Manuel Lima: The Beauty of Networks

November 14, 2012

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Last week, Nora and Heather tandem scribed a 16-foot visual of  a talk by Manuel Lima, senior UX design lead at Microsoft Bing, on networks at the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) in Troy, New York. Lima’s talk was all about how networks have an intrinsic beauty, beyond their function as a visualization of data. He demonstrated how networks are everywhere in nature: from neurons to the fractals within snowflakes. One physicist who has studied Jackson Pollock’s paintings, for example, found that his work contains fractal patterns similar to mice neurons and networks of tree branches. The human brain maybe hard-wired for fractal recognition. It tuns out that we have a visual delight “sweet spot,” which is somewhere in between boredom and complexity — an idea that’s echoed in gestalt theory. Recently, an interest in networks — both as ways of organizing data to reveal deeper layers of meaning and as aesthetic forms — has become a significant cultural meme. Lots of visual artists, like Suzan Shutan, have been inspired by the concepts and aesthetics of networks. It was an inspiring and thought-provoking talk. You can learn more about Manuel Lima and his incredible work on network visualization at You can also get a taste of his work from this RSA Animates video of Manuel Lima’s talk about the Power of Networks: