Visualizing Technical Information: A Cultural Critique demonstrates the ways in which the leading technical visuals of information design–graphs, charts, diagrams, tables, illustrations, and information visualization–are designed and read. Using genre theory as an analytical tool, the author makes the argument that problems with these visual forms are not necessarily the result of a designer’s poor decisions or a reader’s poor interpretation skills. Instead, there may be inherent problems in the visual genres themselves that are a direct result of their cultural history and current use.
In presenting this argument, Visualizing Technical Information breaks new ground in bringing issues of culture and theory into the foreground as the key to many of the problems associated with information design. The author critiques the influences of Cartesian-based thinking, mathematical approaches, and logic-based methods to problem solving and a reliance on perceptual-based visual abstractions. In making this argument, the book addresses such issues as: Can a visually abstracted graph represent a clear picture of an emotionally centered topic such as rape? Does a technical illustration, through its clean lines and context-less space, communicate efficiency about an object that in actual use might be inefficient? How can a table communicate persuasive information merely by its detailed numerical format when, in fact, its results are far from conclusive? Does the reader have a difficult time interpreting an idea diagram because the diagram was created as a heuristic, not a! s a rhetorical device? What role does computer culture play in the newly developing genre of information visualization when programs are designed in great part with algorithms based on perceptual research, not on context-specific, user-centered research? Finally, what can we do now and in the future to improve the communication abilities of these technical information designs?