Reporting From CHI 2013

Data visualization often falls under the field of Human Computer Interaction, but HCI contains much more than data visualization. It covers everything from physical input devices, to digital interfaces, to social and psychological effects of computers. CHI is a huge computer science conference that covers everything and anything related to computer-human interaction. Here are two interesting projects from CHI2013 that are closely related to visualization. They both share principles with good visualization, but neither of them are exactly visualization in the technical sense.

Visualizing Without Looking

Visualization is awesome for showing information, but it has a major downside; it requires you to see. This is not good for people with impaired eyesight, or for applications where your vision needs to be focused elsewhere. The Human-Computer Interaction group at Hasso Plattner Institute have come up with an interface to provide gesture output for touchscreen devices. This lets you get information from your phone or other devices without looking at the screen. Eye-free interaction is useful for things like checking for messages during a meeting, or finding your next appointment time without taking your device out of your pocket. They imagine technology like this becoming standard on many devices, and acting as just another method for us to get information from our digital world.

Visualizing The Past

Another major downside to visualization is we can only see what exists in the present. The past is lost to us, and with it we lose important and enriching information. Nathan Walsh and Digital Originals have been working on a way to keep and display some of the past. Nathan creates beautiful paintings of cities, and each painting goes through a process of evolution as it is being painted. Normally, the painting process is lost in the final rendition, but Digital Originals have created Repentir, an app that lets you see snapshots of the painting in different stages of the creation process. You take a photo of any part of the painting, and your device lets you “unpaint” portions of the image, allowing you to see all the stages that built up to the masterpiece in its current form. They hope to see other artists also recording the history of their creation process, and providing that information as an insight into how artists think and work. Imagine walking into a gallery and being able to go back in time for every piece of artwork and see how it evolved. The next stage for the app is to try it out on Nathan’s work in a gallery setting. There is an upcoming exhibition in November at the Bernarducci Meisel Gallery in New York. The interim period should allow the research team to develop the app even further and possibly add more features. These projects aren’t exactly visualizations, but they both work to extend beyond what visualization can provide for us. Work like this is definitely going to be a part of the future of computing, and will hopefully be something we see in our own devices soon (if it isn’t there already).   Drew Skau is Visualization Architect at and a PhD Computer Science Visualization student at UNCC with an undergraduate degree in Architecture. You can follow him on Twitter: @SeeingStructure

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