Reading 8: Perception 101

by Mike Gleicher on February 3, 2015

Due Date: Monday, February 16, 11:59pm (Readings and initial posting), February 23 (discussion)

Turn-in link: Reading 8 on Canvas

Perception could be a whole course onto itself – or several. Our goal is to get some relevant bits so help us understand how people see in order to make images that communicate better.

There is so much to learn, and so many possible sources, that I don’t know where to start.

The minimum required readings:

  1. Chapter 1 of Ware’s Visual Thinking for Design “Visual Queries”
  2. Chapter 2 of Ware’s Visual Thinking for Design “What we can easily see”
  3. “Attention and Visual Memory in Visualization and Computer Graphics” by Healey and Enns. Available online. Warning: this survey is a little dense, but it gets the concepts across with examples. Don’t worry about the theory so much. There is an older, online version as Chris Healy’s web survey which has lots of cool pre-attention demos. But the text in the paper is much better, and the paper includes more things.

And an optional reading:

  1. The nature and status of visual resources. Steve Franconeri. (pdf here) – this is a survey, similar to Healey and Enns above, but written more from the psychology side. The first part, where he characterizes the various kinds of limitations on our visual system is something I’ve found really valuable. The latter parts, where he discusses some of the current theories for why these limitations happen is interesting (to me), but less directly relevant to visualization (since it is mainly trying to explain limits that we need to work around). I think these explanations may lead to new ideas for visualization – but its less direct of a path.
  2. We (Steve, myself, and some of our students) are writing a survey paper that would be perfect for this, but it isn’t ready yet. Maybe later in the semester.

For the discussion:

  • In your initial posting, give some examples of how the mechanisms of the visual system give rise to efficiencies and inefficiencies that can be considered to create effective visualization designs (and graphic design more generally). Can you connect facts about the visual system to design principles we’ve seen in class?
  • In a second posting, we are curious what “fun facts about how the human visual system works” you found surprising (or at least interesting). If you’ve taken a perception class before, you’ve seen all this, so maybe nothing was surprising this time around.
  • As a conversation topic, try to build connections between this knowledge of how vision works, and what we might do for design.
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