Sculpting Visualizations is a resource for scientists to enrich and expand data visualization possibilities. It offers scientists a library of tools and guidance for applying artistic, design-minded principles to data visualizations in order to enhance their research findings.
As scientific data becomes larger and more complex, it demands an equally rich visual vocabulary to fully articulate its insights. Computing tools including 3D printing, augmented reality (AR), and virtual reality (VR) have made 3D data visualization a common practice for exploring scientific data. However, the components of these visualizations (e.g. lines, dots, arrows) are algorithmically generated. Numerically generated visualizations are limited in expressive capabilities and further abstract data from the material conditions that produce it.
Our work intervenes in this problem by “sculpting visualizations.” That is, we use handcrafted elements to encode data. These hand sculpted visualizations draw on insights from artists and design-minded practitioners–experts in conveying complex ideas visually– to create visualizations that traffic in rich visual vocabularies.
The benefit of handcrafted visualizations is that they have the potential to convey more information to both scientists and the public. This enhanced visual vocabulary allows for encoding more variables and associate sets. As such, they allow scientists to better understand the relationships in their data, and ultimately, to make more discoveries.
Hand sculpted visualizations also allow scientists and the public to engage with data in a more humane way. By drawing on artistic and natural elements from the material world, the visualizations are more evocative and intuitive. Their artisan qualities allow for a greater affinity with the data, and in turn, willingness to explore it more deeply, over longer periods of time.
Tools that we provide include a library that allows users to create volumetric multivariable visualizations in AR and VR using hand sculpted clay glyphs and handcrafted colormaps. Our interface is designed with wide usability in mind. Users need not be computer science experts to create visualizations. Scientists, designers, artists, and laypeople alike can use these tools with the guidance that we provide.
This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Nos. 1704604 and 1704904.
Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.