Research into Methods of Visualizing Information

Given the large role the technology, systems and business analysis plays in my working life I am interested in looking at ways to use this skill set in conjunction with my artistic practice and exploration. As such, I want to use and reference technological and computer-based techniques for the assignment “Mapping Your Territory”.

Following my tutorial with Angela today in which we discussed my efforts so far with “Mapping Your Territory”, I revisited the techniques section of the website InfoVisWiki which is an index of various methods and tools for visualizing information. Most of the techniques on InfoVis Wiki are for communicating trends, changes or progress over time. Thus, the mapping or visualizing technique is set up to provide for a change (the “delta”) or a trajectory/trend to be visible through the categories or “territory” outlined in the initial map. Hierarchical categories are also a necessary element in the visualization methods below. Hierarchical data means lists of information that can be organized into a tree or branching structure.

My understanding of our studio task “Map Your Territory” is that we are creating literally a map, and not taking the next step of showing change or activity over time in relation to that map. As a result, the outcome of the assignment is an actual work of art that is a function map and can be read of interpreted in a descriptive and informative way. As I continue with this assignment I will be thinking about how these forms of visualizing information can be used and understood as a map.

Some of the techniques listed on InfoVisWiki have a form and aesthetic that intrigue me:

The “Dust and Magnet” according to Yi, Melton, Stasko and Jacko shows the pull or emphasis to a certain focus and is meant to be animated to show the change in the focus over time. The round dots which indicate separate data sets would move in the animation towards the corner “magnets” and the dots themselves may grow or shrink in size based on the volume being described by these individual data points. “Circle Packing” according to Dai, Wang, Wang and Wang is a method to visualize large amounts of hierarchically structured data that is inspired by a technique called treemaps and a search engine called Grokker. Tree structure relationships are represented by a large circle with smaller circles packed inside the circumference. Colour can be use to further distinguish categories of labels.

The entire structure can also be rendered in 3-d showing the in addition to the relationships some kind of volume or frequency. This type of visualization has very obvious possibilities for sculpture or 3-d rendering.

“Hyperbolic Trees” as defined by Lamping, Rao and Pirolli, create a visually appealing and organic-looking medallion shape. The origin is at the centre of the medallion in this first illustration, and the branches of hierarchical information (the “nodes”) spread out from the centre to the edges. As an interactive navigational form, clicking on a node would move that area to the centre of the medallion and the relationships to the other nodes would adjust accordingly and the lines within the visual form change. Hyperbolic trees are often used to display web information. VisInfoWiki says that the advantage of hyperbolic tree browsers is the possibility to display a big amount of hierarchical information within a small space without a loss of focus and context.

“Cone Trees“, as defined by Robertson, Mackinlay, and Card, create striking 3-D shapes from again visualizing hierarchical information structures. Each top of a cone represents a node tree. The subsequent “children” nodes branch off of the node cone. A cone tree might indicate visually and imbalance or a prioritization in one area of the data tree and therefore the activity, categories or labels being investigated. There are obvious sculptural and possibly even kinetic relationships to the visual form of Data Cones and 2-D or 3-D artwork. 

Fish Eye” view, according to Sarkar, Brown and Hyder, allows the viewer to see both the global and local detail of a topological network (such as the metro in Paris as in the diagrams below).  The fish eye notion, based on the functions of the fish eye photographic lens, is the ability in interactive versions of this type of map, to “zoom” into specific areas and reveal details at the node level. In the diagrams below the normal map of the Paris Metro network system is in the top-left hand corner. The other diagrams show the effect of zooming in using the fish eye lens concept to reveal both detail and relative scale or volume at each node. The Fish Eye type of network or topological map has direct references to 2-D and 3-D artwork such as drawing and sculpture. The net-like appearance has a relationship to textile art and craft.


The key learning from this piece of research is that there are visually interesting ways of mapping and visually representing information that come from science, statistics and computer technology. However, these techniques may or may not be transferable across to this assignment. Most of the techniques above are recommended for hierarchical sets of data such as a tree structure (or in the case of the Fish Eye View a networked set of information). I will have to continue further with the identification of my artistic territory to determine if this information can be represented in tree structure of branding lists or categories. If this is possible, then I can use these techniques in my assignment.

Also, the goal of the assignment is to develop a work of art that functions as a “map”. The functions of a map include providing directional orientation, giving directions, showing geographic connections, defining roads and pathways, indicating topography and scale, showing the relationships between areas, plotting a journey or providing navigational guidance. How could each of the above visualizations function in that way?

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