Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The future of visualization lies beyond visualization

Jeff Heer has published the massive slide deck he prepared for a capstone talk at Eurovis, which you can watch here; there's also an related paper. Jeff has promised to write an article summarizing his main points. Here are a few personal takes, paraphrasing a bit:

(A) Visualization on its own isn't enough; it's always part of pipelines and processes. Therefore, it doesn't make sense to practice or study it in isolation. The future of visualization research and practice is in interdisciplinary synthesis, and “the practice of principled interdisciplinary thinking is our greatest asset”. Bravo:

(B) If we miss the focus on interdisciplinary collaborations visualization can go awry in different ways. The visualization process has many steps, and mistakes may appear in any of them. The challenge is that professionals from different backgrounds are capable of detecting problems in some of the steps below, but no one can detect problems in all steps if working alone. Quote: “We need analysis support tools & methodologies for end-to-end analysis, not siloed ‘statistics’ or ‘visualization’ tools”:

(C) Visualization has an accessibility problem: we need to explore sonification, physicalization, and other forms of encoding information. Being too late to them myself, they are areas I'm becoming increasingly interested in; remember TwoTone:

(D) Multimodality —using visuals, text, sound, touch, and so on, either simultaneously or supplementing each other— is a world to be explored: “given a formal visualization specification, how might we re-target a design to other modalities?”

(E) There are tons of known unknowns and unknowns unknowns in visualization. If you are a researcher, Jeff's slide deck is an inspiring and endless source of ideas.

(F) My favorite part: Jeff takes Richard Hamming's “the purpose of computing is insight, not numbers” and Ben Schneiderman's deservedly famous “the purpose of visualization is insight, not pictures” mantras and proposes a new one: “The ultimate subject of the visualization research community is people, not pictures.” I'd write “should be” instead of “is”, but I'd ask for an applause anyway: