That’s right, I said TED. The world famous TED organisation was founded by Richard Saul Wurman and Harry Marks in 1984. In its case, TED stands for technology, entertainment and design, but by happy accident the three realms that converge in my masters project bear the same initials.

A friend recently told me that one of TED’s founders said that the key to communicating information is to tell a story. Connect to people emotionally, draw them into a narrative, make it personal. Then, they will listen and remember. That’s exactly why theatre, film, novels, poetry and music change the world. That’s why this project proposes theatre as a vessel to carry ideas about environment.

To look at it from another angle, the lack of story is a common failing in data communication. Data is amazing. We have so much of it. You can parcel it up as neat graphs in reports and presentations and it sure makes you look smart. It even makes you look right. But it won’t make you memorable, and it won’t make your audience care about your topic. We want a narrative. Theatre could be the missing link.

I couldn’t find the quote my friend was referring to, but in looking for it I found some other wonderful soundbites from Richard Saul Wurman.

In this video he says:

“If it doesn’t inform…it’s not information, it’s data. It’s so much stuff. We are overloaded with data and non-information.”

He’s talking about news articles that don’t provide the information necessary to understand them, that reference people, events and ideas without explaining them, and leave us feeling inadequate and overloaded. This can certainly also apply to data visualisation. Have you ever looked at a graph and felt frustrated? It’s not clear what the axes represent, or the period or time or the group of people. Or maybe it’s clear but it lacks the context that would give it meaning. Maybe you can’t concentrate on it long enough to understand it, because it’s just not interesting; there’s no story.

I also found a piece of advice, a gift to celebrate the launch of this project:

“Allow the information to tell you how it wants to be displayed. As architecture is ‘frozen music’, information architecture is ‘frozen conversation’. Any good conversation is based on understanding.”    Richard Saul Wurman