Sunday, October 15, 2006

Paradigms of Visual Understanding

In last week’s Sunday’s New York Times Magazine Steven Johnson writes about the game developer Will Wright (Creator of SimCity and Sims) and his soon to be released game “Spore”. I am not a huge virtual game fan but one driving metaphor of the game “Spore” intrigued me tremendously This metaphor tries to explain our current state of perceptional intelligence; let me quote Steven: “Most eras have distinct “ways of seeing” that end up defining the period in retrospect: the fixed perspective of Renaissance art, the scattered collages of Cubism, … Our own defining view what you might call the long zoom: the satellites tracking in on license-plate numbers in the spay movies, the Google maps in which a few clicks take you from a view of an entire region to the roof of your house…” If we talk about intelligent visualization, then we have to comprehend the current paradigms of visual understanding of our world. The dominant paradigms of visualization are not just driven by the time that we live in but also the cultural context that we are growing up in.

What are the dominant visualization paradigms that we use to understand our environment and thereby our data, too:
  • The long zoom: defined above as the: “… moving conceptually from the scale of a DNA to the scale of a personality all the way up to social movements and politics – and back again”.
  • The dancing bars: Pretty much driven by the utter domination of Excel for most number crunching personalities, the simple view of bars stacked against each other to compare one metric across multiple groups or clusters. A more sophisticated version lets you choose a wide array of metrics that allows you to compare multiple differences across these clusters.
  • The Multi-Screen view: Doesn’t every marketing executive would like to feel like the Agent in hundreds of Hollywood movies where Intelligence is feed in a wide number of screens, all stacked up around the Data Geek who is able to monitor everything in real time (the TV show “24” made this image on of its most dominant ones). At least most executives (following Bill Gates office desk set up) have 2-3 screens at their desk to convey the message of successful multi-tasking.

I am sure that there are a multitude of other visual paradigms, especially in other cultures that could become dominant over the next years. It’s just fascinating to attempt comprehending the correlation between visual paradigms and our understanding of the world. Maybe we all should start playing more games.

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