Using Vision To Think (a nod to Stuart Card)

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In an HCI class I’m taking currently, we’re studying the cognitive science behind the long human history of visual-spatial displays. We’re talking caveman drawings up to the latest in Minority Report-style virtual interactive displays – fun stuff!!

Here’s an article to soak up if you’re interested in this kind of stuff: The Cognitive Science of Visual-Spatial Displays: Implications for Design

And here’s some thoughts of my own about that article:

More than anything else, this week’s reading of Mary Hegarty’s paper on the science of visual displays made me realize why it’s much easier for visually-minded folks like myself to understand something best when we’re able to interact with a subject on a visual level.

“Representations that are informationally equivalent (contain the same information) are not necessarily computationally equivalent”…
“task performance can be dramatically different with different visual displays of the same information”…

These are dead on. Whenever I’ve encountered a complex problem, whether facing it alone or in a small group (or mentorship, etc.) I often kick off the process or discussion with something along the lines of “Are there other ways I/we can look at the issue?” This is helpful in many cases because in representing the object or process with an iconic, relational or complex display allows us to augment our thinking, to enhance our understanding and to bring additional inferences or insights to bear.

Displays allow us to externalize both the storage and the organization of a massive amount of data, freeing up our fragile and limited minds to process that data in different ways. It also lets us explore the relationships between groupings of related elements, i.e. chunking – freeing us to a degree from the limitations of short term memory by compressing these complex associations or concepts into a fewer number comprehensible objects.

I understand the world through my visualizations of it, both in reality and in my internalized efforts to understand the world around me, so my favorite blurb by far was the author’s reference to Stuart Card’s sentiment “Using vision to think”.

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