Let’s get visual.

I am aware of how ridiculous the title of this post is, but I’ll gloss it by saying that visualizations have been a hot button issue in our recent Praxis talks, and in my opinion, they’re by far the “sexiest” element of Prism. After all, the viz page is where the magic happens.

That being said, as our deadlines become more and more imminent and ominous, we are constantly running into that pesky thing called reality, and it recently even dared to interfere with our precious visualizations. At our 2/21 meeting, we brainstormed the kinds of visualizations we would like Prism to create and narrowed the list down to four possible types:

  • A heat map, which would be closest to the transparency exercise in that it resembles the layering of many transparencies, but presents some problems, such as how to represent something legible and provocative with muddled colors.
  • Quantitative visualizations, like bar graphs, charts, or tables, which we all agreed would be interesting, but there were some reservations about being that quantitative in our first visualization. We are humanists, after all.
  • A zoomed-out, kind of macro view visualization, and here we used Ben Fry’s “On the Origin of Species: The Preservation of Favoured Traces” as a model. The most compelling aspects of this are its easy navigation of both “distant” and “close” readings, and as Alex mentioned in his post, the possibility for animating the layering of readings so that it resembles the process of compiling transparencies one by one.
  • The last is a kind of deformed reading resembling a word cloud, in which the font size of a word would change based on how often it was selected in a particular color, but the structure of the text would remain intact – that is, the words would not be processed into a cloud shape, but rather stay in the same order on the page. David McClure was the creative mind behind this idea and we collectively agreed that this  visualization was our first choice for Prism.

The original idea for the “deformed reading” visualization (we really need to come up with a better name for this…Prism-enstein?) involved layering each deformed reading in each color to represent all of the highlighter colors in one visualization while somehow being offset enough to remain legible and coherent. Then the reality check came, at last week’s meeting. With the deadlines fast approaching, the visualization we chose was just too ambitious. So today we sat down and hashed it out – we revisited the workplan, which we established at the beginning of this semester, and the essential requirements, the goals we set for Prism all the way back in September, to determine what we can realistically accomplish in the time left that would meet our original requirements for a successful project. The group agreed that having Prism produce one visualization is necessary, so we came to a compromise with reality. We opted for a somewhat simpler version of the chosen visualization and discussed how we can gesture towards future possibilities for Prism visualization.

I’m hoping our compromise is enough to appease reality for a little while, because when all’s said and done, what’s a prism without its rainbow? Just a clear pyramid…then again, I guess building a pyramid is pretty impressive, too.

Brooke is a 2011-12 Praxis Fellow and MA candidate in the Department of English. She is currently working on a thesis which investigates Virginia Woolf's moment of being as a biographical, historical, and narrative phenomenon in Woolf's fiction and essays. Brooke is also a graduate research assistant in IATH, working on Alison Booth's Collective Biographies…

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