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Interesting Article: Design Principles for Visual Communication

September 21, 2011

If you are a regular reader of this blog, especially the posts in the category “What the Experts have to say”, then you are probably convinced by now that visual communication is extremely valuable and important. Countless authors have written about the the benefits of communicating complex ideas and information visually (better and faster understanding – especially across language, cultural and educational barriers, better retention, few misunderstandings, etc.).

But I guess in many ways visual communication is similar to many other concepts, for example social media marketing (another buss word at the moment). Just doing it is only gonna get you so far, if you really want to benefit from it you need to do it RIGHT. That is why I though this article I found about design principles for visual communication might be of interest for many of the readers of this blog.

The article was written by Maneesh Agrawala, associate professor in the Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences Department of the University of California, Berkeley, Wilmot Li, a research scientist in the Creative Technologies Lab of Adobe Systems, and Floraine Berthouzoz, a Ph.D. candidate in the Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences Department of the University of California, Berkeley and was published in the April 2011 issue of the magazine COMMUNICATIONS of the ACM.

They argue that the amount of data, that humans need to process and understand, is growing exponentially every year and that the problem is that: “human designers lack the time to hand-design effective visualizations for this wealth of data. Too often, data is either poorly visualized or not visualized at all. Either way, the results can be catastrophic”. 

Therefore, the authors aim to “identify domain-specific design principles, instantiating them within automated visualization design systems that enable non-designers to create effective visual displays.” To do this they have developed a three-staged approach for creating visualization design systems.

Stage 1: Identifying Design Principles

  • Identify domain-specific design principles by analyzing the best hand-designed visualizations within a particular information domain.
  • Connect this analysis with research on perception and cognition of visualizations.

Stage 2: Instantiating Design Principles

  • Encode the design principles into algorithms and interfaces for creating visualizations.

Stage 3: Evaluating Design Principles

  • Measure improvements in information processing, communication, and decision making that result from the visualizations.
  • These evaluations also serve to validate the design principles.

The researchers have tested and used this approach in the domain of cartographic visualization as well as technical illustration.

In the domain of cartographic visualizations we have developed automated algorithms for creating route maps and tourist maps of cities. In the domain of technical illustration we have developed automated techniques for generating assembly instructions of furniture and toys and for creating interactive cutaway and exploded-view illustrations of complex mechanical, mathematical, and biological objects.

f you want to find out more about this three-staged approach and how it can help to better understand the strategies people use to make interferences from visualization you should read the full paper. You can access it here.

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