|Review of Information Visualization, 2nd Edition (Robert Spence)|
|Review of The Craft of Information Visualization (Bederson & Shneiderman)|
|Review of Elements of Graph Design (Stephen Kosslyn)|
|Videos and Video Clips on Visualization|
|Visualization – New Controls and Applications|
By Gerd Waloszek, SAP AG, SAP User Experience – May 20, 2003
This review takes a personal look at Robert Spence's book Information Visualization.
Information: Information presentation
Robert Spence is Emeritus Professor of Information Engineering at the Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine, London, where he has been involved in research in human-computer interaction for over thirty years. Much of his research has involved innovation in information visualization. (From book cover, adapted – brief videos and video clips used to support the teaching of information visualization)
In the foreword of his book Information Visualization, Robert Spence explains:
You glance at some visual presentation of data and exclaim 'Ah ha! - now I understand.' That is what information visualization is about. It is the process of forming a mental model of data, thereby gaining insight into that data (adapted).
According to the author, information visualization differs from "scientific visualization," which is not the topic of his book:
In scientific visualization what is seen primarily relates to, and represents visually, something "physical," for example the flow of water in a pipe. By contrast, information visualization tends to deals with abstract quantities such as baseball scores (adapted).
The author has two objectives in mind: First, to provide a scholarly and readable text, and second, to provide a "dip-in-able" text (a term that the author created): "a book that can be opened almost anywhere and be dipped in to learn about a new visualization technique." The book addresses not only students but at "a wide spectrum of readers, ranging from the CEO to the software engineer."
I bought the book because, when I opened it at the book stand, I was impressed with the large number of mostly colorful and high-quality illustrations. In my opinion it is mandatory that a book on visualization is packed with illustrations because that's what the book is about. When taking a closer look at the book, I discovered many of the new visualization techniques that I had learnt about in the past few years. So, this book was also up-to-date. And thirdly, it puts these new techniques in perspective and presents them in well-organized manner that helps me to evaluate them.
This book is, however, not a "how to" guide or reference book that can be used in a cookbook manner, such as "I have hierarchical data and want to express that relationship." It is targeted at people who have or want to get a deeper understanding of the visual presentation of data and how to emphasize the "message" in the data. Consequently, the dimensions, along which this book is organized, are not like in a cookbook but have a "scientific" look. For example, if you want to know what a treemap or hyperbolic browser is, this information is buried somewhere in the table of content or in the index. The respective chapter 8, where you find networks and tree structures, is titled "Connectivity". Thus you have to think in certain general terms, not in buzz words... Chapter 7, for example, deals with presentation, which I thought is the topic of the whole book. In essence, it deals with focus+context and similar methods. Thus, this is not an easy to scan and use book. I doubt that this is a book for the CEO and would also suggest that beginners read at least the first six introductory chapters before they start "dipping in." This way they get a better understanding of the underlying concepts of this book.
Nevertheless, I highly recommend this book as an invaluable resources for information on innovative visualization techniques. I am, however, afraid that the author misses parts of his intended audience.
Note: The companion Web site for this book has been canceled.
See also in the SAP Design Guild
Note: Both pages are "bonus" additions by the review author.