Information Visualization (IV):
Notes about the 8th IV ’04 International Conference, London, England

Anna Ursyn (bio)
University of Northern Colorado

Ebad Banissi
London South Bank University



Information and knowledge visualization is an area of focus within a visualization community and involves a wide spectrum of other disciplines (such as humanities, psychology, sociology, and business) due to the progress in developing tools that incorporate 2D, 3D, interactive, and virtual reality. Several international conferences and symposia add every year a fresh view and thought to this field.

This review tells about the International Conference on Information Visualization that is held annually in London, England. The leading theme chosen for the 8th Information Visualization Conference (IV 2004) was “To bridge the gap between visual imaging and decision making.” Themes reported at this Conference related to the progress in visualization, information visualization, visual data mining, multimedia, web graphics, graph theory application, augmented and virtual reality, semantic web visualization, digital art, HCI, among many other areas such as information visualization in geology, medicine, industry and education.

A small number of themes have been selected from the IV ’04 Conference Proceedings (IV 2004, Proceedings of the 8th International Conference on Information Visualization, 2004, IEEE, Los Alamitos, CA), mainly those that have been focused on connections with digital art and aesthetics, semantic approach to visualization, and also some applications of information visualization.


Visualization means converting data into visual forms, thus showing objects that are easy to recognize and connected through well-defined relations. Designing a spatial mapping of numerical data sets can be done through creating metaphors and expressing meaning through images. Auditory and other sensory representations are also of concern. Visualization tools reinforce cognition, as they allow the opportunity to acquire knowledge about concepts, events, or processes, the ability to locate information, and explore the structure. Computers convert data into picture forms: simple charts and graphs or virtual reality environments happening in real time, with human interaction possible through various input/output devices, which let us fly around the organized data, comprehend and make decisions.

Information visualization helps to explore abstract data, select, transform and then represent them as static or interactive (mostly visual) representations. It helps understand abstract data and their complexity, manage, communicate and navigate the data, for instance, on the web. Thus the progress in information visualization can be seen as a part of the developments in a broader field of visualization. Information visualization techniques provide 2D and 3D interaction metaphors that are used for web navigation and communication. This practice builds on theory in information design, computer graphics and graphic design, art, semiotics, human-computer interaction, cognitive psychology, and statistical graphics.

Data mining. Data and processes to be visualized are often chaotic, non-linear, going on various levels and in global dimension. Big and complicated sets of data, for example, statistics about weather or some government issues are easier to grasp in graphic form than when expressed verbally or in numbers because graphics serve as explanatory tool for these data sets. Data sets, such as stock market or satellite telecommunication are too huge to be gathered, stored, processed, and distributed. Visual data mining tools help to organize information by integrating concepts, applying visualization metaphors and methods, information and scientific data visualization, diagrammatic reasoning, and building 3D collaborative virtual environments for information visualization or advanced Virtual Reality (VR) 3D visualization.

Visualization techniques reveal the patterns and take up metaphors that could be shared with the users. As Ben Shneiderman (IV 2004, p. 5) stated in his keynote lecture, designs of the tools for multi-dimensional, hierarchical or other visualization are often accepted as understandable but sometimes perceived as confusing. For this reason, insights for designers and usability tests may provide cognitive hypotheses and practical guidelines for developers.

1. Aesthetics and Design of the Data Visualization Sets

The application of aesthetics to the field of visualization supports a balance between form and function that is essential in the human interaction with the computer. This part of the review relates to the aesthetics-related issues that involve some principles of designing the data set visualization. It gives a brief outline of essays and practical applications: a discourse about representing the complexity of information structures, the use of knowledge visualizations by architects, information on the coding of knowledge in architectural structures, an attempt to express the beauty of molecular models, creation of an image stream installation as a philosophical cave of illusions, and finally, the use of ambient information visualization, that sits on the periphery of a user’s attention, in service of aesthetical presentation of the data.

1. 1. Aesthetics for visualization design

Looking for perfection in visualization design involves advancing aesthetics and finding conceptual inspiration to bridge the gap in visualization discourse between science, art, technology and design. As stated by Greg Judelman (IV 2004, pp. 245-250),, an interactive visualization is an interface to a complex data space. Between the data layer and the graphic layer lies software code, to map data into the visual domain. Visualizations should be designed to transmit the maximum amount of information with the minimum cognitive exertion of the user. Strategies for visual communication can be find in other areas, for example, guidelines for graphic design, 3D architectural visualization, animation and interactivity in media arts, or cartographic maps using spatial metaphor translated to informational one. The challenge is in developing modes of abstraction to represent complexity of information structures. The use of metaphors is often based on cartography or natural environments. Metaphors are structurally complex but universally familiar: users know the symbolic relationship between visual or interaction elements.

Judelman provides pointers to resources that can provide aesthetic and conceptual inspiration for visualization design and generate ideas for metaphors and interaction models. His examples come from algorithmic art, architecture (e.g.,, cross-disciplinary computational techniques, e.g., involving evolutionary systems – artificial life, (such as,, cellular automata, and nature. The author discusses algorithmic or generative art as a sub-specialty of interaction design. He points to several programming platforms in which practitioners experiment with creative modes of visual interaction, including Macromedia Flash and Director for accessing web-based applications, and the non-proprietary Processing ( for coding Java applets visualizations. For 3D graphics, real-time works are produced in VRML or game engine environments, while a ray tracing software ( serves for non-interactive video work. Audiovisual processing environments suggested by Judelman include Jitter and Keyworx. Virtual architectures provide spatialization of information in virtual environments where the users navigate VRML interactive environments to browse information (for example an Infotube). Visualizations that use natural elements as a metaphor include:

StarryNight and Spiral,
ThemeRiver, and

The challenges facing information visualization researchers, as well as those working in the science, arts, or design areas, involve finding innovative graphic or interactive techniques to represent the complexity of information structures.

1. 2. The use of visualizations by architects to amplify cognition and transfer knowledge

Remo A. Burkhard (IV 2004, pp. 519-524) clarifies the difference between the research on information visualization and knowledge visualization. Information visualization is a study on the use of computer-supported, interactive visual representations of abstract data to amplify cognition. It explores abstract data to create new insights. Knowledge visualization examines the use of visualizations for the transfer of knowledge between at least two persons or a group of persons. It examines information overload, misinterpretation and misuse of the information. Architects use five main visualization types: sketch, diagram, image, object (physical model), and interactive visualization. The author discusses the knowledge visualization framework that is important for an effective transfer of knowledge.

Three perspectives are described, that are used to amplify cognition, to process visual representations, and to transfer knowledge:

(a) The knowledge type perspective that identifies the 5 types of knowledge: declarative (know-what), procedural (know-how), experimental (know-why), orientational (know-where), and individual (know-who).

(b) The recipient type perspective that identifies target group (an individual, team, organization, network of persons with some known cognitive background)

(c) The visualization type perspective (sketch, diagram, image, object, interactive visualization).

The author presents an interactive knowledge visualization cube, implemented in VRML that integrates the three perspectives for choosing visualization method. Slices, then a single cube can be selected, with the use of a link that loads detailed information.

1. 3. Visualization in architecture

Strategies for visualization design can be find in 3D physical environments created throughout the history of architecture in various cultures in the form of built structures with encoded information. Peter Ferschin and Andreas Gramelhofer (IV 2004, pp.181-186) discussed how some design principles for spatial coding of information can be extracted from architectural design and transferred to the field of information visualization. Before the times of computing human beings used images to communicate, sometimes on the walls, so architecture was included into communication media. A term ‘information architecture’ that relates now to the structure of a website, can describe instructive function of architectural design.

Information on various fields of knowledge has been coded in architectural structures.
Examples provided by the authors include:

– Proportion, using metaphors of human body, is presented in cathedrals and Egyptian temples. Examples can be found in the works of Le Corbusier, Di Giorgio Martini, and Schwaller de Lubicz.

– A metaphor of music can be found in some architectural structures. Representation of Bela Bartok music in the Steven Holl’s Stretto House (1991) is an example of the relationship between music and architecture.

– Sacred knowledge of ten stages of enlightenment symbolized on the ten terraces of Borobudur (Java), 760 a.d.

– Cosmological order has been reflected in Balinese architecture

– Astronomical and physical science of the time was visualized in Jaipur in 1730 a.d.

– A memory theatre, about 1550 a.d., provided a prototype of information architecture as a metaphor of different categories of knowledge.

– Architecture served as the presentation media using buildings as surfaces for displaying information: video screens, engraved texts, lighting, and advertisement tables.

– Architecture has been often augmented with flat screens and electronic tickers for floating information, the combination of physical and virtual content. An example of augmented architecture is the Asymptote’s design for the Advanced Command Center (ACC) of the New York Stock

1. 4. Scaled molecular models and sculptures

The rules for creating models of natural objects make possible to generate artistic forms of great complexity and order. Edgar F. Meyer (IV 2004, pp. 229-234) searched for the minute beauties of nature and aesthetic expression of scientific concepts. He presented molecular models sculpted in wood, applying computer graphics to define input parameters to a computer program SCULPT which generates a code for a computer numerically controlled milling machine. Scaled models of molecules have been carved in wood, such as birds-eye maple or walnut. The author comments, “Computer graphics image lasts 1/30-1/60 sec. (the display refresh rate) whereas a wooden model will last at least 500 years with reasonable care.”

1. 5. Plato Cave: an image stream installation within an office setting

Suzanne M. Marchese and Francis T. Marchese (IV 2004, pp. 954-958) provided persons working in windowless cubicles with an active cityscape. They installed a video – a view of the surrounding neighborhood. It was streamed from a web camera through a network and projected on a hallway wall at Pace University, NY. The authors discuss their piece as a philosophical cave of illusions – a simulacrum of a street – in terms of the concept of Plato’ cave. As for the changes induced by the differences in lighting, the authors recognize artistic influences of paintings by Claude Monet and Camille Pissarro.

1. 6. Ambient information visualization

Ambient information visualization has been described as the use of computer-supported, interactive, visual representations of abstract data to amplify cognition, and also as the use of aesthetically pleasing displays of information that sit on the periphery of a user’s attention. Xiaobin Shen and Peter Eades (IV 2004, pp. 285-289) introduce ambient information visualization in service of aesthetical presentation of the data. Previous approaches to this kind of visualization include the use of digital family portraits to display family health issues, virtual paintings as InfoCanvas, or Mondrian-like installations about bus traffic conditions. The authors provide an interactive visual decoration that shows stock price and volume data, and inform the user of changes in this data. They display tree images to represent stock price changes and volume data. They also applied triptychs using morphing technique, from one tree to another. In one frame, they present number of stocks, and each stock volume, prize, framed as an artwork, where trunks show trade volume and leaves show the trade prize.

2. Approaches to Managing the Data

2. 1. Event-based approach to visualization

Users are usually interested in various aspects of the same data set. Christian Tominski and Heidrun Schumann (IV 2004, pp. 101-107) apply the brushing of data records in their event-based approach for visualizing data sets. As an example of an event, a threshold event of more than 300 cases of influenza is described. The authors applied an axes-based visualization framework. VisAxes – three interactive axes serve for data exploration: a scroll axis to select a value range, a focus+context axis to emphasize certain points of interest, and a hierarchical axis to structure value ranges.

2. 2. Protection of the data visualization images

Shiguo Lian, Jinsheng Sun, and Zhiquan Wang (IV 2004, pp. 217-220) apply JPEG-based encryption in service of image protection. To protect image data, authors present an image encryption algorithm combined with JPEG encoding that is of high security, low cost, and can be decrypted even if its compression ratio has been changed. JPEG encoding (loss mode) realizes bit-rate conversion by changing quantization steps.

2. 3. Accessing repositories for learning, education or training

Learning objects, entities that serve for learning, education or training, are often stored in Learning Objects Repositories (LORs) such as Ariadne Knowledge Pool System (KPS), Merlot, and EdNa ( Information visualization techniques may enable better search for learning objects than Boolean combinations for search criteria. Joris Klerkx, Erik Duval, and Michael Meire (IV 2004, pp. 465-470) discuss and compare three visualization techniques they have applied to the Ariadne: Squarified Cushion Tree-Map, Hyperbolic tree, and Venn diagrams with a Grokker program.

2. 4. Augmented reality for presenting information

Fotis Liarokapis, Martin White, and Paul Lister (IV 2004, pp. 761-767) propose a high-level augmented reality (AR) interface toolkit that allows the combination of audiovisual information with a real world environment, to enhance human perception and interaction with the real word. Some examples of already developed AR systems are: the Magic Book - uses a real book to transfer users from reality to virtuality; an AR tangible interface is a tabletop system designed for virtual interior design (users can interact with virtual furniture and manipulate objects); the Studierstube Personal Interaction Panel (PIP) - a blank physical board on which virtual controls are drawn.

The Mixed Reality Interface Toolkit can be applied for interior design, medical, education, learning and training systems. The AR Interface Toolkit can build new applications, having an audio-visual augmentation, realistic object augmentation (e.g., with augmented shadows), image augmentation, textual annotations, and audio augmentation. Museum application for augmented representation of virtual objects is an example of possible uses of the system. Future augmentations include virtual touch, with haptic devices, such as virtual gloves.

3. Semantic Approach to Visualization

3.1. Approaches to define ‘semantics’

According to Dirk Burmeister, Stephan Grimm, and Joerg Haist (IV 2004, pp. 302-307), ‘Semantics’ can be defined as an (intensional) approach to define internal relations in a network of concepts. This approach lacks an ontological anchor in realism. People can communicate on a network of concepts and misunderstand because they rely on this network without the need of hinting at real objects. To rely on real objects as semantic carriers of concepts, a second, extensional definition is needed that refers to speech-external sections of reality. The symbols (words) are labels for data. The third definition of semantic relies on the use of concepts and the role of the speaker. The extensional view is seen as a denotative use of concepts, and intensional view as connotative use of a concept. The separation between user profile and ontology is not necessary any more. The objective here is to get better user involvement instead of dividing semantic into an ontological part and a functional part processed by not semantically based subcomponent of the system. With making the processes of the system semantic, it is possible to extend semantics to wider fields of semantic carriers as only words. The task is to map semantic roles with their situation-dependent usage to proper metaphors. For example, the sign language can extract such metaphors because gestures encode both intensional and situation-dependent visualizations of content.

Burmeister, Grimm and Haist discuss how techniques in modeling semantic content can be transferred from industrial application to the requirements of design for all. WIDE, information retrieval software, uses Semantic Web technologies to interpret and process queries and produce shared information sources for engineers and designers. A three-level approach is used to enrich given data to access them in a semantic way. WIDE is the system that adopts the user’s terminology, so no user has to learn the system terminology. The search is supported by metadata, semantically annotated content and ontologies, to make user queries understood by the underlying information sources. The result of query is semantically enriched by the system and translated to the user’s terminology.

Four components of WIDE architecture are:

- The user interface that presents results and their semantic dependencies mainly using visualization techniques

- The Meta level which performs semantic processing like interchange of synonyms, interpretation of semantic processing and keyword matching

- The agency, which maps the business logic of the whole application using user-group dependent agents to adapt to profiles of predefined user groups

- The content level, with sources for information to integrate: internal and external databases, intra- or Internet with http-access.

3.2. Perception based visual syntax and semantics

Some theorists argue there is innate predisposition for understanding linguistic structures (Chomsky, Pinker). Theories of perceptions hold there are deeply seated mechanisms for decomposing visual objects and analyzing them into both component parts and the structural interrelationships of those parts. The perceptual theory of Marr (1982) contains visual primitives and a visual syntax to understand 3D objects. The rules of visual structures are similar to verbal language rules (Jackendoff, 1987) and there are cognitive ‘correspondence rules’ between visual meaning and linguistic structure. Perception based visual syntax and semantics should also support accelerated learning. Pourang Irani and Colin Ware (IV 2004, pp. 308-314) propose the theory that diagrams, called geons, that activate the mechanisms for structural object perception should be similarly easy to learn, remember and analyze. The authors developed diagramming principles based on the theory of structural objects perception and recognition proposed by Marr. Geon diagrams that activate the mechanisms for structural object perception should be easy to learn, remember, and analyze. The diagrams are characterized by nodes (represented as boxes and circles) representing entities, objects, or units, and by interconnected links (represented as lines) showing relationships of various kinds. First, objects are decomposed. The next step is the geons’ structural description that relates to geons, their attributes, and their relations with adjacent geons.

The UML (Unified Modeling Language) is used for modeling software systems and is capable of modeling through its diagrams. Diagrams help communicate. Although the semantics used are general and complete, the choice of graphic notation is arbitrary and may be less effective as teaching aids.

An empirical study evaluates the learnability of geon diagram semantics in comparison with the UML (Unified Modeling Language). Both ‘novices’ and ‘experts’ found the geon diagram syntax easier to apply in a diagram-to-textual description-matching task than the equivalent UMC syntax. Average error rates of matching diagrams to problem descriptions were much lower as related to the Geon diagrams than the UML diagrams. The use of geon notation could be extended to other software engineering semantics.

4. Conclusions

Topics selected for this review do not reflect the whole field of visualization, information visualization, and visual data mining. They do not cover the broad spectrum of the specialized sessions held at the 8th International Conference on Information Visualization in London, for example, computational and graphical tools and techniques, issues related to human computer interaction, or a great number of papers focused on medical visualization. This cross-section of selected themes reflects a one-year input to the areas of interest and disciplines. Further progress is reflected in the proceedings of the successive conferences.


Burkhard, R. A. (2004). Learning from architects: The difference between knowledge visualization and information visualization. Proceedings of 8th Int. Conf on IV, IEEE, Los Alamitos, 519-524.

Burmeister, D., Grimm, S., & Haist, J. (2004). A semantic approach for user depending information visualization. Proceedings of 8th Int. Conf on IV, IEEE, Los Alamitos, 302-307.

Ferschin, P., Gramelhofer, A. (2004). Architecture as information space. Proceedings of 8th Int. Conf on IV, IEEE, Los Alamitos, 181-186.

Irani, P. & Ware, C. (2004). The effect of a perceptual syntax on the learnability of novel concepts. Proceedings of 8th Int. Conf on IV, IEEE, Los Alamitos, 308-314.

Judelman, G. (2004). Aesthetics and inspiration for visualization design: Bridging the gap between art and science. Proceedings of 8th Int. Conf on IV, IEEE, Los Alamitos, 245-250.

Klerkx, J., Duval, E. & Meire, M. (2004). Using information visualization for accessing learning objects repositories. Proceedings of 8th Int. Conf on IV, IEEE, Los Alamitos, 465-470.

Lian, S., Sun, J., & Wang, Z. (2004). A novel image encryption scheme based on Jpeg encoding. Proceedings of 8th Int. Conf on IV, IEEE, Los Alamitos, 217-220.

Liarokapis, F., White, M., & Lister, P. (2004). Augmented reality interface toolkit. Proceedings of 8th Int. Conf on IV, IEEE, Los Alamitos, 761-767.

Marchese, S. M. & Marchese, F. T. (2004). Plato Cave: an image stream installation within an office setting. Proceedings of 8th Int. Conf on IV, IEEE, Los Alamitos, 954-958.

Meyer, E. F. (2004). Scaled molecular models and sculptures. Proceedings of 8th Int. Conf on IV, IEEE, Los Alamitos, 229-234.

Shen, X., & Eades, P. (2004). Using money tree to represent financial data. Proceedings of 8th Int. Conf on IV, IEEE, Los Alamitos, 285-289.

Shneiderman, B. (2004). Keynote lecture. Tools for multidimensional, hierarchical, and other kinds of IV. Proceedings of 8th Int. Conf on IV, IEEE, Los Alamitos, 5.

Tominski, C., & Schumann, H. (2004). Event-based approach to visualization. Proceedings of 8th Int. Conf on IV, IEEE, Los Alamitos, 101-107.

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