic design are employed, each solving an isolated part of the specific problem, but failing in a broader sense: there are still too many unsolved data visualization problems. As a solution, I propose "Computational Information Design", which brings the individual fields together as part of a single process. I'll be showing examples of work developed as part of my Ph.D. dissertation at the MIT Media Laboratory, as a postdoc at the Eli & Edythe L. Broad Institute of MIT & Harvard, and more recently as a designer and consultant. The work ranges from illustrations of data for magazines and journals to software tools used by geneticists to gesture-controlled interfaces for large data sets. We'll also briefly cover Processing (a programming environment co-developed with Casey Reas of UCLA), which helps enable this type of work.

Ben Fry received his doctoral degree from the Aesthetics + Computation Group at the MIT Media Laboratory, where his research focused on combining fields such as Computer Science, Statistics, Graphic Design, and Data Visualization as a means for understanding complex data. After completing his thesis, he spent time developing tools for visualization of genetic data as a postdoc with Eric Lander at the Eli & Edythe L. Broad Insitute of MIT & Harvard. During the 2006-2007 school year, Ben was the Nierenberg Chair of Design for the the Carnegie Mellon School of Design. At the end of 2007, he finished Visualizing Data for O'Reilly. He currently works as a designer in Cambridge, MA.

With Casey Reas of UCLA, he currently develops Processing, an open source programming environment for teaching computational design and sketching interactive media software that won a Golden Nica from the Prix Ars Electronica in 2005. In 2006, Fry received a New Media Fellowship from the Rockefeller Foundation to support the project. Processing was also featured in the 2006 Cooper-Hewitt Design Triennial. In 2007, Reas and Fry published Processing: A Programming Handbook for Visual Designers and Artists with MIT Press.

His personal work has shown at the Whitney Biennial in 2002 and the Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial in 2003. Other pieces have appeared in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, at Ars Electronica in Linz, Austria and in the films "Minority Report" and "The Hulk." His information graphics have also illustrated articles for the journal Nature, New York Magazine, Seed, and Communications of the ACM.

This joint meeting of the Boston/Central New England Chapter of the IEEE Computer Society and GBC/ACM will be held in the Broad Institute Auditorium (MIT building NE-30). The Broad Institute is on Main St between Vassar and Ames streets. You can see it on a map at this location. The auditorium is on the ground floor near the entrance.

For more information contact Peter Mager (p.mager at

Updated: Sept 22, 2008.