Reading 6: Encodings and Standard Designs

by Mike Gleicher on February 2, 2017

Due Date: Please read the first two readings before class on Feb 20, and the second two readings as soon as possible after that. (link to assignment)

There are two seperate things here:

  1. What are encodings? (the mappings between data and visual marks that form the building blocks for visualizations)
  2. How do we put those building blocks together to make visualizations.

Number 2 is something we’ll spend a lot of time on (after a detour to study perception so that we can make wise choices in our building blocks). But i want to start #2 by considering how common visualizations that you know can be thought of in terms of the building blocks of encodings.

So, for this week you need to read about both. To learn the basics of encodings, there are chapters in both Cairo and Munzner. There is a lot of redundancy, but I think there is benefit in reading both: Munzer is more formal, while Cairo gets more into the context (and will give you a taste of the topics to come). So for Monday’s class, please read:

  1. Chapter 5: Marks and Channels from Munzner (link).
  2. Chapter 5: Basic Principles of Visualization from Cairo “The Truthful Art” (link)

To see how these get put together into basic charts, please read (if not by Monday, then by Wednesday):

  1. Chapter 7: Arrange Tables from Munzner (link)
  2. Chapter 6: Exploring Data with Simple Charts from Cairo “The Truthful Art” (link)

The final (optional) reading is about how thinking about things in terms of these building blocks pays off. It’s a paper about some research that went into building Tableau:

  • Show me: automatic presentation for visual analysis. Mackinlay, Hanrahan, and Stolte. IEEE Trans on Visualization and Computer Graphics, Nov. 2007. (pubmed) (ieee)

I like this work because it shows the connection between data abstractions and encodings, and it turns out to be practically valuable (when we play with Tableau, we’ll be using this work). It’s good for helping you think about abstractions and encodings, but not central to the themes of the class (which is why its optional).


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