Driving at 70 miles per hour, the landscape dissolves into colors and concepts. Impressions coalesce into ideas, particles into patterns. It may seem like a paradox, but the faster we go, the clearer we can see. At high speeds, we can tune out the noise and see the forest for the trees. Our focus is on the destination.

At 30 miles per hour, the landscape resolves into discrete objects. We can now make out individual trees, buildings, the faces of drivers and pedestrians. Below 15 miles per hour, finally, we start to perceive a sense of place. We can make out the details of the objects around us, including their textures and physical properties. Any destination seems far more distant now.

read the rest of this entry

Visualization as metaphor / 1 comment

In their paper Artistic Data Visualization: Beyond Visual Analytics, Fernanda B. Viégas and Martin Wattenberg claim that artistic data visualizations “…must be based on actual data, rather than the metaphors or surface appearance of visualization.” What they seem to be saying (though I will admit I may be reading too much into this statement) is that metaphor cannot apply to any ‘artistic’ visualization directly derived from data. While the article is well written and researched, I will try to explain why I fundamentally disagree with this premise (Martin informs me that I misinterpreted their statement, please see comments).

read the rest of this entry

Thoughts on universal design / 1 comment

I recently spoke to a student about the goals of the One Laptop per Child user interface, and was surprised at how difficult it was to answer the question as to how I felt about taking a ‘universal’ design approach. I was quick to defend my belief in universal design as a means by which to broaden access to, or appreciation of, any designed object, acknowledging that design is necessarily subjective. Yet on further reflection, is universality ever achievable? Is it presumptuous, as designers, to think that we could design an interface that would be universally understandable?

read the rest of this entry

Metaphor and analogy in visualization

Curtis Wong of Microsoft’s Next Media Research group describes the architecture of information in three layers of what he calls a contextual pyramid: Engagement, context, and reference. Engagement draws the recipient in, context offers an explanation of the information source, and reference gives the ability to draw conclusions and connects to related resources. Metaphors and analogies are rhetorical devices which are used most often at the level of engagement, and can apply to concepts expressed through any form or medium.

read the rest of this entry

Beyond the desktop metaphor / 2 comments

As an extension of the self, the avatar, which (despite the slightly outmoded term) remains a familiar concept from the world of gaming, could become a new paradigm for operating system interfaces. Three tendencies may contribute to this paradigm shift. First, computers are becoming increasingly mobile. Not only are laptops outselling desktops, they are also becoming smaller and lighter. Second, computers are becoming more ubiquitous: computer operating systems are increasingly powering other devices as well, such as cell phones, PDAs and music players. Third, networks are becoming pervasive, allowing more communication between connected mobile computing devices.

read the rest of this entry