It is well known that the human brain devotes a large part of its volume to visual processing. Visuals have been used for a very long time to represent information, which turns out to makes the information easier to grasp and acquire. In my general quest to enable people to understand data better, visualisation (or visualization) can be a powerful ally. In this regard I’m interested in three main areas: creating tools and techniques to enable new visualisations (usually through deformation), creating techniques and tools that bridge the gap between textual and graphical representations, and understanding how existing tools and techniques work and perform.
New Tools and Techniques for Visualisation
I believe that one of the reasons why humans have prospered and developed sophisticated cultures is that we are particularly good at using tools. One such tool (writing) is probably the most important development in our cultural history. I am still amazed at how many of my students do not realise that pen and paper are not just communication tools, but they are also thinking tools that, when properly used, radically enhance the type, variety and complexity of thoughts and ideas that we can have.
Since such simple tools had such a transformative effect, it is reasonable to think that, in the current age of computers, we should be able to use computation as a cognitive tool that extend our cognitive capabilities. This is a big area, and I am particularly interested in the creation of tools for visual reasoning. In particular tools that use deformation. One of the most interesting ideas that I have had resulted in the transmogrification tool (described in this paper, tool download), which allows people to manipulate any graphics (including information graphics) in new and non-linear ways that are defined by the viewer. The tool has received some media attention, and my students and I are already working on generalising the tool to make it even more powerful.
A related piece of work is the undistort lens, which provides a bridge between deformed and undeformed geometries.
Creating Techniques to Bridge the Textual-Graphical Gap
We read text all the time. In fact, text might be the number one source of information that we get from computers. Yet it receives relatively little attention in terms of the interface, and there is currently very little interactivity in how we read text. Is this interactivity even at all possible? I think so.
In the last few years I have grown increasingly interested in text, reading and how graphics and text relate to each other. Although there are several pieces of work coming up in the pipeline, my main starting point here is FatFonts (paper, website), which is a new data representation technique that combines aspects of images and of symbols. I believe the technique opens up a new area in information representation and visualisation research.
Understanding Information Visualisation Techniques and Representations
Although my research work is driven by exploration and experimentation, I believe that a strong empirical base is fundamental to make progress in HCI and Information visualisation. That is why I have worked on experiments that analyse how tag-clouds work and how 3D is perceived in digital tabletops.