Still a Man’s World

Designed in partnership with Pictures of the Year International, Still a Man's World is an analysis of gender representation within the POYi photography competition archives between 1984 and 2004.


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Still a Man's World was completed in partial fulfillment for my Master of Fine Arts in Interactive Media at the University of Miami, School of Communication, Department of Interactive Media. I completed and presented this project remotely in May 2020.

The initial scope of the project was ambitious:

  • Organize and analyze 75 years of photography, awards, photographers, publications and jurors
  • Interview and research for background
  • Write and report on findings
  • Design and code the charts
  • Design and code the website 
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Inconsistent categories, captions, publication names and missing or duplicate images.  

Data Wrangling

Any data viz project begins with understanding the data and with a dataset as large as the POYi archives, I used Excel’s pivot table feature to get at a baseline understanding of the data. I soon discovered inconsistencies, missing and/or duplicate images, entries, awards, captions, publications, gender or jury information. After more digging, it was clear the scope of the project would need to be scaled back.

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Manual data collection from a tables based layout to fill in missing data.

“The process of creating a data visualisation can be messy.”

~ Lisa Charlotte Ross, Datawrapper

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Documentation and sketches to track process, data and thinking. 

Exploratory charts

Rawgraphs, Flourish and Datawrapper have become my tools of choice when I need to quickly see a visual representation of data. With the focus on gender representation over twenty years, I began to sketch, explore and experiment with what the individual charts would look like. User testing also helped to determine which types of charts clearly communicated information.

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Experimenting with different types of charts and encoding.

Interviews and research

Part of understanding the data required interviewing the people behind the competition. They helped to identify why there are gaps in the data, sudden changes in award categories and the thinking behind jury selection.

It was also important to understand the context of the competition and its relationship to the photojournalism profession and any primary research about gender representation in photography.

Primary research on gender in photojournalism
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A snippet of the website’s evolution as color, type and chart decisions were made.

Visual Design

The most significant design decision centered around choosing colors to represent gender data and the space in which the charts wouldd live. It was critical to avoid the stereotypical pink (women) and blue (men) but also to find a color combination that clearly communicated a distinction between the two categories. Accessibility was also an important factor. Colors choices for the charts would need to have enough contrast against the web page background and be readable for people with color blindness.

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(From top left) Research to understand how image color summarizer works, testing a python script to group similar photographs, exploring captions with voyent tools.

Future Work

One day I hope to return to this project because there were several questions I wanted to answer as well as visualizations I wanted to explore. Scientific American, for their 175th annversary, presented a visuallization that represented the color of their covers. I still wonder about the colors of the photographs that makeup the POYi archives. Does it change over the years? How does technology impact any shift in colors? What might text analysis of the captions reveal? How might the archives be presented online or in person to make them more public? These questions and more are waiting to be answered.

Reflection

Clarity wins over cool. It's easy to be lured by visually stimulating shapes and colors. My mind’s eye had visions of charts with fancy interactivity or animations primarily because I wished to push my coding skills but I've also learned interactivity is not a requirement for all charts published online. Animations should be used sparingly and with purpose.

Scaling back does not equal failure. Learning is a journey and part of this journey meant recognizing when and how to limit the scope. Discovering significant gaps in the POYi archives signalled it was time to let go of answering questions of the data, scope of the analysis as well as “nice-to-haves” in the final presentation. 

Feedback is not personal. One of the positive aspects of returning to school is the volume of feedback received nearly every day. There is even greater benefit if you seek it out. This is where experience with UX research and user testing is helpful.   

Subject matter experts and stakeholders are great partners in research and storytelling. I learned a great deal about the archive from photographer Randy Olson who had undertaken the enormous task of creating the archive while he was a grad student at Mizzou. The current and former Directors of the competition along with supporting staff offered insight about the decisions made about the competition as technology, society and journalism evolved.

Please do not steal. It may bring on bad karma. Thank you.
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