Wednesday, September 5, 2007

first p0st~!!1

This is the first post on my awesome new blog!!

My name is Mike Danziger, I am a graduate student in Comparative Media Studies at MIT, and my intent is to use this blog as a platform for developing and researching ideas associated with my thesis. Mostly I want to encourage myself to get writing on the subject, but, in the best case scenario, I'm also interested in generating some discussion around these topics. Assuming anyone ever reads this, the blog format seems well suited to these goals.

That said, my research interest is in information visualization. In particular, I'm interested in what I perceive as its imminent (if not already underway) transition from a relatively niche research field to a "mainstream" communicative medium. Up until now, the field has arguably seen application primarily within "special interest" groups dealing in large data sets: scientific fields needing to display experimental data, medical fields interested in the imaging of test results, and business and military organizations tracking large data trends (stock market, network traffic, etc.). While information visualization has succeeded here, its application has been largely characterized as "by experts, for experts." The users of these visualization tools were presumably highly trained, and the tools were designed, perhaps inadvertently, with that in mind.

Today's visualization needs are different. Without resorting to too much "information super-highway" rhetoric, the internets have put almost limitless information at the fingertips of anyone with a network connection, and navigating this information deluge has become an integral part of our everyday lives. This has been most recently emphasized by the "Web 2.0" movement, where organizations are beginning to deliver raw information directly to their users, and allowing them to interact with it on their own terms (ranging from services like and Google to social networks like Facebook and MySpace). With this increased access to information comes an increasing need for efficient ways of attending to it. Logically, the need for information visualization tools is greater than ever, but today's information consumers ("the people") are not necessarily experts at using them.

I want to suggest that information visualization, as a field, is having some trouble making the transition to a form that is understandable to the layperson. It's not necessarily for lack of trying -- increasingly high-profile examples of "popular" visualization are appearing all over the web these days -- but more likely the result of a wide array of competing (or interfering) assumptions informing the design of visualizations "for the people." The evidence of this is plainly visible in a survey of examples of "popular" information visualization across the web (see some of the related links on the side of the page); there is a huge variety of visual (and conceptual) constructions being employed in their design, and often very few commonalities, even when presenting similar types of information. While I am a believer in variety being the spice of life, I would argue that this type of schizophrenic approach hinders our ability to develop a general literacy for information visualization. If information visualization is going to become mainstream, a "visualization literacy" is exactly what is needed.

I've only vaguely gestured at some ideas here, but my goal with this blog is to explore some of the assumptions underlying "popular" visualization design and reception, in the hopes of uncovering some practical, unifying principles that could be applied to future design. Or, at the very least, draw attention to some of the existing design issues in the hopes that awareness and discussion of them will result in more informed design. Either way, I'm interested in discovering ways in which we can promote a common literacy for visualization, thus ushering in a brave new era of visually-enhanced information-rich existence!!! To that end, I hope anyone reading this -- designer, consumer, or otherwise -- will feel free to contribute.


Greg J. Smith said...

Hey Mike, judging by the first couple of posts on this blog.. this is going to be one to keep an eye on. I'm very interested in turning a critical eye towards infosthetics as well. Celebrating slick design is fun, but sometimes a bit vapid. The exciting thing about this field is that it is ripe with possibility!

Thanks for including Serial Consign in the linkroll! I'll definitely return the favour.

Please drop me an email, I'd like to pick your brain about something and I can't find an email address on this site.

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