The Joy (Division) of Visualization

This morning, I had one of those serendipity moments.

As I was waiting at the bus stop to take my daughter to school, I noticed one of the other pupils was wearing a t-shirt with the classic cover of Joy Division’s “Unknown Pleasures” album.

The record came out in 1979, when I was about the same age as the girl wearing the t-shirt, and I remember having a huge poster-sized version on my wall at University.

A quick Google search on my phone, and I quickly discovered that it wasn’t the random scribbles of a graphic artist that I had always assumed.

In fact, it turns out that it’s a reversed graphic from The Cambridge Encyclopaedia of Astronomy by Harold D. Craft, Jr, as explained by Jen Christiansen in this Scientific American blog post:

“Successive pulses from the first pulsar discovered, CP 1919, are here superimposed vertically. The pulses occur every 1.337 seconds. They are caused by rapidly spinning neutron star.”

In other words, it’s one of the earliest examples of data visualization that I ever fell in love with — long before I ever realized that I’d be working in analytics.

Back when I was a penniless student, I decided that going out was more important than buying the album, but thanks to modern technology, I was listening to it (for the first time ever!) on Spotify seconds after I dropped my daughter off…

The type of visualization used isn’t really considered best practice (potentially important information is too easily hidden between the curves in front), but it should be possible to recreate it using modern analytics tools.






4 responses to “The Joy (Division) of Visualization”

  1. Sophie Avatar

    My story is just the opposite. I knew (and loved)Joy Division and the album long before I knew what the cover means. It was for me an interesting black and white thing which looks like mountains or maybe like Ian Curtis music and feelings especially when he had epilepsy.

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  3. Robert Klein Avatar

    What a great train of thought. Interesting how the obfuscation that occurs as each graph is stacked in front of the other reflects the emotional turmoil of the music. Each high obliterates the lows of the graph behind it. What a great metaphor. Thanks for bringing it to my attention!

  4. Pat Hennel Avatar

    What a fantastic story! It’s amazing how things come full circle sometimes. It also serves as a reminder that many of us have been using some forms of data and data visualization to make decisions for a while now – it is just that now the practice is becoming widespread.