Visualization for All

Jock Mackinlay, Xerox PARC

Seminar on People, Computers, and Design
Stanford University January 25, 2001

The use of graphics is a valuable technique for accessing information because it exploits the considerable power of human vision. History includes two well-known approaches: presentation--using vision to communicate--and visualization--using vision to think. Both approaches are being improved by the growing power of computer graphics.

In this talk, I reflect on my experiences over the last two decades using computer graphics to support these two approaches, and propose a new research direction that combines their strengths to make information more accessible to more people. Starting with presentation, I describe an early prototype that automatically designed 2D graphical presentations of relational data using a composition algebra and various design criteria. A key research goal was to design presentations that do not lie or mislead. Turning to visualization, I describe how the composition algebra was used to develop a series of prototypes for different types of data. A key research goal was to make large amounts of information accessible by using 3D graphics and interactive animation.

Although both approaches can help people access information, both also have weaknesses. For example, a weakness of presentation is that people distrust the visual power of graphics, which can communicate lies just as effectively as truth. On the other hand, a weakness of visualization is that it often requires the skills of a data specialist to be effective, which limits the number of people who can use it. However, given the increasing power of computer-based visualization, I show how to overcome these weaknesses by using visualization during presentation.

In such a "data demo," a data specialist uses the power of computer graphics to give a decision making team direct access to the data. By democratizing information access, this new approach offers the promise of participatory decision making, and thus increased confidence and better decisions. I conclude with a research agenda suggested by the data demo idea.

Jock Mackinlay received his PhD in Computer Science from Stanford University, where he pioneered the automatic design of graphical presentations of relational information. He joined Xerox PARC in 1986, where he collaborated with the User Interface Research Group to develop many novel applications of computer graphics for information access, coining the term "Information Visualization." Much of the fruit of this research can be seen in his recently published book, Readings in Information Visualization: Using Vision to Think (ISBN 1558605339, Morgan Kaufmann, 1999, co-authored with Stuart Card and Ben Shneiderman). He has developed numerous patents in user interfaces and is a member of the editorial board of ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction.

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