The perils of visualization – DGPuK

Eppler M., Bresciani S. (2008) The perils of visualization: a review of the dysfunctional effects of images for communication based on information visualization studies. DGPuK Book of abstracts, 30th April – 2nd May 2008, Lugano, Switzerland.

Abstract: Although there are many studies outlining the merits of images for improved communication, only few studies have highlighted the risks associated with the use of visual communication. In order to consolidate existing research on the possible disadvantages of images for communication, we have reviewed the literature from the information visualization domain and from closely related fields, so that existing insights can inform the field of visual communication about possible risks in using images to convey or co-construct meaning. Information visualization research examines how (computer-based, interactive and dynamic) images can be used to augment cognition – individually and in groups. It is as a field that relies on prior findings from cognitive and social psychology (particularly regarding the study of perception and the heuristic functions of images or sketches) and on information design. We have collected more than fifty documented problems. We have classified these risks according to their main cause, i. e., whether the producer, designer or communicator of a visualization is responsible for the disadvantage, or whether the receiver or user of a visualization is causing the dysfunctionality. In terms of detrimental effects, we distinguish between negative cognitive, emotional, or social effects of a visualization. While there are several alternative classification possibilities for disadvantages of images in communication (such as by countermeasures, level of importance, or by communicative context), these attributes provide a simple, systematic, expandable, and useful typology with mostly mutually exclusive sections.

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