June 16, 2008

Visualization Taxonomies

With the explosion of interest in information visualization, I find taxonomies of visualization approaches to be very useful in organizing knowledge and facilitating use of different visualization approaches.

The Periodic Table of Visualization Methods, hosted by the impressive Swiss Visual Literacy project, is the most comprehensive visualization taxonomy I have seen.  It divides visualizations into Data, Information, Concept, Strategy, Metaphor, and Compound Visualizations.  Each of these is then classified as a process or structure visualization, and further subdivided into whether they show detail, overview, or detail and overview, and whether they support convergent or divergent thinking. 

Dan Roam's Visual Thinking Codex, from his delightful book The Back of the Napkin, strikes an excellent balance between simplicity and comprehensiveness.  The Codex can be found on p. 141 of Dan's book.  With his permission, I have reproduced it here (although I highly recommend that you get a copy of the book).


Dan Roam
Copyright 2008 Portfolio
Available at www.Amazon.com 

The vertical axis is organized approximately around the intuitive structure of who/what/where etc., while the horizontal axis uses Dan's SQVID structure: a series of five contrasts that help you define the focus of your visualization: simple vs. elaborate, quality vs. quantity, vision vs. execution, individual attributes vs. comparison, and delta (change) vs. status quo.  
My own contribution to this is the Chart Chooser graphic, which some of you have seen.  (Which is also available in Japanese and Portuguese, courtesy of a couple of readers of this blog, and which the good folks at Juice Analytics turned into a small online application, available at www.ChartChooser.com



4 Responses to Visualization Taxonomies

  1. Eric says:

    Your chart suggestions chart is great. There have been many times when I was unsure of what to use when (as well as sitting through many presentations when the chart selection would have improved the presentation). I, too, have found Dan’s book to be invaluable – especially as an elementary school teacher. I am becoming more convinced that more teachers need to be reading and studying books/blogs on presentation and business communication/leadership rather than so much of the drivel that is offered (pushed) in us.

  2. Nick says:

    Thanks for the very interesting Chart Suggestions flowchart. This could be useful as we consider design iterations for AtomicIQ (http://AtomicIQ.com). AtomicIQ provides analytics of news and other online content, and dynamically presents search results in various charts.
    One of the challenges I had was that chart selection and layout sometimes depends on the specific number being plotted. If you are doing manual design, certain charts and layouts will make sense and others not, given the specific numbers. For example, if, in a composition, one element contributes 98% and the 5 elements 2%, you can choose to manually label the 2% as Others. But if the data is generated dynamically, you need a layer of code to determine some of these optimizations. We haven’t done much on this uet, but it is another challenge with visualization.

  3. Nick says:

    TypePad misparsed the URL — it is http://AtomicIQ.com

  4. Aleks says:

    Awesome chart, but JPG is not the right format for this. Better use PNG or GIF. See http://www.stat.columbia.edu/~jakulin/jpeg/artifacts.htm

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