Conditional Formatting

Learning a New Tool

I am not a stranger to Google Sheets/Excel, but having said that, I have never made art in a spreadsheet. Conditional formatting and I are old friends, but again, it never occurred to me that I could use this formatting tool for creative purposes.

Conditional formatting seems like its own form of coding. From establishing the rules to enacting them in the spreadsheet, the tool seems to function as a language, communicating a specific type of organizational code.

Pixel Artwork

I decided to make a pixel zebra for my artwork. This choice isn’t as random as it initially appears; the zebra is the mascot for Neuroendocrine Tumor Cancer (NET Cancer), a rare form of cancer. The zebra comes from the phrase “when you hear hoofbeats think horses, not zebras,” that medical professionals are commonly taught. Zebras, in this sense, are rare and unusual and are not typically what one is taught to expect. NET Cancer is a type of cancer that oftentimes goes undiagnosed (or misdiagnosed) because of its rarity. This pink and purple zebra is a creative look at the Neuroendocrine Tumor Cancer's mascot, the zebra. Little is known about this rare disease, so creative zebra artwork spotted on the walls of cities big and large is sure to capture people's attention.

Climate Stripes

We used conditional formatting again to replicate the famous “Climate Stripes” artwork that demonstrates the changing climate over time. Professor Talcott taught us how to create a color gradient effect based on the minimum and maximum values, and following the use of conditional formatting, we reorganized the cells to create the large color scale.

If I had seen this image in another context, I don’t think it would have occurred to me that it could be created (and replicated) on a spreadsheet. In fact, I don’t think it would have occurred to me to think of the climate stripes as visualized data at all; when looking at art like climate stripes, it’s easy to forget the origin of this art—the data that inspired and informed it. This perspective on the data is perhaps beneficial for how people can see and understand it in a new way, but we should not neglect to emphasize the information that made the visualization possible in the first place.