Why we should be talking about visualization research

Have you ever used a visualization created with Tableau, examined a treemap, or tried your hand at coding a visualization in D3.js? If so, you’ve interacted with data visualization research. Researchers in the information visualization field contributed these tools and encodings.

Visualization research tends to be fast paced and covers an exciting range of topics, from authoring tools that make it easier to generate effective visualizations from the large amounts of data we face, to new ways of visualizing and interacting with complex data, to knowledge about perception, cognition, and the use of visualization by domain experts to solve real world problems. Visualization researchers often take motivation from problems faced by users of visualization in the world, helping ensure that the research remains concrete and practical.

As a visualization researcher, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of the possibilities new visualization tools bring to the world, and spend most of one’s time thinking, what’s next on the research horizon?

But disseminating research results in the world is also critical, especially in a field like data visualization where many of our results can be applied directly to practice. Recently, a subset of researchers began discussing how despite our steady growth as a field, we aren’t always great at sharing our results and making connections beyond our research community. A few months ago, several workshops were held to gather visualization researchers’ thoughts about the future of IEEE VIS, the premier conference for the field of information visualization. One point of discussion that researchers across many different strands of visualization researchers agreed upon was the visualization research is not as visible as it should be to the many people designing, critiquing, and otherwise using visualization in the world. This includes data scientists, information designers, business analysts, researchers in other fields, and numerous others. Some aspects of this disconnect are institutional — our research is often buried behind paywalls. But we suspect that a large portion of it is also due to the way that visualization researchers, like many scientists, are not always motivated or skilled in communicating their research to a broader audience.

A few of us from the visualization research community pondered, What are some steps we can take to share the exciting things happening in our field? We feel strongly that sharing our research is important to sustaining the relevance of our field, and making sure that we work on important problems. We decided to start this blog to make cutting-edge research available and accessible to designers, analysts, data scientists, and researchers in other fields.

Naturally, it takes a village to create visualization research, and our goal is to use this blog to provide a forum for a diverse set of researchers to share their research, not just us editors! We’ll be soliciting posts from a variety of individuals doing visualization research to expose the multiple views and perspectives that collectively form this community.

We’re also interested in what those who may view visualization research from afar want to know about our work. How can we help you better use visualization either in your work or personal use? What topics do you want to know about that visualization may have addressed? We strongly encourage all of our readers to post their questions and thoughts about topics (e.g., What does visualization research have to say about communicating uncertainty?) as comments on any post. Or, you can write us with your questions and requests at multiple.views.vis@gmail.com.

We look forward to charting visualization research (in blog form) with your help!



A blog about visualization research, for anyone, by the people who do it. Edited by Jessica Hullman, Danielle Szafir, Robert Kosara, and Enrico Bertini

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