on 30 March 2001
A disappointing purchase. It is not a coherent text but a collection of papers gathered from various IEEE and ACM workshops and conferences which have been thematically grouped. Some of the material is interesting such as the PARC intranet cones, fisheye, and 3D representation. But much of it is living proof that questionable science is alive and well on the information technology planet. In particular some of the material on querying is seriously open to challenge. In one case points of light we are told represent houses, other graphics represent houses and their prices. None of these properties are remotely visually self evident in the studies cited. The results seem to fly in the face of all established useability metrics. In fact the latter point is a flaw in much of the recent revival of data visualisation work (or the visualisation of highly structured data if you want a full affectation). Over twenty years ago I can remember doing multidimensional modelling without a 'data visualisation' band wagon in sight. Now any program with a slider bar is rushing over to the visualisation camp with a vengenace.
The one redeeeming feature of this book is that it has a section on the visualisation of scientific data, which has been largely the meat and potatoes of data visualisation companies for over twenty years.
Trying to mimic 3D in 2D, even with VR, and then claiming that wow! this will turn database access inside out, is just a flight of fancy. But similar flights of fancy, ungrounded in empirical methodologies are all too common in this area. There is too much cognitive work to be addressed on spatial understanding yet (I avoid the phrase 'spatial reasoning')and regrettably this collection doesn't push the boat out sufficiently on this isssue.
Certainly there is much to admire in the volume by way of individual pieces of work (who could not be impressed by Table Lens?), but in this instance, the sum of the glittering parts is less than a whole text ought to be. Get yourself a good old fashioned jaw breaking graphics text.It will serve you better in the long run.
on 30 November 2000
From Bob Hughes - new-media developer; author of "Dust or Magic"
This is a crucially important, uniquely valuable book, edited and partly written by three of the original architects of today's graphical computing environment. If you design graphical interfaces, get it. Everything you need to know about is either here (the original papers by the key researchers) or referenced. I couldn't find a single gap.
The introduction alone is worth the (fairly hefty) price. In just 33 pages, the authors define the entire field, its history, components, laws and methods; and show how, by applying these methods, we can arrive at far more usable and interesting solutions than we'd arrive at in the usual fumbling, grasping-at-metaphors way.
"The purpose of visualization," it says, "is insight, not pictures". Having said which, many of the visualizations are just plain beautiful - intellectually as well as visually.
The illustrations are good but not lavish (for lavish, get Edward Tufte's books, which get due acknowledgement here. You need them anyway. And if they'd gone for lavish, the book would be completely unaffordable.) We have delightful things: spiral calendars, the "hyperbolic browser" (now making a real-world impact as the InXight browser), the "InfoCrystal", the "Table Lens", information maps and landscapes, representations of all kinds, suited to needs of all kinds, always generated by clear and careful thinking.
The meat of the book - the papers - is the definitive Grand Tour through the visual "possibility space". Many of them are "ideas in waiting" that the computer-mainstream still hasn't tumbled to. It shows what a wealth of options we have, once we free ourselves from the "received wisdom" of desktop metaphors, and proceed from basics.