Eyeo Festival 2012 - Conference Report

I was fortunate to be able to attend the Eyeo Festival in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The conference, now in its second year, bills itself as the intersection of art, interaction and information.

While my role at Odopod is that of a developer, this is not a developer's conference. It's not about libraries, frameworks or programming languages. Here, data is king. I know that the term has many meanings and may be a little vague or scary to some people. That's what makes Eyeo such a unique event. This is a conference exploring how data of all kinds can inspire design and how design, in turn, can shape data and give it meaning. It can be personal data, it can be government data, it can be weather data, it can be random data - it can be anything! Founded on this unique premise, Eyeo has quickly become the event of the year for people who make their living by or are interested in data visualization. There were also talks that touched on topics including art, design, creative coding, and human-computer interaction.

With about 50 speakers and 500 attendees, Eyeo is relatively a small conference that grew out of the long-running Flashbelt series, also based in Minneapolis (2003-2010). The intimate scale allows for much closer interaction among attendees and speakers in unique settings around the city. Unfortunately, that also means that it can be challenging to snag a ticket. Last year sold out in three days, this year in eight - hours. Obviously there is a huge demand for a conference with topics and speakers like this that no one else has managed to capitalize on.

The diversity and quality of presenters was very impressive and the primary reason I wanted to attend. There were representatives from research and development groups at notable companies like Google, Microsoft, and The New York Times, as well as smaller interactive agencies and independent artists and designers.

Some of the highlights for me were seeing a preview of a new interactive, collaborative animation tool and visualizer from the Google Data Arts team called This Exquisite Forest (currently invite only), learning about the history of luck from Kevin Slavin, seeing new 3D work from Robert Hodgin, watching giant illuminated spheres synced to sound set loose over the opening night audience, accidentally finding out how the wind map was created by Fernanda Viegas and Martin Wattenberg, remembering the importance of chance in art from Casey Reas and being inspired to use code for good after hearing Jennifer Pahlka of Code for America.

Overall, I found Eyeo to be a really great event that brings attention to topics that, while still very young and unformed, are becoming increasingly more important in understanding the world around us. It¹s also a friendly venue where designers and developers can connect and share tools, techniques and methodologies in the aim of sculpting raw data into something beautiful or something useful. I am not aware of another conference that specializes in topics like this in quite the same way. If the organizers are able to maintain the overall small attendee size and high caliber roster of speakers in the future, I would happily return and recommend the conference to others with an interest in data visualization or creative coding.

Videos of past Eyeo sessions are available the conference's Vimeo page, with this year's coming later this summer.

Links:
Eyeo Festival official site
Eyeo Festival Vimeo page
Wind Map
This Exquisite Forest
Robert Hodgin's Vimeo page
Code for America
Tangible Interaction
Casey Reas

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