The DNA Framework of Visualization

Yuri Engelhardt and Clive Richards


A comprehensive framework is presented for analyzing and specifying an extensive range of visualizations in terms of their fundamental ‘DNA’ building blocks of visual encoding and (de)composition.

2 Replies to “P15”

  1. Our approach in this paper adapts ideas from design, semiotics and linguistics. It describes how the fundamental ‘DNA’ building blocks of visual encoding and composition can be combined into ‘visualization patterns’ that can specify an extensive range of visualizations, such as statistical charts, maps, family trees, Venn diagrams, flow charts, texts using indenting, technical drawings and scientific illustrations. The DNA building blocks cover three representational modes, fifteen visual encoding principles, and various types of visual components and layout principles. We offer alternative ways of specifying each visualization pattern (or chart type), including through a DNA tree diagram and through a rigorously systematic natural language sentence. Using this framework, a design tool is proposed for exploring visualization design options.

    Please browse ‘The DNA of Visualization’ at http://VisDNA.com (our accompanying web site) to see various visual materials related to this paper, including DNA tree diagrams of various example visualizations.

  2. An interesting approach to the analysis of visualizations, and a beautiful website!
    I have two questions:
    1. To what extent is the decomposition of a sentence into syntactic categories (phrases and words) comparable to the decomposition you propose for a visualization into DNA building blocks? Is there anything such as ‘ungrammatical’ visualizations?
    2. Your analysis allows to describe a variety of visualizations. Do you think that these descriptions in the form of tree diagrams help us discriminate between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ pictures in the sense of Bertin (1967) (see below), or between graphical excellent pictures and chartjunk in the sense of Tufte (1983) (see below)?

    “Combien de dessins admirablement exécutés et richement reproduits […] ne
    communiquent qu’une information dérisoire et inutile? Que de papier et de couleurs
    perdus. Tandis que des croquis malhabiles mais correctement construits deviennent les
    meilleurs instruments de la découverte et de la pédagogie.” (Bertin, 1967)

    Graphical excellence, according to Tufte (1983)
    “consists of complex ideas communicated with clarity, precision, and efficiency.”
    “is that which gives the viewer the greatest number of ideas in the shortest time
    with the least ink in the smallest space.”
    “requires telling the truth about the data.”

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