PhD CS – Human-Computer Interaction Body of Knowledge

Information Visualization


The Internet and the World Wide Web have helped contribute to the data explosion confronting people today. While one would hope that the wealth of data would be an asset, too often the reverse is true: the volume of data simply serves to confuse and paralyze a person in a decision-making process.

The field of Information visualization is a relatively new area within HCI. It is the study of how people use symbols, images, graphics and interfaces to help examine, analyze and understand data and information. Here, the term "information" generally means abstract data that has no physical correspondence, such as baseball statistics, large text corpuses, customer purchase databases, telephone calling patterns, and so on. Understanding information visualization requires a person to learn about basic multivariate data characterizations, visual properties such as color and animation, general visualization techniques, and existing information visualization tools and systems.

General Resources

While one can argue that information visualizations can be found all the way back to the dawn of human-kind, the use of computer-based interfaces and visualizations for helping to understand data is a fairly recent development. Research articles in this area began appearing in the late 1980's and early 1990's. A good overview of the field can be found in the book by Bob Spence, one of the early pioneers in the area.

  • B. Spence, Information Visualization, ACM Press, 2000.

A second book, edited by three other pioneers of the field, serves as an excellent reference by including a collection of seminal articles in the area. The first 34 pages of this book provides a very good overview and introduction to the field as well.

  • S. Card, J. Mackinlay and B. Shneiderman, eds., Readings in Information Visualization, Using Vision to Think, Morgan Kaufmann, 1999.

The primary venue for new research publications in the area is the IEEE Information Visualization Symposium. A number of InfoVis articles have appeared at the SIGCHI Conferences as well. Journal articles about InfoVis appear in the traditional HCI journals as well as in other publications such as IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics, IEEE Computer Graphics & Applications, and the Journal of Visual Languages and Computing.

Most importantly, students seeking an in-depth understanding of the area should take the course, CS 7450: Information Visualization.

Techniques and Tools

Because the field is relatively new, a principled taxonomy of it has yet to emerge and be agreed upon. The field so far has largely consisted of a few relatively general techniques and methodologies, supplemented by a number of interesting systems introducing new ideas to the area.

Some of the more general techniques and methodologies that have energed are focus+context views, fisheye views, brushing, parallel coordinates, dynamic queries, and the use of animation to assimilate changes. The articles below discuss a number of these broader topics.

  • G. Furnas, "Generalized Fisheye Views: Visualizing Complex Information Spaces", SIGCI '96, pp. 16-23.
  • G. Robertson, S. Card, and J. Mackinlay, "Information Visualization Using 3D Interactive Animation", Communications of the ACM, 36(4), April 1993, pp. 57-71.
  • C. Plaisant, D. Carr and B. Shneiderman, "Image-Browser Taxonomy and Guidelines for Designers", IEEE Software, 12(2), March 1995, pp. 21-32.

Frequently, innovative systems are introduced that embody new techniques in the area. Students should be familiar with important information visualization systems such as Pad++, Table Lens, Hyperbolic Browser, Treemap, SeeSoft and Visage. References to a few of these important systems appear below.

  • B. Bederson, J. Hollan, K. Perlin, J. Meyer, D. Bacon, and G. Furnas, "Pad++: A Zoomable Graphical Sketchpad for Exploring Alternate Interface Physics", Journal of Visual Languages and Computing, 7(1), Mar. 1996, pp. 3-31.
  • R. Rao, S. Card, "The Table Lens: Merging Graphical and Symbolic Representations in an Interactive Focus+Context Visualization for Tabluar Information", SIGCHI '94, pp. 318-322.
  • J. Goldstein, S. Roth, J. Kolojejchick, and J. Mattis, "A Framework for Knowledge-based Interactive Data Exploration", Journal of Visual Languages and Computing, 5(4), Dec. 1994, pp. 339-363.