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Good Example

Source: National Geographic, October 2007, vol 212, no. 4


This visualization shows the different adaptations in the anatomy of a woodpecker that help the bird avoid injury when hitting its head against trees. It shows the head of the bird in a cutaway illustration and provides some explanations of what is different in its anatomy above the drawing. It also gives some context information to help us understand the problem such as the goal of the bird, the worms in the tree, and the movement of the bird, by rendering another semi-transparent image of the bird at a different stage of the movement.


The image is composed of a full view of the bird, a cutaway view of his head, a cutaway view of the tree and some labels with descriptive text. There are mainly nominal elements in this visualization such as the labels of the different parts of the bird. The "x axis" could be seen as encoding time (quantitative) since it represents the bird at different moments in its movement and in general the y and x axis encode the position (quantitative) of the different elements of the birds brain. The saturation of the color emphasizes the relevant elements of the bird anatomy (doesn't come out well in this picture).

Bad Example

Source: Grammar of the Film Language, Daniel Arijon, Silman-James Press, 1976.


This image gives some context information for the illustration in the top right corner which is a top-down view of the layout of the fortress. It first localizes the fortress in Uruguay (left), then shows a side view of the fortress (middle) and a top-down view of its spatial structure. This top-down view will be explained in a different illustration later in the chapter. This visualization is bad, because:

  • The label of this illustration, santa teresa fortress, is written in the bottom right corner and not emphasized.
  • Different components in this visualization overlap, for example the line from 'santa teresa fortress' to Uruguay overlaps with the side view of the fortress.
  • The layout of the components is not good, because our eyes need to jump to different parts of the image when following the arrows. We first look at the label 'santa teresa' in the bottom right, then the country in the middle left, the side-view in the center and the overhead view in the top right corner.
  • The top-down view appears distorted because of the perspective.


There are 4 pieces of information in this visualization:

  • the content/title: "santa teresa fortress"
  • the country
  • the outside look of the fortress
  • the top-down view.

The title is a nominal value. y and x represent longitude (Q) and latitude (Q) for the top-down country view and the top-down fortress view. For the side view y and x encode longitude or latitude (Q) and altitude (Q). In the top-down view there are more labels (N) such as arsenal and the names of the people. They use an icon to represent the camera and the numbers next to the icons indicate the shot order (Q). The arrows are used to represent the movement of the people in time (Q).


I changed the layout of the 4 main pieces of the visualization (title, country, side-view, top-down view) so that they don't overlap and used boxes to help a viewer identify them as separate elements. I organized the information such that the upper diagram is the most general (country) and the lower the most detailed (top-down view). I de-emphasized the country information (by reducing its size and putting it in a corner) since it is not that relevant in the context of the book. I connected the elements by having the country box as part of the side-view box and by using color for the side-view and top-down view. The area of the fortress that is shown in the top-down view is blue in the side-view as is the box of the top-down view.

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