Thinking with Sketches: Leveraging Everyday Use of Visuals for Information Visualization

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The overarching goal of the information visualization community is to "amplify cognition" — that is, to help people to think — about data. However, the activities that people perform in their everyday thinking practices have not been considered in the core approaches to information visualization. Observing these everyday thinking practices makes it clear that, for many people, a normal and perhaps essential component of thinking includes creating sketched externalizations of their thoughts. People sketch rough ideas; they refine concepts on whiteboards; they annotate texts while reading. We refer to such activities collectively as thinking with sketches. Deliberate support for this kind of thinking is largely absent from information visualizations; we explore the possibility of providing such support. This research is rooted in the thesis that there are observable aspects of sketched externalizations that can inform information visualizations. We first present a series of qualitative observational studies that expand our understanding of sketched externalizations from an information visualization standpoint. We study the contexts in which people sketch to think, catalog the visuals seen in sketched externalizations on office whiteboards, and examine the representations people create when they sketch data. Second, we examine some fundamental challenges that arise from translating observations of the flexible, expressive, human-driven nature of sketched externalizations to more constrained, semi-automated interactive environments. This is supported by a Wizard of Oz study of a sketch-based data exploration software prototype and our earlier findings about sketched externalizations. Finally, we leverage our observations to perform a set of initial explorations into new approaches to designing interactive information visualizations. We study the inclusion of basic active reading support into information visualizations and we suggest a new interaction approach, Constructible Interaction, that supports the kind of flexibility that we have observed in thinking sketches. We outline the open research questions that arise from our studies, both in better understanding sketched externalizations and in leveraging our knowledge of these to explore new approaches to information visualization. In the long term, we hope that this research will contribute to a class of information visualization interfaces that provide improved support for people’s unique individual thinking needs.
Information Science, Computer Science
Walny, J. (2016). Thinking with Sketches: Leveraging Everyday Use of Visuals for Information Visualization (Doctoral thesis, University of Calgary, Calgary, Canada). Retrieved from doi:10.11575/PRISM/28430