Galaxy of Covers is an innovative digital visualization project looking at a list of 50 cover songs and their covers. A team from Imaginative things worked on this project bringing their ideas and visions to life.

Galaxy Covers; A Deeper Look with the Creators

Galaxy of Covers is an innovative digital visualization project looking at a list of 50 songs and their covers. A team from Interactive Things worked on this project bringing their ideas and visions to life.

Here are all of the people that combined their skills and talents to create the Galaxy of Covers data visualization project.

Benjamin Wiederkehr

Benjamin is a Swiss interaction designer based in Brooklyn. He fulfills a lot of roles within the field of design and data visualization; He’s the co-founder and director of Interactive Things as well as an editor at Data Visualization.

Combining design and technology he brings information to people in a way that is creative and simplified for his audience.

Though his work doesn’t stop there. He has a large and collective resume. He’s written several published works relating to data visualization, and creative innovation, as well as lectured at the Zurich University for the arts and the Bern University of the arts, and organized hacker meetups.

Jan Wächter

Jan is a designer that specializes in interfaces and interactive data.

“As with cooking, great products are the result of carefully choosing the best ingredients, skillfully preparing them and fusing it all together with a lot of care and empathy”, he explains in his employee bio on Interactive Things.

Many of his projects showcase his ability to create complex and interactive data visualizations in a way that people will understand and engage with. As a senior for interactive and interface designer at Interactive Things, he takes the information and transforms them into a user friendly and dynamic experience. His portfolio include projects for Ava, Biovotion, Swisscom, the Swiss Government and UNESCO.

Mark Hintz

Mark’s expertise in software engineering allows him to bring forth the ideas and designs beautifully and logistically. His creation of stunning visuals, interactive applications and installations means every project is beautifully put together in both aesthetics and logistics.

Currently, he is the Engineering Team Lead at Datadog while taking his Master of Arts in Design at Zurich University of the Arts, with specialty in Interactive Design. While working on Galaxy of covers, his role at Interactive Things was an interaction engineer.

Using his talent and techniques he’s able to utilize software to get the end result that the project requires. Then by implementing interesting visual designs and interface helps users explore the brilliant stories found in the data.

Tania Boa

Tania is a visual and interaction designer based in Italy working for Interactive Things.

Using her background in Visual and Multimedia Communication Design, Tania is able to transform the mundane and the confusing into something altogether spectacular.

With skills and a passion for infographic design, typography, and visual aesthetics, she brings the look and feel of the project together. She provides forward creativity and inspiration to her projects that in turn inspire their clients and viewers.

Ilya Boyandin

Ilya Boyandin is a data visualization engineer that develops interactive data visualizations and maps for a range of clientele and organizations. Currently, he is working at Teralytics, a startup in Zurich, that focuses on mobility data analysis.

With a passion for data visuals, he’s shared his experience and expertise at several talks including the Urban Computing Foundation, The AGIT Symposium Talk, the ClickHouse Talk at Data Council and Flow Maps Talk at the DataVis Meetup. And all of those were just this past summer in 2020.

His recent projects include Flow Map Blue, an OD-Matrix analyst app, and a Covid-19 lung ultrasound study.

Now to get into the main point of the article. What was the inspiration for Galaxy of Covers?

This project was sparked out of the want to do something creative purely because they can. Galaxy of Covers is a self-driven and self-initiated Project through Interactive Things’ team members. This provided the team with an outlet other than client-driven work to utilize their skills and talents. Galaxy of Covers provided a platform to use techniques, designs elements, and aesthetics that they wouldn’t necessarily be able to do usually.

It’s different from most of their other projects that are centered around giving their clients what they need.

“What we wanted to do design-wise was we wanted to create something that’s a little bit out of the ordinary for us. Interactive Things is known for having a fairly clean, fairly straightforward, simple and minimal design aesthetic. As this was a sort of non-client project, we wanted to be a little bit bolder, be a little more vibrant, explore,” explains Benjamin in an interview with Switching Styles.

It started with the opportunity to work on something entirely new. They all discussed the various options and topics that they wanted to do. In taking a vote, the topic of covers won.

“It was mainly driven by this idea that we can somehow make it more tangible and talk about music in a different way and giving physical form to it, to a certain degree,” Jan continues his thoughts..

Compiling the data proved to be a daunting task. Simply because of the sheer amount of covers that exist throughout the world. Working in a group of six adults all with their own music tastes and many with musical backgrounds make it hard to narrow down a list of music to look at.

Both Benjamin and Jan have a history of creating music. Ilya has created music for Interactive Things and has a thriving music career where he creates electronic music as Ibananti.

Thus, they needed a way to narrow down the list of songs. This is where BBC’s top 50 list comes in. Not only did it make the data simple, but it ensured that these songs already have a high degree of relevance in pop culture at the time.

The data process started with gaining information about cover songs, about their specific elements of tempo, valence, energy, and speechiness. The API data was collected from The Echo Nest, Spotify for the song’s popularity, Secondhand songs for the song’s metadata, and Who Sampled for the music genre.

It was out of the ordinary for both the team and for the company. It was something new and exciting to utilize this information. Taking something out of its typical context to describe something else entirely, is innovative and exactly what they set out to do. And it worked.

Using space as a metaphor to explain the interactions between cover songs and their originals is fascinating and creative. Galaxy of Covers takes the concepts of a solar system and applies it to the elements of a cover song.

“Since it’s such a strong visual metaphor, it helps to kind of transport the core of the idea and make it interesting and fun to actually engage with it, even though there’s not even music, and it’s about music.” describes Jan, “I think combining like the idea of galaxies and space to music is kind of fun when you just think about, it in a way. Because there’s probably not even sound in space, right? I think it’s a very successful pairing of the two and I think sometimes can actually help form a different understanding of a topic, just by looking at it from a different point of view.”

The visualization used for this project is created with standard web technologies which include HTML, CSS, JavaScript and open source software (D3, React, Web pack among others). Check out the GitHub repository for more details.

The obstacles they faced were no more than usual, the team said.

In terms of design, they needed to figure out what was the best way to showcase the information. What variables to include, does it make sense to show it like this and does it look good. In terms of data, the data gathering, and animations were tricky as it was something different and unique. It was the usual amount of complexity.

The team wanted to bring more of an interactive style to the data by using clips from the song as you hovered over the orbiting ‘planet’. However, it caused some struggles in terms of post-licensing and copyright. Add to that, there were extra steps that would make the data frustrating to use for their viewers as each time required the viewer to log in to their Spotify account.

During this, they listened to quite a few covers and of course, some members of the team had their own favourites.

Jan’s favourite from the project is “Hurt” by Johnny cash, originally by Nine Inch Nails.

Ilya’s favourite was “Hallelujah” by Jeff Buckley, originally by Leonard Cohen. His second favourite was “All Along the Watch Tower” by Jimi Hendrix, originally by Bob Dylan.

All in all, the team had fun with the project. It showed the viewers and the team themselves what can be accomplished when you set your mind to a task.

“If you have some cool idea, then try to work towards implementing it. Something comes out of it, Ilya explains.

“It’s a good example of what can happen if you try to apply a completely outfield metaphor to a different chart or a topic. I’m quite happy with how it turned out. And it’s not always as successful, I would say, but in this case, it worked out very nicely,” concludes Jan.

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