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A new/improved way to illustrate complex information

Image credit: Temple of Time by Emma Willard

Spook Louw
Spook Louw Mar 30, 2021
Throughout school and university, we are taught about the importance of graphs to map information. We've been using them for more than 200 years now Amazingly, I can't really find any recent changes to these old-school grafts despite our massive advances in technology.

What I'm working on at the moment is finding a new kind of graph or illustration to integrate all of the information I have. I'd need to show different dates, different people, different events while subcategorizing this information into different geographical areas, different eras and different genres. There might even be more categories that need to be represented.

I've been looking into Emma Willard's contribution to Women's Education as pictured in the Temple of Time above for inspiration, it'd either have to be a structure like that, or a network resembling a spider's web.

Given the advances in technology, I'm surprised that we haven't seen more interactive and exciting ways to map out information. Imagine building an information structure like Willard's temple, but being able to open doors to different rooms or take a stairway to a different level.

Does anyone have any other ideas for how to approach illustrating the abovementioned information in a coherent manner?

[1] - https://iase-web.org/islp/apps/gov_stats_graphing/History/HistoryOfGraphs.pdf

Creative contributions

Spider's net resembling network

Lucía Apr 22, 2021
As soon as I read that phrase my mind went straight to Obsidian, I've seen many people use it as an alternative to Notion or Roam Research for knowledge management. When you type in a note/page, you can link them to another one inside the text (it kinda looks like Wikipedia with all the hyperlinks) and then it automatically generates this really cool looking graph where you can see how your notes are connected.

Here's an example (the bigger the dot, the more notes are connected to it). I don't think I've nearly reached its full potential but I feel like your only limit here is creativity.

Hope this is useful!

Povilas S
Povilas S3 months ago
Thanks a lot, Lucía! This is essentially what I had in mind when starting this session: https://brainstorming.com/how-do-i-make-a-3d-%22folder%22-displaying-its-elements-and-connections-between-them/157. I'm getting warmed up with it, but the basic principles seem to work for what I wanted to do:) Very useful software indeed. It also teaches you some basic coding:)
Lucía3 months ago
Povilas S that's awesome! Obsidian is actually still in development, but it has a great user community that is constantly creating new plug-ins so it's highly customizable. Another plus is that it works offline so it's well optimized and highly secure. I think the way it lets you visualize the notes is much closer to what the actual thought process of a human brain looks like, so it's also a really useful tool to help you think.

There's a discord server called Tools for Thought (https://www.forthought.tools/) that I believe you would really enjoy :)

I swear I don't get paid to promote any of this stuff, it's just that it has made my life much easier and I enjoy sharing it 😅
Spook Louw
Spook Louw3 months ago
That is so cool, thanks! I'll definitely be spending some time checking it out.

3D Cube with visible links

Spook Louw
Spook Louw Apr 03, 2021
I think a 3D Cube could be a good way to approach this. Every face, edge and vertice could be used to show different things and a specific point's information can be indicated by its position in relation to these points.

I also think this would be the theoretical basis of building a structure of information.


Juran4 months ago
Really cool! It reminded me on a Povilas S's session on 3D folders (https://brainstorming.com/how-do-i-make-a-3d-%22folder%22-displaying-its-elements-and-connections-between-them/157).
Spook Louw
Spook Louw4 months ago
Juran Yes, it's based on that idea, that is why the word 3D Cube is a link to that session, I think it will work well for what I'm trying to do.

Embedded 3D cubes

Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarni Apr 08, 2021
Based on my general comment below that most humans can understand the information provided in 2D or 3D and not in multiple dimensions, we could use embedded 3D cubes to visualize complex datasets. I am not completely sure about this; so a person with related experience can help me out.

Data in multiple dimensions can be structured in such a way that only 3 dimensions exist at each level. For example, if there are 8 dimensions to your data, the closest ones can be combined and a maximum of 3 different groups can be formed. This can be done using the phylogenetic tools that construct phylogenetic trees based on the similarity between multiple organisms. These 3 groups can then be visualized (along with their interactions with each other) using a 3D graph similar to the one created to visualize principal components.

Here, your 8 initial dimensions will now be reduced to 3 dimensions - two of them representing 3 original dimensions and one of them representing 2 original dimensions (since you had a total of 8 original dimensions). This information will be displayed below the axes labels of the cube. You can then click on one of the axes that you want to explore further and enter another 3D cube (second level) displaying that information. Here, the information would not be condensed and the original 3 dimensions will be displayed. Going from one cube to the other is like going a level deeper into the data.

So the approximation (merging of two or more dimensions into one) decreases as you go deeper into the dataset and it increases as you come out. At each level (3D cube), you are provided the information that is the best representation of data on all the levels that fall under that 3D cube.

Would it make things more clear or more complicated? (just a thought)

Juran Apr 09, 2021
What I want to say is, would a new way of displaying information, be more understandable for an average user?

Picture having few simple 2d graphs with mass, width, length, and height of dogs. On one graph you have mass vs width, on the other mass vs length, and so on. They are pretty understandable, but limited, I agree.

Now combine mass, length, and height into one single graph with 3 dimensions. The things become interesting, but you need more time to understand them and extract information. If we combine 4 or more elements, things become a bit messy, but new clues could emerge after we analyze them.

The point is, it gives you more info and helps you discover new connections (a plus), but takes more time and computational power to be generated, is generally less understandable (requires more time to comprehend) and could result in overseeing some simple but valuable relations between variables.

I am sure it depends highly on the field it is applied to, but should we maybe also focus on better analysis of the existing graphs? Some software that would help us extract connections and clues between several separate graphs and variables they share?

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General comments

Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarni4 months ago
I like the thought behind coming up with such a session. I agree that we use primitive methods of visualization and even those are sometimes (or to some people) not sufficient to understand what is going on.

The problem here, I think, lies in the evolution of the human brain and the five senses. The world that humans evolved in was understandable using the five senses. These senses are sufficient to undertake the tasks that help sustain and propagate life. With communication, we added another level of complexity. Now we could understand what the other person is trying to convey. Another level of complexity was added when a third person was involved and the two of us could talk about the third individual. The level of complexity today is magnitudes greater. You want to know (if you imagine a network) what two individuals far away from you (in the network) think about you and how it affects you. The number of nodes (people) and the number of links (connections between people) decide the number of levels of complexity. This goes beyond three dimensions and enters the range of "abstract notions" and is not fathomable by most human minds. The human limit is a 3D graph, I think; and hence, the primitive methods to use either a 2D or a 3D graph are still in practice. With the information age, data increased and with it the techniques to gather, store, and use it. Inferences based on approximating a multi-dimensional graph into a 3D one might be indistinguishable from the general noise.

Another problem is the compartmentalization in academia and also the job structure. This has made complex data visualization a skill that not everyone possesses. It is acquired and used by a few and they might understand complex graphs and they might have advanced techniques of data illustration but that is not common knowledge.

I just wanted to point out the reasons behind the limited development in the area of data illustration and I think these problems will lead us to better solutions of illustration. I would love to see solutions that are understandable by the simple human mind.