From CS 294-10 Visualization Sp10

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Good Visualization:


Scientists wanted to learn more about how slime molds create networks of tubes to channel food to themselves. The scientists had noticed that although they have no central brain or awareness, slime molds are able to create a network with properties remarkably similar to those of the carefully designed and engineered Japanese rail system. The scientists wanted to demonstrate this and to study how slime molds form such networks in the hopes of being able to develop a simple set of rules or mathematical description for creating them. This in turn could aid the design of future transportation networks and other such systems. In an experiment, they placed oat flakes in separate places around a slime mold in a container shaped like Japan. The placement of the oat flakes mimicked the way cities are distributed around Tokyo. The scientists then observed the how the slime mold formed its network to channel the nutrients from the oat flakes back to itself. This visualization shows what they observed. It is good because it allows the scientists to both clearly verify and demonstrate that the slime mold network has the desired properties. It is interesting because even the layman with no understanding of biology, math, or network properties can see that the slime mold network grows to resembles the Japanese rail system.

Source: Sanders, Laura. "Slime Mold Grows Network Just Like Tokyo Rail System." Wired Jan. 22, 2010. Print and Online. <http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2010/01/slime-mold-grows-network-just-like-tokyo-rail-system/ >.

Bad Visualization:


This image depicts the 2008 net sales of Latin and South American companies categorized by industry. It shows the net sales in billions of US dollars along with the number of companies in that industry. It is a bad visualization for a few reasons. The primary one (at least in my opinion) is that it somehow seems to suggest that there is a relationship between the number of companies and the net sales in an industry, but it does not make clear what that relationship is. This relationship may even be insignificant compared to the relationship between net sales and the combined size of all the companies in an industry measured in something like employees or net worth, so in that sense this image may be misleading. This image leads the observer to wonder how the creators of the image initially chose the relative sizes of the inner and outer circle on which to scale the others (e.g., why does $502 billion approximately equal 83 companies?). Another reason it is bad is that the layout of the circles makes it difficult to compare industries to each other. A final reason it is bad is that the pictures above the circles are meant to represent the industry category but it is not very easy to deduce the industry from the picture (e.g., why does a phone represent the technology industry instead of the picture of the computer?) and the clarifying text is small and hard to read due to its vertical, right-hand side orientation.

Source: Rolfe, Rebecca. "The Top 500 Latin and South American Companies' Net Sales Based on Industry." Poder May. 2009: 42-43. Print and Online. <http://www.poder360.com/article_detail.php?id_article=1772 >.

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