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So, I started with this really large vague idea of Information Visualization Evaluation and Critique. After finding well over 70 resources concerning everything from knowledge representation, scientific visualization, visual analytics, computer science, hci, and info vis itself, I finally curated my collection down to about 30 useful resources. But now it seems my direction is changing. I’ve found about 15-20 papers about Information Visualization Evaluation, and most with a very technical approach. Some integrate semiotics into the picture but not very effectively in my opinion. Others provide a taxonomy for visualizations based on data type or task type (shneiderman). A couple approach evaluation in terms of storytelling. Very few deal with interactive infovis, and I think it makes sense to focus on that particular aspect of info vis instead the medium at large. So, I’m grappling with a few things:

Do I attempt to break down the elements of interactive visualizations, then describe how these are used effectively and non-effectively in the form of a critique? Would this be a good direction to go? Is it doable? Should I scope it down to a specific set of interactive info vis like network graphs, news visualizations, experimental visualizations?
Do I provide examples and critique the use of storytelling and reader engagement? It’s been studied that engagement assists in the sense-making and insights gained from info vis. I have examples of where this has been done successfully in interactive ones (my opinion for now) and I’m sure I could dig up some where they were less successful (again in my opinion based on criteria that exists in my head for now).
Would the latter direction be more feasible? I’m definitely approaching this from an artifact perspective as I think tackling the questions of ‘how to create a readable info viz?’ and ‘how does info viz meanings change across cultures?’ (just examples) would take quite a bit more research and perhaps user evaluations/research which I think is outside of the scope of the timeline albeit very interesting and something to pursue in the future.  It actually seems like both are feasible,  it just might depend on which one I actually want to go with. Both will require defining a significant amount of aspects to Interactive IV, relating it to critical theory, then providing examples and critiques. Storytelling with data has a lot more examples, research, and data out there, so it might be a better contribution to define the elements and properties of interactive visualizations. I suppose that would involve my creating some kind of framework/model for interactive visualizations.
Oh boy. Any feedback will be appreciated 🙂

So, this reading immediately took me back to my childhood and all the films my mom liked to watch. I watched them by proxy much like I listened to Reba McEntire and watched endless hours of The Golden Girls and The Nanny. Anyway, on page 211 I started humming 9 to 5. It’s a pretty terrible song, and after some searching, I found the movie the song is featured in ala Dolly Parton.

Note the power dressing circa 1980 and oddly inserted window into the studio session with a scantily dressed Dolly Parton.

This reading got me thinking of movies as windows into culture and time periods. I like to do this activity for home movies, too. But to the point, this idea of the technological self is really intriguing as we externalize our identity, but it is very much shaped by the medium. How is the current technological age affecting our day to day appearances and identities? I read an article in the Economist today talking about the underwear language. that cited an article discussing how texting is shaping spoken Swiss German, so much so that the dialect is nearly unintelligible to German speakers. There is a process of shaping and being shaped here, and I am sure people better equipped with knowledge than myself have discussed it.

One more line of thought this reading provoked was the idea of the cultural development of visual language and how since we have this recorded medium, we can nearly watch the evolution and development unfold through different contexts of use. I kind of imagine different types of ‘power dressers’ all hanging around together and grouping themselves so the patterns emerge. Concerning this idea and relating it back to my area of interest, Info Vis, this language is developing and is observable. I’m thinking of historical and situational contexts of use for instance with pie charts. Pie charts have become over-used and misused so that the community rejects them. However, they didn’t start out so hated (insert history lesson here). Maps have different contexts of use that have evolved over time starting with literal navigation purposes, to then being re-appropriated to navigate abstracts fields of thought. This is rough, but I just wanted to share some of my musings inspired by the reading. I’m sure they will get revisited soon.

Right. My thoughts are not very clear right now, I’m just trying to get them out of my head. I’m playing around with this idea of semiotics in Information Visualization. There is a common language to what we expect, what the conventions are for creating and representing data as Shneiderman and others have outlined. They aren’t perfect by any means and the lines of distinction are fuzzy. However, I’m wondering a few things.

How do we judge whether or not a visualization is successful? Many visualizations are not easily understood by your average person, like networks. These are hard to read unless one is trained n Information Visualization, but that isn’t the point of this field. The point is to make convoluted data readable in visual form for a particular audience. So, I guess another question is what is readable by your average person? How can complex information be structured or created in a way that they can learn new things or understand the story the visualization/data is telling?

I’m also wondering how high dimensional data is currently represented effectively. I guess it all goes back to the understanding of information visualizations. I keep thinking about Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics and can’t help but think there should be one for visualizations so more people can read them.  That’s all for now, just loads of questions as I start collecting former work and visualizations.

Murch claims that film is like thought and is the closest to thought process of any art. I am at odds with this statement. I suppose we need to define art. Is Design art? Is Experience Design art? This has been heavily debated, and I’m not ready to join the discourse, yet. However, as Experience Designers or Interaction Designers, we are required to understand reactions, interactions and the human experience as a whole. Therefore, what we do necessarily requires a near identical mapping to expectations and thoughts of people.

This idea of leaving out, or cutting away information to create an experience, sentiment, affect, what have you, is the most important aspect of storytelling. Whether it be with data, film, or just within conversation, we simply cannot express or share everything. If we did, the details would be lost and become meaningless. Of course what is revealed or hidden is contingent, and therefore, I will call this contextual selection.

Consider this interactive visualization of the evolution of the world wide web.

It doesn’t include a pre-history to computing, specific people involved, nor does it include information about hardware or other programming languages. The context is quite clear; this is about the web.  Here we have a layout of browsers & markup languages, when they were introduced, and how each technology and development interacted with one another over time. What I want to bring attention to is the amount of information presented. The visualization invites the user to explore and decide what information to bring to his or her own attention. Even with this free-form set-up, the intent seems to invoke amazement at the growth and evolution of the internet as well as provide a more comprehensive understanding of said evolution. This information was designed in this way. It was curated and presented for this specific context and purpose. This is what we do as designers. We mimic and create thought and interactions. It may be called art, but it is definitely a form of manipulation.