Visualisation: its ups and downs (graphics-wise)

There are multiple, and vastly different, contexts in which visualisation and transparent data operate; and most of the time, we don’t really pay second attention to it. However, it is a fundamental role in how the shape publics and publishing data. For example, something as simple as the dashed line or ellipses can have incredibly varying roles to play in our understanding of a subject, as Timo illustrates. He writes a very interesting and visually engaging article on how the basic dotted line can represent movement, hidden geometry, paths, links, expectation (deep, I know), borders, graphs, and a whole lot more. Tell me you’ve thought that analytically about a dotted line and I’ll give you 5 bucks.

This is just one example of how visualisation is a much more complex and convoluted process of operation than than one imagines prima facie. Looking specifically at visual data collection, it is evident that visualisation plays the central part in how data is interpreted in the viewer’s mind. For example,¬†I have an app on my phone that tells me how much sleep I get every night. Here is a comparison of two of different graphs the app provides:


Initially looking at the first graph, all columns are blue, and there doesn’t seem to be too much difference in the amount of sleep I get each day. It takes a close analysis to notice that I’m only getting between 6-7 hours sleep ever day, and that Mondays and Thursdays are the worst contenders. The second graph on the other hand, uses colour (more symbolically green and red) to show quite obviously that drinking tea and energy drinks are having a negative effect on my sleep (and somehow being sick has a positive effect (?)).

Taking somewhat more professional data from, a site devoted to such visual graphs, we can see how shapes, geometry and colour are used to display information that would otherwise be very difficult to interpret. See for example an analysis of the characteristics of selfie-taking.

Taking two slightly more 3D versions of this: VJing and the iPhone experience, it is evident that such visualisation can actually shape your reality. The interaction with your iPhone connects you visually through apps and graphics onto a totally different virtual world. Similarly, VJing significantly alters and improves your experience at events such as nightclubs, music festivals and concerts. Take a look at these two videos:

Thus visual texts not only help to represent such data, but also to organise forms of content/expression in language and make visible the invisible (“transparent data”). I’ll end the post with this article, which I can definitely say had an impact on how I decide what to eat and how often:


Arnell, Timo (2006) ‘the dashed line in use’, <>

Infographics <>

How does 200 calories look like <>


Augmented reality: projection mapping

iPhone user experience