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Organisation: Birmingham City University
Name: Clive Richards
E-Mail: clive.j.richards@me.com
Category: Research

Name of Project: The DNA of information graphics

Description of Project: The DNA of information graphics Clive Richards and Yuri Engelhardt In their “Tour through the Visualization Zoo”, Jeffrey Heer et al (2010) say that “all visualizations share a common ‘DNA’ – a set of mappings between data properties and visual attributes” (p. 60). In our research project, we have used this metaphorical idea of the ‘DNA of visualization’ in a similar vein, taking it to the extent of identifying a comprehensive set of individual DNA building blocks of visualizations and the rules for combining them. This allows for the construction of a broad range of different types of visualizations. Our framework enables the analysis and comparison of visualization types, and potentially provides a design method for exploring visualization options. The process diagram in our submission shows all our DNA building blocks and their possible relationships for expressing information visually. For ease of use we have given each DNA building block a three-letter abbreviation. The DNA building blocks fall into several main groups: types of information to be represented (grey DNA), visual encodings to represent them (red/blue/pink DNA), visual components that make up the visualization (green DNA), and any directions or layout principles that may be involved (DNA without a coloured background). Visual encodings can be used for arranging (red DNA), varying (blue DNA) or linking (pink DNA) visual components. Arranging visual components into meaningful configurations is how visualizations are constructed. Our visual encodings include the use of Bertin’s ‘visual variables’, some Gestalt principles of perception (e.g. grouping by proximity) and various other ways of expressing information visually. A visual component can be involved in several different visual encodings, simultaneously representing different types of information. We refer to a ‘well-formed’ combination of DNA building blocks as a visualization pattern. Many common visualization patterns have been given a name (e.g. ‘pie chart’) and are generally referred to as ‘chart types’, while novel or rare patterns often do not have a name (yet). A visualization pattern can be transformed into another pattern by adding, replacing or removing one or more DNA building blocks. The framework offers a potential research tool for exploring various kinds of commonalities, family resemblances and differences between visualization patterns within collections of graphic representations. The DNA building blocks and the precisely defined methods by which they can be combined offer the potential for machine readable specifications. This may serve as a basis for a system providing computer generated visualization advice, which could be linked to a rendering engine in order to produce actual visualizations and variants of them. An earlier version of the framework was presented at the conference ‘Diagrams 2018’ in Edinburgh (Engelhardt and Richards 2018). Engelhardt, Y., & Richards, C. (2018). A Framework for Analyzing and Designing Diagrams and Graphics. In P. Chapman, G. Stapleton, A. Moktefi, S. Perez-Kriz, & F. Bellucci (Eds.), Diagrams 2018: Diagrammatic Representation and Inference: International Conference on Theory and Application of Diagrams, pp. 201-209. Heer, J., Bostock, M., Ogievetsky, V. (2010) A Tour through the Visualization Zoo. ACM Queue. 8. 20.

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