HINT.FM: Helping Color In the World of Understanding Through Visualizations

Fernanda Viégas and Martin Wattenberg are research scientists in IBM’s Visual Communication Lab. Their work explores the power of visualization as a mass medium and the social forms of data analysis it enables. HINT.FM is a collection of the duo’s collaborative efforts.

Their entire body of work is thoughtful and intelligent, and lends to the development of our understanding of self and society. A kaleidoscope of art, technology, science, & sensuality their projects acutely record and analyze our responses to the colorful world around us.

“The two became a team in 2003 when they decided to visualize Wikipedia, leading to the “history flow” project that revealed the self-healing nature of the online encyclopedia. Viégas is known for her pioneering work on depicting chat histories and email. Wattenberg’s visualizations of the stock market and baby names are considered Internet classics. Viégas and Wattenberg are also known for their visualization-based artwork, which has been exhibited in venues such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York, London Institute of Contemporary Arts and the Whitney Museum of American Art. ” – hint.fm/about

Here are some of their projects as described by the team.


Luscious pays homage to fashion designers and photographers, those who compose rousing images of light and color that fill the pages of glossy magazines. The piece is our attempt to distill their visions into abstract compositions.

To create the images in luscious, we began with a series of magazine advertisements for luxury brands. We then used a custom algorithm designed to extract “peak” colors from any picture (much like our Wired anniversary piece). A random arrangement of concentric circles fills the plane, representing the essential colors of each region. The resulting image hides context and representation and lets the viewer concentrate on pure color.


Flickr Flow

Flickr Flow is an experiment whose materials are color and time. We first used this technique in a Boston Magazine piece, Flickr of Hope, that appeared in March 2009. Prints are available through Imagekind.



FleshMap: Listen

What do we sing about, when we sing about the body?

The thumbnails on this page, based on a sample of thousands songs, tell the story. The size of a circle corresponds to how often that part is mentioned in each genre.



FleshMap: Touch

Fleshmap is an inquiry into human desire, its collective shape and individual expressions. In a series of artistic studies, we explore the relationship between the body and its visual and verbal representation.


FleshMap: Look

Simpifying human form to basic elements of color and contour allows us to capture anew some of what’s unique in each person.

Working from photos of the human chest, we developed two interfaces that allow us to trace, color, and reduce the original material to the graphical images on the right.


WIRED Anniversary

This visualization ran as a full page in the June 2008 issue of WIRED.
The custom algorithm in our visualization produces a signature “bull’s-eye” pattern for each cover:
History Flow


History Flow

In 2003, we decided to investigate the dynamics behind editing in Wikipedia. History flow is the method we invented to make sense of the data we collected.





To investigate how participants in Wikipedia allocate their time, we created a visualization technique, the Chromogram, that can display very long textual sequences through a color coding scheme.

The first three letters of a string determine color in a Chromogram. The first letter determines the hue; the second letter the saturation, and the third the brightness. Saturation and brightness were both kept in a restricted range so that the hue was easily perceived. Numbers map to shades of gray. Above is a sample of the color mapping to different words/numbers.


Author: evad
David Sommers has been loving color as COLOURlovers' Blog Editor-in-Chief for the past two years. When he's not neck deep in a rainbow he's loving other things with The Post Family (http://thepostfamily.com/), a Chicago-based art blog, artist collective & gallery.