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June 03, 2006


A short interview about my experiences and thoughts on information visualization was recently posted on the blog mentegrafica. The text of the mini-interview is included in the extended entry.

1 - When, how and why have you decided to research on infovis ?

As an undergraduate student at Berkeley, I was interested in studying both computer science and psychology, which led naturally to questions of how the design of computer applications could better take advantage of human capabilities. This got me excited about pursuing research in Human-Computer Interaction. I was lucky enough to get an internship at Xerox PARC, working with luminaries like Stuart Card, Jock Mackinlay, and Ed Chi, who introduced me to information visualization as a research field of its own. After graduating from Berkeley, I went back to PARC to work for a year before starting graduate school. It was then that I really started working on infovis projects in depth.

2 - Which is, to you, the most interesting project you have worked on and why ?

Itís hard to say, since each subsequent project builds off the lessons learned in the past, so they are all part of a continuous stream of exploration. That said, the most rewarding aspect has probably been the release of prefuse, a visualization software toolkit we developed. Seeing how people have taken the tools, extended them, and built their own visualizations has been wonderful to see, and often inspiring. Itís nice to feel that youíve contributed something people find useful.

3 - On what themes are you working now ?

Iím interested in a wide variety of visualization-related problems, including infovis software tools and automatic optimization of displays according to perceptual principles. However, the theme Iím currently most excited about is exploring the social dimension of visualization use ó how can visualizations be effectively used by groups of collaborators? how can communication mechanisms be effectively introduced to improve analysis? For example, if I put a visualization on the web and thousands of people interact with it, what are the ways in which they can easily communicate their findings and contribute to our greater understanding?

4 - If you should suggest an education programme to a student interested in InfoVis, which University Course do you suggest him/her ?

There are a number of courses that would be useful. A background in computer science and perceptual psychology is indispensable. Courses in computer graphics and human computer interaction / user interface design are very useful, and if available, Iíd recommend a dedicated course in visualization. For example, Iíve been involved in teaching two classes at Berkeley, one in the School of Information and another in the Computer Science department.

I think the field would greatly benefit from more researchers who also have a background in art and design, so classes in graphic design, film, art history, and art practice are also relevant. Iíve also found a grounding in the basics of linguistics and semiotics to be quite useful.

5 - How do you think infovis researches will evolve in your country for next years ?

I think infovis research will continue to flourish. I expect there to be continued progress in existing research areas, such as the design of more perceptually effective information displays, across numerous display types (monitors, large displays, cell phones, etc). I also hope more efforts in the collaborative use of visualization and studies of visualization as a communication mechanism arise. Iím also optimistic that good design principles and aesthetics will continue to get more attention within the field.

Looking outside of research, widely-accessible, interactive technologies such as Flash and AJAX are increasingly popular, but currently lack support for better data handling and assisting perceptually effective visual mappings. I hope that the set of tools available for creating visualizations will improve, allowing more non-researchers and non-professionals to start creating and exchanging visualizations, while making visualizations more accessible to everyday users. If visualization is released ďinto the wildĒ in this fashion, I expect the rest of us will have a lot to learn from the results.

Posted by jheer at June 3, 2006 12:48 PM
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