Visualization is integral to both the processes of evaluating data and communicating research findings. In both processes, data visualization is inherently rhetorical and emotive, and yet it is often perceived to be an objective presentation of facts. This curriculum guide explores the subjective nature of data visualization, using a cross-disciplinary approach. It introduces data visualization strategies in the context of the discoveries in cognitive science and psychology which make them work.
The course is structured around five levels of visualization: content, the structure of that content, aesthetics involved in visualization, interaction with the visualization, and most importantly, understanding the needs of the audience for a visualization. The images used in this curriculum guide are grouped thematically, roughly mapped onto these five levels of visualization, and presented in six units.
In each unit, students will learn about two communication strategies that are essential for effective data visualization. To foster robust understanding of the communication strategies, students learn the behavioral principle and cognitive function that make each communication strategy successful.
Katherine Hepworth, Assistant Professor, Visual Communication, University of Nevada - Reno
We are the audience for data visualizations, but we are also the visualized. This introductory unit draws on data visualizations of the human body as a starting point for examining human asaudience, and human as subject. This leads todiscussion of the relationship between attention, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, progressive disclosure, and signal-to-noise ratio. The images in this section span several centuries and cultures, encompassing medical diagrams, anatomical drawing studies, and alchemical instructions.
We interact with data visualizations in multiple ways, always visually, but sometimes using other senses, and physical action, too. In this second unit, exhibits relying on interaction with various kinds of data visualizations are presented in order to discuss the interrelationship between performance load, cost benefit, signifiers, and usability within data visualizations. The images in this section show people interacting with data visualizations across a century of scientific exhibitions and displays.
Data visualizations depend on our aesthetic sensibilities for their persuasive power. Charts are particularly potent in terms of persuasion, precisely because they purport to present impartial, scientific information. This third unit presents a wide variety of charts as a means of examining the role of emotion, aesthetic usability effect, typography, and legibility in data visualizations. The images in this section represent a diverse array of charts including graphs, diagrams, and tree structures. Viewing this collection of visualizations of scientific and genealogical claims from across centuries highlights the context-bound and subjective nature of data visualizations and claims to scientific truth.
Our aesthetic sensibilities are also relied upon for a lesser known version of data visualization: captioned narratives. Captioned narratives are a persuasive means of presenting information that harness the rhetorical power of a series of images combined with summary text. Charts became commonplace in the twentieth century, but prior to this data visualization was still prevalent, largely in forms we don’t recognize today. One exception its the captioned narrative, precursor to listicle slideshows on websites, charticle journalism, and printed comics. This fourth unit uses captioned narratives to discuss serial position effect, Zeigarnik effect, color, and priming. The images in this section span several centuries and cultures, encompassing a diverse range of subjects including instructions for identification, mythical scenes, folk tales, political propaganda, and religious education.
Visual structure and organization are essential to the intelligibility of data visualizations. While all data visualizations have structure, some have more obvious structure, in the form of clearly visible square or circular grids. This fifth unit presents a selection of data visualizations with obvious grid structures. The images in this section span several centuries and cultures, encompassing distance tables, archaeological diagrams, promotional material, and astrological charts.
Maps have the most elaborate intertwining of words and images of all data visualizations. This final unit examines various kinds of maps, using them as the departure point for investigating the role of content in data visualizations. Following this, the relationship between perception, picture superiority effect, logical redundancy, and framing is explored. The images in this section include architectural plans, Mercator maps, axonometric maps, and maps of battlefields.
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