[Humanist] 29.192 impediments to visualisation

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Mon Jul 27 02:11:53 CEST 2015

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 29, No. 192.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    Mace Ojala <ojala.mace.x at student.uta.fi>                  (58)
        Subject: Re:  29.55 impediments to visualisation

  [2]   From:    Paul Fishwick <metaphorz at gmail.com>                       (59)
        Subject: Re:  29.55 impediments to visualisation

        Date: Fri, 24 Jul 2015 13:13:14 +0200
        From: Mace Ojala <ojala.mace.x at student.uta.fi>
        Subject: Re:  29.55 impediments to visualisation
        In-Reply-To: <55B21DCA.1050101 at student.uta.fi>

Dears Willard McCarty, Stan Ruecker and Paul Fishwick

I am studying information studies and interactive media at University of 
Tampere (Finland), and doing an internship at Gent Center for Digital 
Humanities, at University of Gent (Belgium). Hence, i'm skimming thru 
some archives of the Humanist -mailinglist and saw your posts about 
visualization, from May:


    So many visualisations I have seen seem to stand as rhetorical Q.E.D.s,
    saying to us, "Behold!", but end more in puzzlement than reward us with
    understanding. Looking at some I wonder, e.g., why is this circular and not
    rectangular? Why are the elements in it uniformly distributed, not bunched
    up, or the other way around? What is this visualisation telling me? In one
    recent case a series of visualisations that I simply could not understand
    suddenly became brilliantly clear when the author of them explained her
    intent with a visual analogy. Before that analogy was supplied I was
    clueless, indeed was annoyed.

    Edward Tufte (originally an economic historian, I think) has written
    beautiful volumes on the subject. Has anyone here tried his or her hand with
    the rhetorics of visualisation or can cite particularly good examples?


    The thinking about rhetoric in design has a reasonably good pedigree,
    and some of it applies to visualization [...]


    I wrote a short blog post back in February on a related concern [...]

This is a great topic, and as Willard said, Edward Tufte's work is – for 
me – the first go-to resource for thing about this. It took me a while 
to get around to his style of writing, but his books are great 
meditations on the topics, and are great at opening the mind for asking 
for more questions.

I attended a one day workshop on data visualization at WÄRK:fest in 
Helsinki (http://www.warkfest.org/en/) a couple of years ago, and the 
workshop had a great idea that I have been trying to spread whenever 
given a chance (e.g. prompted by your posts on Humanist). The workshop 
went like so: all of the 4-5 teams had the same data, in this case a 
small dataset of market dominance of a few wholesales networks in 
Finland, and the same week there had been news covering the dataset, 
indicating the structural duopoly these two networks are having and 
exposing their tentacles of influence to various parts of the society. 
This was not positive news. However in the workshop we worked for a day, 
and the task was to present this as a positive story. We had to stay 
absolutely true to to data, and not manipulate it. Only to build, a 
present a narrative on the data, that we didn't believe in ourselves. I 
was teamed with two graphic designers, and let me tell you those people 
freak me out, their profession is visual manipulation and they were good 
at it! That workshop was a priceless experience, maybe you can organize 
something like that for yourselves too, to learn how to tell 
conflicting, alternative narratives while still being true to the data.

When i see graphics, I try to remember the old wisdom "a picture is 
worth a thousand words", and actually to stop and just stare at the 
graphics for as much time as it would take me to read those 1000 words. 
Being a slow reader, that's several minutes. Basically, i'm denying 
graphics any timesaving function. That has been very useful rule-of-thumb.


Mace Ojala (http://xmacex.wordpress.com, @xmacex, FB, LinkedIn, yms.)
Tampere University
School of Information Sciences/Information Studies and Interactive Media
currently at Gent Center of Digital Humanities

        Date: Fri, 24 Jul 2015 16:59:53 -0500
        From: Paul Fishwick <metaphorz at gmail.com>
        Subject: Re:  29.55 impediments to visualisation
        In-Reply-To: <55B21DCA.1050101 at student.uta.fi>

   Interesting observations. I think, like text, graphics can serve many purposes - for rhetorical
aims (perhaps propaganda or advertising/marketing), for conveying information to a specific
group of people, or even as a creative act. The latter is of interest to me in a school where there
are artists. For example, how does one represent an array or a vector, but in a personal way (not
in a way designed to reach N other people, where N is large). This is also a useful approach that
is inline with aesthetic computing initiatives: representing information for pleasure and craft rather
than to convey a mass-audience message.
  Your task of creating a narrative for data, where you did not agree with the narrative sounds much
like the purpose of public relations or advertising where the purpose is to sell a product or a mission.
The same can be done with text-only and so is not unique to graphics.

Paul Fishwick, PhD
Distinguished University Chair of Arts & Technology 
   and Professor of Computer Science
Director, Creative Automata Laboratory
The University of Texas at Dallas
Arts & Technology
800 West Campbell Road, AT10
Richardson, TX 75080-3021
Home: utdallas.edu/atec/fishwick
Blog: creative-automata.com

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