Data & Design

 

 

Andrea Brennen is a designer, technologist & recovering architect who lives in Boston with her husband. She builds tools to help people make sense of data, helps start-ups tell better stories, and is generally interested in how we interact with machines that engineers tell us are “intelligent.”

Andrea is VP of Design & Data Visualization at IQT Labs, where she works on new ways to visualize uncertainty, explain AI, and communicate technical concepts in clear and intuitive ways. Previously, at MIT Lincoln Laboratory, she managed the development of new software tools that helped researchers make sense of communication network datasets.

Andrea has an M.Arch in Architectural Design from MIT and bachelor’s degrees in Mathematics and Studio Art from Grinnell College. Her design work has been exhibited at the Venice Biennale, the Rotterdam Biennale, the Sao Paolo Biennale, the Canadian Center for Architecture and published internationally. She spends nearly all of her free time rock climbing and hopes to climb V10 someday.

 

Architecture >> Data Viz?

 

A lot of people think Architects make buildings, but they don’t. Architects make drawings of buildings.

 

Growing up, I was good at math and I loved to draw. I’ve always liked that even when math doesn’t make sense to me, I know it makes sense. My mom, a journalism professor, taught my brother and I to express ourselves. My dad started 9 companies, which showed me not to be afraid to fail.

I went to Grinnell, a liberal arts college in rural Iowa, where I double-majored in math and studio art. Then, I went to MIT to become an architect, which seemed like a great way to combine the two things I loved.

 

At MIT, I was a founding member of the Office for Unsolicited Architecture (OUA) which celebrated architecture as an expression of individual agency. Our manifesto was about pro-actively seeking out new territories for design intervention — addressing pressing social needs while taking advantage of emerging opportunities for architecture.

I also learned to climb, which completely changed my life.

 

In 2008, when the economy collapsed a few months before graduation, it was clear I needed to find some new territory for design intervention.

You know what companies don’t do during a recession? Hire architects.

 

When I met the founder of a data analytics start-up, I realized he needed an architect. He just didn’t know it yet.

I told him data is a complex system and we need better visuals to help us make sense of it. I told him software developers and statisticians and engineers and data scientists aren’t very good at this because they aren’t trained to think in a visual way, but architects are. Architects make drawings that help people understand complex systems — not only how they work, but why it matters.

 

Luckily, he took a chance and hired me. And we both turned out to be right.

In the mean time, I keep waiting for rock climbing to get easier, but it never does.