Materiality of Data

A Northeastern University symposium explores the “physical trace” and its role for making sense of the world. Under investigation will be different scientific, aesthetic, and rhetoric techniques for making traces “speak.”

Event Details


The Fenway Center
77 St. Stephen Street, Boston, 02115 United States


June 25, 2016 from 8:00 am to 6:30 pm America/New York (UTC-05:00)


free and open to the public

Join us!

Along with the Goethe-Institut, swissnex Boston is a proud sponsor of Northeastern University’s Symposium on Indexical Design, organized by the MFA program in Information Design and Visualization.

This free symposium will be comprised of various panels and presentations from experts in the field, including artist Florian Dombois, professor at Zurich University of the Arts, who will showcase his work and give the symposium’s Introductory Keynote. Topics throughout the day include “Consequence – Evidence, Forensics & Citizen Science,” and “Appearance – the Aesthetics of Indexicality,” among others. See here for the full program, and here for information about the speakers. Attendance is free but registration is required.

The symposium will take place at Northeastern’s newly renovated Fenway Center, a multi-use performance venue that was previously a church.

Fenway Center


More about the Indexical Design Symposium

“Information visualization is concerned with the symbolic languages of charts, maps, and diagrams. Its underlying data are also symbolic representations: the results of processes encoding traces and events. At the same time, traces such as tree rings, fingerprints, or ice core samples are also visualizations that we can directly experience.

The symposium explores the physical trace and its role for making sense of the world. We will investigate the different scientific, aesthetic, and rhetoric techniques for making traces “speak.” In Charles Sanders Peirce’s semiology, indexicality refers to the causal connection between an object and its effects in the real world: dyed bacterial cultures in a petri dish, the chemical signatures of pollutants in the environment, the wear on the pages of a book. Indexicality connects the abstract domain of information with bodily experience. Like data, traces are often assumed as being “given,” but again, like data, they are constructed through measurement. How we perceive traces is a result of how we frame them.

The symposium proposes “Indexical Design” as a new paradigm for data visualization that is specifically relevant for fields that deal with traces, markers, and indices; fields such as microbiology, forensics, or citizen science. Indexical design addresses the difference between data and evidence. We will bring together experts from these and other fields to investigate the physical manifestations of information and discuss the role of design in framing how these traces speak to us.” Symposium website


Data Cuisine Workshop

Accompanying this one day symposium is the Data Cuisine Workshop, with Susanne Jaschko and Moritz Stefaner. The workshop will explore food as a means of communication and information expression. It will take place June 23-24. Tickets are $90.

Event Photos