Sessions » Vis/InfoVis Keynote Speaker
Wednesday, October 15

» Visual Thinking and Visual Thinking Tools
Colin Ware, Data Visualization Research Lab, University of New Hampshire

» Abstract

"We know next to nothing about how collective cognition works, or when it works, or how to make it work better; we have some ideas about it, but at best they've the status of artisanal rules of thumb."

— Bactra review of Edwin Hutchins's book Cognition in the Wild.

Colin Ware portraitI like to think of visualization designers as skilled crafts-people who make tools to help other people think better. As Edwin Hutchins and others have pointed out, most real world thinking occurs with external aids such as paper and pencil, maps and diagrams. This means that a real world psychology must incorporate cognitive tools and their interfaces together with classic constructs of perceptual psychology, like pattern perception mechanisms and visual working memory. Perception is an active process and visual thinking can be thought of as a set of distributed processes involving pattern finding, eye movements and visual working memory operations. Interacting with a computer is also an active process, involving activities like zooming in and out, or hiding and saving information. In visual thinking using visualizations some activities occur in the head and others in the computer. The visualization is the bridge. Using studies of visualizations designed to help analyze data — from social networks and from tagged foraging humpback whales — I suggest some "artisanal rules of thumb" that can be used to generalize from the specific examples. The exciting thing for those of us who design, is that half of the emerging discipline of real world cognition (it is too early to call it a science), has to be about things that are changing and evolving. It can be constructivist in the very literal sense of building tools.

» Bio

Ware has a special interest in applying theories of perception to the design of geospatial data interfaces. He has advanced degrees in both computer science (MMath, Waterloo) and in the psychology of perception (PhD,Toronto). He has published over 130 scientific articles ranging from rigorously scientific contributions to the <Journal of Physiology and Vision Research to applications oriented articles in the fields of data visualization and human-computer interaction. His book Information Visualization: Perception for Design is now in its second edition. His new book, Visual Thinking for Design, appeared in 2008. Ware also likes to build practical visualization systems. Fledermaus, a commercial 3D geospatial visualization system widely used in oceanography, was developed from his initial prototypes. His trackPlot software is being used by marine mammal scientists and his flowVis2D software will shortly be serving images on NOAA websites. Colin Ware is Director of the Data Visualization Research Lab which is part of the Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping at the University of New Hampshire.

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