Visualizar workshop: HumanFlows

As announced a few days ago, i’m going to highlight some of projects developed in November during the Visualizar workshop curated by Jose Luis de Vicente and organized by the Medialab Prado in Madrid. Participants had two weeks to develop data visualization projects, with the help of three instructors, in addition to assistants and collaborators.

Here’s a first project: Human Flows, by Miguel Cabanzo (with the collaboration of Nathan Yau, Mónica Sánchez and Iman Moradi), aims to visually and interactively map global migrations in a bid to understand their causes. In its current state, it is a framework with which to develop further visualisations.

Miguel is a graphic designer with a growing interest in interactive installations. He is originally from Bogotá, where he studied visual communication, and worked as art director and freelancer). He’s been living in Venice for 3 years as a masters’ student at IUAV, University of Venice.


Gross Domestic Product

Human Flow’s aim is to “visually and interactively mapping global migrations in a bid to understand its causes.” Why do you think that there is a need to map migration in a new way? Isn’t there already online instruments which do just that? Which new elements does HF brings to the issue?

Most of the online instruments tend to concentrate on particular moments on migration, showing a partial view of the problem. This happens because global migrations are strongly connected with the current situation (economical, political, social, etc.) of each sending and receiving country, and that produces one of the usual ideas of the migrant: they migrate because they are poor, or their home counties are insecure. But even if this is partially true, I think that seeing this migrations from an historical point of view can raise interesting questions: Why did migrations to Germany become so strong from mid nineties, even from European citizens? Why is so important for Latin American people to go to the United States? Why are Africans risking their lives crossing the ocean to be here? Why were migrations in the eighties so different from today’s migrations?

I think mapping problems helps to understand where the problems are and underline how hard they are. Even if the prototype has inflows from just 13 “well-being” countries from the world, it is incredible to see how 70% of the global population has moved to those countries for the past 15 years, and continues to do so. Why?


2ngry, your website, mentions that you study at IUAV, in Venezia. I spent 4 years as a `’migrant” in Northern Italy myself and although i’m European i experienced how the issue of migration is still a very problematic one here, even more than in other countries. That might be explained by the fact that migration is a relatively new phenomenon in the country. Is there anything in the very particular situation of Venezia which inspired this project or makes it more relevant?

Yes. Even if my position as a student put me somehow aside of the xenophobia problems, is obvious that migration is more than an issue here. Being a relatively new thing, migration seems to be a problem for a lot of northern Italians, who tend to see foreigners (or better: non-tourists) as a threat for the economy. And with the high percentage of illegals entering the country each day, a lot of right wing politicians are basing their careers on it.


Image from Migropolis, Buba sells fake bags in Venice

So if on the one hand you see people praising SS methods against immigrants, in the other you have companies devoted to using them in order to make money, spending a lot in advertising with immigrants as their target group. Add to the picture that lots of Africans are selling Chinese or Napoletan fake bags on the Venetian streets (and “robbing” precious money to the glass stores selling Chinese glass), and you have a strange, contradictory scenario.

Having this in mind, I get involved the past year in a fantastic project called Migropolis, a book about immigration and its spectacularization in Venice. Working for this publication gave me some knowledge about the issues, and served as a starting point for humanflows.

Now that the project is online and working, do you find that the visualization taught you elements that you didn’t suspect would emerge? How does the final result differ from your own expectations?

If brilliant colors means well being, and the flows are going from dark colors to brilliant ones, you can confirm the idea of the poverty-based migration. Of course there were some surprises. I didn’t expect to see so many people going to Russia or germany, and even if I come from Latin America and I know the situation, it was a surprise to see how much people is going in search for their American dream.

Now, I see the project as a framework for further development. To be really enlighten, the project still needs to show more interesting data and, more importantly, clever connections between the data. For instance, it would be interesting to see how migration is affecting criminality in receiving countries, or how much taxes the immigrants are paying, how much they are contributing to the local economy. Remittances are another important field to visualize.

I am very satisfied with the job done, this is a very good starting point.

Do you have any plan to develop the project further?

Yes, humanflows is part of my MA thesis, so the project will be developed furthermore in its conceptual and graphical part in order to show it as part of an exhibition in the near future.

Thanks Miguel!

Also by Medialab Prado: the Interactivos? workshop.