Matthias Shapiro’s text, “Once Upon a Stacked Time Series,” discusses the role storytelling plays in visualization. He states that “not every information visualization requires a story. Some are simply beautiful to look at and can exist merely as fine works of art. However, most visualizations have a goal or purpose and present their data in a meaningful way, in the context of some story” (16). Shapiro presents a formula to provide context for a story “Question + Visual Data + Context = Story”(16). He creates a visual image telling the story of the 2009 car trade in program ‘Cash for Clunkers’. Shapiro decided to group data by country. Instead of using circles to show the data regarding each country’s trade in amount he represents the information with an image of the country. Using the image of a country’s shape instead of a circle is a “visual hook” and allows the reader to quickly comprehend the information.
There are different methods for showing information that can allow the reader to process the story in a quick an efficient manner. Recently, I came across the web site “Visual Thesaurus” while trying find words similar to “amazing”. The image tells the story of the word “amazing” by depicting its relationship to words with a similar meaning. The reader can click on words to get a further definition and expand the visual image. The image maps words and allows the reader to investigate the word’s relationship with other words.
- The Center. The Visual Thesaurus displays words and meanings that are related to the item in the center of the display.
- The Toolbar. Search for words, view word suggestions, see search history, and change preferences settings from the toolbar. Forward/Back buttons provide easy navigation. Help tips are always available.
- Words. Click on a word to bring it to the center. Click on the speaker icon to hear the word spoken. Surrounding the word are words and meanings that are related to it.
- Meanings. Roll your mouse over a meaning to learn more about it. Click on a meaning to bring it to the center.
- Settings. Click on the Settings menu to personalize font size, types of relationships shown, content filtering, special keyboard shortcuts, and more.
- Special Features. Printing, spell checking, Internet image and web page search are all available (Visual Thesaurus, Web).
Visual images can tells stories using different formats. Similar to traditional text, the visual story answers a question by providing information and context. The difference lays in the methods used to present the images and words, and how the presentation and context of the information allow the reader to interact with the information provided.