Data Cake – A Visual Metaphor

The data cake metaphor. A grid of four photographs showing the stages in baking a cake - eggs and flour, the baked cake, the cake with icing, and a plate filled with crumbs, labelled data, information, presentation and knowledge.

A personal project that took on a life of its own…

When I first got into creating content, I was trying to figure out the process for visualising data. As part of my research, I stumbled upon a four-stage model:

  • Data
  • Information
  • Presentation
  • Knowledge

And that led me to wonder…

What’s the difference between data and information?

By following this line of enquiry, and trying to clarify my own understanding, I landed on the idea for Data Cake.

The metaphor seemed to strike a chord.

The Data Cake visual has been used in presentations inside universities, government organisations and the OECD.

It has gone into print twice – once in the intro section of I Love Charts (the book by the popular Tumblr blog), and again in an MIT textbook on Interactive Visualization.

Which was quite amusing for something that took about 4 hours to make one Sunday afternoon (including baking the cake).

Book covers for two books - I Love Charts and Interactive Visualization

This was the first thing I’d ever made that gained attention online.

I remember the day it went live — I got up every hour that night to follow its progress on Twitter. Thankfully, I don’t feel the need to do that any longer. But it was exciting at the time!

My partner didn’t quite share my enthusiasm, however, when I woke her up at 4am to tell her…

“It’s got 400 tweets!”

This was my first, ermm… taste of success (forgive me!)…

And I was hooked!

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