Wednesday, 17 February 2010

campaigning for visual literacy

For me, I think that high quality communication is key in every aspect of life, personal and professional, this post includes some thoughts, some references and some examples.

Why? 1) I'm interested in learning, and technology and change; 2) I'm active in teaching and researching learning technology and change

that means that I spend quite a lot of time thinking about what is happening, and trying to make sense of the evidence I find,
I have a set of visualisation tools I regularly use and thought it would be good to learn their proper names and actually categorise them

I was prompted to do this by a variety of experiences, but primarily one excellent resource (the periodic table of visualisation methods) and numerous bad experiences of me, my colleagues and students presenting information in unintelligible ways

Making Sense - Visualisation as a tool for thinking

cut a bit of slack here, using the wrong tool is sometimes ok, because its about a work in progress, making sense of your information and trying to find ways of understanding and communicating what you have found. After all playing with different sorts of visualisations will give you personal experience on which you can refine your understanding.

Communicating Understanding - Visualisation as a tool for talking

when we want to enter into a discourse about our understanding, then finding the best way to present information to afford that discourse is quite useful

while I am doing that, I would like to quote Tufte's observation "Graphical excellence is that which gives to the viewer the greatest number of ideas in the shortest time with the least ink in the smallest space"


Data Visualisation

Expressing ideas in terms of visualisation can be a powerful tool for deepening your own understanding, and also for communicating new ideas.
Visualisations can range from the strictly factual (e.g. a graph derived from a set of data) through to ideographic (explaining the perceived inter-relationship between sets of ideas and concepts)
In some ways a table which summarises analysis of artefacts (a set of reviewed software or a set of reviewed papers) can be seen as a type of visualisation.

Visualisations can help save words in written reports, and can also be used to help structure an argument in a paper or a visual presentation. Most importantly they can contribute effectively to the communication of ideas, stimulating debate and disseminating understanding.


A couple of references for visualisations are listed below:

Tufte, E. R. (1983) The visual display of quantitative information, Cambridge, MA, Graphical Press LLC. You can find out more about Tutfe's work via his web site

Lengler R., Eppler M. (2007). Towards A Periodic Table of Visualization Methods for Management. IASTED Proceedings of the Conference on Graphics and Visualization in Engineering (GVE 2007), Clearwater, Florida, USA. Paper which describes this work is the website which is associated with Lenger and Eppler's work. You can find the Periodic Table of Methods of Visualisation, which is an interactive web page with illustrative popup of each of the visualisation methods identified, at. download . The site include a link to the original paper and a range of associated materials.

Note: Editing this post will be intermittent, but as I work on this I am collecting and noting examples via delicious and you can see links to papers and examples by looking at my public delicious tags.

Finally there is a work in progress of tools (image examples and discussions to be added)

Tools List

Periodic Table of Methods of Visualisation categorises visualisations into six broad types.

  • Data

  • Information

  • Concept

  • Strategy

  • Metaphor

  • Compoud

  • This page looks at visualisation methods which I have found useful and relevant to my academic activities, either for research or for marshalling arguments and explanations either for teaching or explaining my understandings to friends and colleagues. It is interesting to consider this collection of methods against the repertoire of methods which are routinely used in particular disciplines (e.g. Computer Science and Management) In some cases, where such methods have been specifically designed to communicate a formal development process, or to document and subsequently manage a development process there is a stronger degree of literality and rigour, than might be found in some of the conceptual methods/thinking tools such as mind maps.

    one interesting role which has emerged out of the field of graphic visualisations is that of the graphic facilitator.

    Methods such as graphics cafes are also interesting.

    Data Visualisation

    These visualisations provide a direct mapping between the information which is presented, and the data which was collected an analysed


    Pie Charts

    Magic Quadrant

    Concept Visualisation

    Concept Map

    this is a formal modeling tool commonly used for knowledge rep0resentation and ontology creation.

    Mind Map

    Designed originally and championed by Tony Buzan, mind mapping is a thinking tool which can also be used for formally to record information spaces and to manage workflows. Its worth looking at the Buzan web site as a follow up, mindmaps may be drawn by hand or using software, and there are many tools available which can be used to create mind maps on computers. The diagram linked from in the Radar Diagram provides an interactive snapshop of mapping software.

    Venn Diagram

    Cluster Diagram

    Layer Chart

    Concentric Circles


    Picture 13.png


    Compound Visualisations:
    According to the visualisation periodic table, there are six types of compound visualisations - although I think that if you go to Tufte he identifies quite a few which have been generated with firm mappings to their data source.
    Knowledge Map

    These are basically hypothetical maps (often in the style of maps created by early mariners) which seek to demonstrate the 'landscape'. They also remind me in style of maps which accompany books like The Lord of the Rings and Swallows and Amazons.

    You probably need a great deal of imagination to create a convincing knowledge map, but they can be highly persuasive and powerful in communicating an overview of content and issues in a particular area.

    I find label knowledge maps a little misleading, and wonder if mythical maps, or metaphor maps might be more accurate. To me the term knowledge implies a degree of certainty and finality which I do not think is actually communicated in the final product.

    I have come across a couple of knowledge maps which are probably of interest to folks in my research area.

    Knowledge Map


    Permanent link to this comic:
    Image URL (for hotlinking/embedding):


    Learning Map

    early work in this area was done by companies seeking to explain the intricacies of their organisaiton. Probably the most famous is the work done by Pepsi on Beverage Street. There is a paper which explores this work The Learning Map Approach by James Haudan and Christy Contardi Stone, a white paper published in The Change Handbook, Peggy Holman, Tom Devane and Stevan Caddy



    Spray Diagram

    Stakeholder Rating Map

    Portfolio Diagram

    Strategy Map

    Life Cycle Diagram

    S Cycle

    Hype Cycle

    Stakeholder Map

    Fishbone Diagram



    Temple Diagram

    Cycle Diagram

    Funnel Diagram

    Scatter Plot

    Pie Chart

    Bar Chart



    Cartesian Co-ordinates

    Other Stuff is a website which provides an index into many different visualisation methods and tools

    The last time I looked, the main categories of visualisation were

  • Art (62)

  • Biology (50)

  • Business Networks (25)

  • Computer Systems (29)

  • Food Webs (7)

  • Internet (30)

  • Knowledge Networks (105)

  • Multi-Domain Representation (60)

  • Music (33)

  • Others (59)

  • Pattern Recognition (24)

  • Political Networks (20)

  • Semantic Networks (30)

  • Social Networks (89)

  • Transportation Networks (45)

  • World Wide Web (55)

  • The Visual Thesaurus

    visualising words and their semantic interconnections


    "Wordle is a toy for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes. The images you create with Wordle are yours to use however you like. You can print them out, or save them to the Wordle gallery to share with your friends".

    tag cloud
    tag crowd

    "TagCrowd is a web application for visualizing word frequencies in any user-supplied text by creating what is popularly known as a tag cloud or text cloud.

    It was created by Daniel Steinbock, a doctoral student in Design and Education at Stanford University.

    Today, text clouds are primarily used for navigation and visualization on Web 2.0 sites that employ user-generated metadata (tags) as a categorization scheme. (Flickr is a good example.)
    TagCrowd is doing something different.

    When we look at a text cloud, we see not only an informative, beautiful image that communicates much in a single glance, we see a whole new perspective on text.

    TagCrowd is taking tag clouds far beyond their original function:

    * as topic summaries for speeches and written works
    * as blog tool or website analysis for search engine optimization (SEO)
    * for visual analysis of survey data
    * as brand clouds that let companies see how they are perceived by the world
    * for data mining a text corpus
    * for helping writers and students reflect on their work
    * as name tags for conferences, cocktail parties or wherever new collaborations start
    * as resumes in a single glance
    * as visual poetry"

    Gallery of Data Visualization - the best and worst of statistical graphics

    Gapminder is an online visualisation tool

    to complete

    Concept Mapping - Trochim 1989 ( trochim's six steps)
    data analysisTukey 1977