The hypothesis in visualization

Josh On, They Rule

Josh On, They Rule

All visualization begins with a hypothesis, a hypothesis about the data that the choice of a particular formal expression aims to address. As previously determined, visualization is an expressive medium, and as such aims to communicate abstract ideas through the use of data. Any successful visualization, therefore, allows drawing conclusions about the underlying data. These conclusions, while often revealing or surprising even for the author of the piece, are nonetheless driven by a particular hypothesis—a hypothesis as general as simply selecting a topic or a particular type or range of data from within a certain context, with the anticipation of usefulness or insight, or as specific as setting out to prove or disprove a claim based on the characteristics of the data source.

A hypothesis is followed by a concept that determines how a visualization may most successfully address and also visually represent its realm of investigation. At this point, visualization becomes a rhetorical device—it is biased towards conveying (but not necessarily validating) a hypothesis, effecting not only its visual expression, but also the use and description of data.

For They Rule (above), a visualization by Josh On, the hypothesis is apparent: The people on the boards of large American corporations form intricate networks that serve to maintain their power and authority. The title itself conveys the idea of an American aristocracy, and colors the perception of the piece from the onset. The opening sequence clearly states the hypothesis: “They make decisions that affect our lives.” Using a network diagram as the form of representation, the expression suitably emphasizes the complexity and extent of the connection between corporations, conveying the network itself as an ominous entity—larger than any individual agent, and with the power to affect our lives. The anonymous visual representation only adds to the sinister undertones the piece. While the piece in its essence is making a single statement, the fact that it is supported by data lends it both credibility and relevance.

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