Following up on one of my concerns last week and “All Models Are Wrong“ from two weeks ago, I’m going to write more today on what information visualization does and does not tell us, inspired by Lev Manovich’s “What is Visualization”.
In the beginning of the reading, Manovich seems to support the argument from All Models are Wrong, in that models only tell a portion of the story.
“By employing graphical primitives (or, to use the language of contemporary digital media, vector graphics), infovis is able to reveal patterns and structures in the data objects that these primitives represent. However, the price being paid for this power is extreme schematization We throw away %99 of what is specific about each object to represent only %1- in the hope of revealing patterns across this %1 of objects’ characteristics.” Lev Manovich, What is Visualization?
In this excerpt, Manovich makes clear the advantage of traditional means of information visualization: revealing easily recognizable patterns from data that would otherwise take hours, days, or weeks to analyze. On the contrary, he admits that the downfall of simplifying the data is in the very act of simplifying it. This was troubling to me. I so desperately wanted there to be a way to visualize the data without loosing data, then along came “direct visualization”.
“Direct visualization” is a term coined my Manovich to explain a technique that employs visualization without reduction. He gave several examples that are no longer searchable, but two that had a strong impact on my understanding of “direct visualization”. These are Timeline (Jeremy Douglass and Lev Manovich, 2009) and Valence (Ben Fry, 2001). Both have a very “next generation” feel to them which is another aspect to “direct visualization”; technology giving us the ability to decipher massive amounts of data in a short time, and present it with the use of color, animation, and interactive elements.
This was a fascinating read and “direct visualization” is something I’m looking forward to applying to my own work where possible.