Data Driven News Installations

A Digital Fabrication Cookbook for Journalists

If this is your first visit, you can read our manifesto and a quick guide on digital fabrication.

The cookbook is a tool to promote the knowledge of digital fabrication skills among newsroom professionals. While it is targeted at tech-savvy users, it doesn’t require any prior knowledge of digital fabrication. Its main goal is both to educate about basic open source tools and techniques, and to promote a creative approach to crafting physical data driven installations. For this latter reason, we chose the format of a cookbook: just like cooking recipes, also the digital fabrication recipes published are open to customizations and variations. In fact, each recipe is presented alongside with suggestions on different outputs that can be obtained by modifying the provided recipe. Follow one recipe from start-to-finish and you will have produced a physical data-driven installation.

Each recipe contains videos, text explanations, images, screenshots, diagrams, and renders to help visualize suggestions. All our designs and tutorial are made using exclusively on open source software: FreeCAD, Blender, Slic3r, ArduinoIDE, Inkscape.

Each of the proposed data installations has been designed so that it responds to three main criteria:

  1. Journalistic relevance: we opted for designs that are suited to portray the data and types of patterns journalists work with most, after having categorized and studied the data journalism projects awarded at the DJA and Malofiej awards. All the designs also include space for text, legends and annotations, as, unlike artistic data sculptures, this is a must for journalistic data viz.
  2. Learning opportunity: each of the three designs illustrates specific building blocks of digital fabrication, be it a technology or technique. This way, following through each recipe is also a way to gradually master the basics and move onto designing your own journalistic data installations.
  3. Advantages of physicality: the news installations are designed so that they are not merely a 3D reproduction of a 2D chart. We strove for each design to take full advantage of its being a physical object. For example, by being experienced through multiple sense, or by fostering real-world interaction or collaboration between participants, etc.

To make it easier to understand the general workflow involved in designing and fabricating objects with digital fabrication techniques, all the recipes are organized in the same sections, each section referring to specific step of the workflow.




1. Overview

In depth overview of the project so that you can assess whether it is right for your case. Details on what type of data patterns and stories the installation is useful for. Design strengths of the project, including things like whether the installation is reusable, modular, scalable, etc. Fruition strengths of the project, for example whether it engages multiple sense, fosters collaboration and participatory interaction, etc. Suggestions for possible customization options in terms of size, appearance and materials. Indication of the level of effort required to reproduce it, in terms of time, costs and technical difficulty. Ideas on what types of customization options you could implement.


2. What you need

Section includes information on the material, hardware and software needed, as well as an estimate of time and costs you should expect to allot. The chapter also explains precisely what is the expected format/structure of the dataset(s) you should use to follow through the steps seamlessly if you are replicating the project your own data.


3. 3D Modeling and Programming

Tutorial on how to produce the digital 3D model of the installation components and on how to setup microcontrollers. The tutorial is structured with different levels of accessibility, so that you can both watch the video of the process and/or follow-up by reading the detailed explanation about what is going on in each step. You can also directly download the files with the final results if you get stuck or wish to apply quick customizations without repeating the whole workflow. Depending on the project, some things you will do in this phase are:


4. Fabrication

Step-by-step guide with video, text and photos on how to transform your digital 3D model file into a physical object through digital fabrication machines. This section covers the transformation of your 3d digital model into a physical object. Generally speaking, this process consists of two main steps:


5. Assembly

In most cases, once your digital designed has materialized as a physical object, you will still need to apply the final touches manually. What you do in this phase will greatly depend on your project. For example, you might need to:


6. Presentation

Suggestions on how to present the physical news installation.


7. Resources

Links to useful resources to help you in your project.


This is the first BETA version of the cookbook. The team decided to open up and share all the material, even if still in a prototype phase, in the hope of initiating a conversation, receiving feedback on how to improve the cookbook, and learn about individuals and newsrooms interested in trying the recipes. The workflows haven't been widely tested yet, and for this it could be that some steps are unclear to novice users. We recomend that you always start by scanning through the whole workflow to grasp its structure and valuate if it is feasible for the resources you have available. If something seems unclear, don't hesitate to get in touch, and we'll clarify your doubts.