Matthew T Grant


Tall Guy. Glasses.

Information Design and Visual Complexity

Investigations into the use of ActionScript 3.0 and dynamically generated representations of data sets led me to write this post on visual complexity, first published on December 1, 2006.

3090102907_c3b7c67a13_mMy research on Amaznode (see this post) reminded me that there are a lot of folks out there working on innovative and practical ways to display complex sets of data and networks of information.

While I thought I was so special for stumbling across Amaznode at Adobe Labs, I soon discovered that someone had actually referenced it back in September in a comment on this post from David Armano’s blog. In the aforementioned post, Armano praises the Visual Thesaurus, which depicts relationships between words in the same way Amaznode depicts relationships between products on Amazon (except the Visual Thesaurus actually allows for much deeper exploration of the related words it displays).

The Visual Thesaurus is just one example of information design that shows up on the site Visual Complexity, the stated intention of which is “to be a unified resource space for anyone interested in the visualization of complex networks.” This site is endlessly fascinating both due to the ingenious (and sometimes oddly beautiful) ways that people have devised to portray complex, densely interrelated systems, as well as due to the range of data, be it business-related (for example, what patterns might we discern by examining 10 million receipts from a large DIY store?) or just strange, that they have chosen to model.

As the serendipity of blogging and intellectual interest would have it, a colleague of mine brought The Baby Name Wizard’s Name Voyager to my attention yesterday. The NameVoyager shows the waxing and waning fortunes of baby names from the 1880s to the present. (It allows you to see, for example, that the name “Chester” peaked in popularity around 1910.) The creator of the NameVoyager is one Martin Wattenberg who has come up with a number of methods for graphing complex processes such as the editing history of Wikipedia pages, among other things. In fact, he has been so inventive that several samples of his work show up on the Visual Complexity website, which I didn’t even know existed two days ago!

Image Courtesy of michael.heiss.