Wednesday, May 14, 2008

information visualization for the people



Nathan from FlowingData just blogged about a post I missed a couple weeks back by Todd at A Beautiful WWW concerning one of my favorite questions: Why isn't data visualization more popular?

Serendipitously, this was the central topic of my Comparative Media Studies Master's thesis, Information Visualization for the People, which I am happy to say was submitted and accepted this past Friday. Getting it written was also the reason for the utter lack of posts here for the last few months--hopefully its completion signifies an end to that dry spell. Although, in addition to figuring out life beyond grad school, I do have some serious Grand Theft Auto related business to attend to...

In any case, for those who are interested in checking it out, the thesis will be available permanently online at the CMS thesis website (along with the work of the other fine folks at CMS, covering a wide range of topics) once they get around to posting it. In the mean time, I've temporarily posted a PDF copy here, and I intend to "webify" it in a more mutable form at some point in the relatively near future. I welcome any and all criticism, as it represents a fairly specific take on the state of information visualization today, but draws on a lot of existing infovis research (including some that I've blogged about here in the past). I by no means consider it a definitive document, and parts of it are certainly weak, but I want to make it available in the hopes that it contributes to the popular discourse we are starting to see around these issues.

Here's the abstract:


The design of information visualization, defined as the interactive,
graphical presentation of data, is on the verge of a significant paradigm shift brought on by the continued maturation of the Information Age. Its traditional role as a scientific tool deployed by rigorous data analysts is in the process of expanding to include more mainstream uses and users, reflecting fundamental changes to the role of information and data in our increasingly digital society. However, visualization design theory remains rooted in earlier conceptions of its use, largely ignoring the needs of this new, non-expert audience. Accordingly, this thesis attempts to re-contextualize information visualization as a public-facing practice, and explores ways in which its design can shift from being described as “by experts, for experts” to a new characterization as “for the people.”


Many thanks to my thesis committee, Nick Montfort, Fernanda Viegas, and Martin Wattenberg, for giving me great advice and not laughing me out of the room after reading it!

106 comments:

keith.sutton100 said...

You are one of the few to bring out what I believe is the root of why information visualization has not caught on. When you look around what is available is very much from experts for experts (and a lot focused on research and basic science). I have experienced and am working on user/group centered visualization and through iterative development user expectations can be addressed in an evolving manner. "The people" have go through a learning process which I believe is occuring on the internet leading to the potential of greater evolution of info vis.

andrea said...

congratulations on handing in your thesis! hurrah! look forward to reading it =)

Doug Marttila said...

Congrats on the thesis!

Darius Kazemi said...

Congrats, dude!

Susan said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


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Andrew said...

Hi Mike. Writing to you from the University of Leeds in the UK. I came across your blog a while ago and your general views on visualisation have been really encouraging because I believe we share a very similar standpoint about this field.

As well as doing my day job as an Information Manager here at the University of Leeds I'm undertaking a Masters degree research project on data visualisation. I'm interested in exploring the paradox of form vs. function, trying to discover why best practice is not common practice. My particular focus is on the importance of people's aesthetic response to graph design in comparison to their perception of usability.

Would be great if you would be interested in taking part in my short online survey and also any other visitors to your site.

The survey is available via my blog at www.seeingdata.co.uk which is light on content right now but which will be the launch pad for my findings in May and hopefully a forum to share my expanding knowledge in this exciting field.

All the best

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