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Graduate Student Brings Design Skills to the Table as First Information Design Co-op at Thomson Reuters Labs

Shing-Yun Chiang. Photo Credit: Eugene Lee.

Northeastern graduate student Shing-Yun Chiang, in the MFA in Information Design and Visualization program, is Thomson Reuters Labs’ first Information Design Co-op. Working alongside a talented team of data scientists, she is doing visualization work – everything from collecting and analyzing the data to putting it into code, and revising it until it tells the visual story in a way that will connect and resonate with audience members. 

“The work I am doing on my co-op is similar to what I was doing in the classroom, but it is unique in that I am working with several different teams at the same time,” explained Shing-Yun. “There are many people involved in any given project, and I have learned how to collaborate remotely with colleagues who are around the world and across the country.”

Another unique aspect of her co-op is that she must present her work, in a way that makes sense, to people who do not necessarily have design backgrounds.

“This is an important process,” describes Shing-Yun. “They represent the readers, and with their fresh perspectives, have a really great eye for making pieces better.”

Back in the classroom, she is used to showing her work to classmates and faculty members who are designers and are familiar with different kinds of charts and visualizations. Gathering as many unique perspectives as possible, though, is a crucial step to creating a strong visualization.

In her position as Information Design Co-op, she is under the direction of Brian Romer, the Data Visualization Lead for Thomson Reuters Labs, which is a small, nimble, multidisciplinary group inside Thomson Reuters, the global news and professional information services company.

“We live in a time where there is a lot of information, and well-designed graphics help us understand complex topics in an immediate way,” Brian described.

In his role, Brian leads the global design team in Thomson Reuters Labs, supporting the team of data scientists by creating compelling interfaces for new product prototypes. Under his direction, his team, including Shing-Yun, also produces public-facing visualizations that illustrate the depth and breadth of data and domain expertise within the company.

“Visualizations can enhance and support news item, leveraging our brain’s powerful visual processing system to communicate more directly. When done effectively, visualizations are an incredibly powerful mechanism,” Brian continued.

To ensure her own visualizations are meeting this high standard, Shing-Yun works closely with Brian and the team of data scientists and research analysts to confirm accuracy and precision in every project. This collaborative and thorough process makes seeing the finished product even more exciting and rewarding.

In fact, one of Shing-Yun’s visualizations was recently published, showing where, throughout the world, viewers are watching the World Cup. For this project, there were two kinds of data, the audience data (number of viewers from each country) and the population data (population of each country). Once that was collected, it then became a matter of matching and combining the two data sets.

Image for FIFA World Cup Project.

Before joining the Northeastern community here in Boston, Shing-Yun worked in the news media industry as a journalist in Taiwan for two years, so while she is used to seeing her writing published, having her first visualization go live can only be described as “wow.”

“Data can tell you many things, and can function in many ways,” said Shing-Yun. “Sometimes it can be a solution, or support a theory or story that was identified beforehand. Sometimes, it can help you locate a problem, or find a story inside the data that you were not even looking for.”

Either way, Shing-Yun explains there is always something “new to dig up,” or another layer and pattern to unfold, when working with data. At Thomson Reuters Labs, her next project is about data visualization and user experience. We can’t wait to see it! And, Shing-Yun was recently awarded a Northeastern University Graduate Thesis/Dissertation Research Grant for Summer/Fall 2018. Congratulations.