Four Futures and a History

Stephen Few provides a nice overview of the reasons why we should design data visualizations to be effective, and why it’s important to understand human perception when doing so. In fact, he’s done this so well that I can’t add much to his arguments. But I can, however, push the basic message a bit further, out into the times before and after those he discusses. Out into areas that are not as well known, or not really developed, where new opportunities and new dangers may lie… Perhaps the best place to begin is the beginning. Discussing the beginning of visualization is not without its problems, if only for the fact that there exist several different kinds of visualization—for example, data visualization, information visualization, and scientific visualization. But whatever adjective used, we generally find a history more extensive than commonly imagined. For example, although Descartes did contribute to the graphic display of quantitative data in the 17 th century, graphs had already been used to represent things such as temperature and light intensity three centuries earlier. Indeed, as Manfredo Massironi discusses in his book (Massironi, 2002; p. 131), quantities such as displacement were graphed as a function of time as far back as the 11 th century
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