Posted by: Roger King
In the last two postings of this blog, we looked at visualizing data using traditional business charts and graphs, and at the complications presented by data that have no obvious visualizations associated with it.
,Today, we will look a little more deeply at this issue of representing data that does not lend itself to simple Excel-like 2D business visual representations or to obvious 3D video game-like representations.
Using 3D graphics and animation to visualize data.
So, how could complex and abstract information be represented visually? How about using 3D graphics and animation?
I teach animation at my university and have put together an educational site ( wordsbybuzz.com ). As part of my research (along with my collaborator Richard Hackathorn who introduced me to the research area), I have been looking at ways to use 3D models and animations to visualize data. After all, there must be a way to leverage all of the 3D assets that are out there and target them toward the growing problem of how to comprehend the vast amounts of data that can be mined from the Web.
Let’s consider it. Our basic research approach focuses on visual metaphors that can be used to construct “stories” what will move someone through a world of complex, abstract data. Airplanes and cars can be used to represent the movement of information between applications or sources. Particle effects can be used to represent the disaggregation of data. 3D models can stand for various data types, and the movement of these characters the specific transformations of data. Other models could represent major application domains, like warehousing and distribution, manufacturing, financial, retail, and web retail data.
The core challenge.
But what’s the underlying challenge? There are indeed massive 3D graphics and animation assets that can be scoured from the Web, and it’s not hard to imagine ways in which they could be put together to visualize various sorts of information and the way it is manipulated and processed.
The issue is one that, for decades, has killed one visualization technique after another. Users are generally not comfortable with having to memorize large numbers of icons. If they are only suggestive, and do not literally resemble the concepts they represent, we have trouble remembering them, and the fancy visualization becomes more trouble than it is worth.
So that’s the dilemma. We have no problem determining the meaning of a bar chart or a graph that tells us how many cartons of milk we sold last Tuesday in Denver. At the other end of the data complexity spectrum, we have no problem with maneuvering through a 3D world (such as those that can be found on secondlife.com) as we examine the operations of a hardware store, but the stuff in the middle – where we need powerful visual constructs, but they represent things like securities and investment data, along with the way it is processed in the various electronic markets of the world – that’s where the real challenge lies.