COGSCI 220: Information Visualization (Winter 2021)

What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention, and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it. -- Herb Simon

A graphic is never an end in itself; it is a moment in the process of decision making.-- Jacques Bertin

This seminar provides a gentle introduction to the new field of information visualization. Rather than a comprehensive survey of the field the goal is to provide sufficient background for you to develop an original visualization research proposal. Depending on your implementation skills, visualizations in the proposal may vary from sketches and descriptions of proposed visualizations to running demonstrations of the visualizations. The primary focus is on designing and building interactive visualizations for the web using Vega-Lite and D3.js (Data-Driven Documents) frameworks. In addition, you are encouraged to make use of Observable interactive JavaScript notebooks.

The course is run as a seminar. In addition to class discussions, participants will complete visualization assignments and a group visualization proposal. The ideal group size is three or four students. With approval, larger groups are possible. Your project group must be formed by the beginning of week four and your project or proposal topic must be approved by the end of week four. Project groups will share the results of their effort as both an interactive website and a video presentation.

The seminar meeting each week is devoted to discussing readings, tools and techniques, and your group's developing proposal ideas. In the beginning of the quarter, we will cover selected general background readings and discuss possible research proposal topics. As the quarter progresses, we will focus on readings chosen by groups to provide background information specific to their proposal.

By the end of the course, students will understand key visualization techniques and theory, have gained practical experience developing a visualization proposal, and advanced their skill with modern visualization toolkits.


Proposals and Implementation Level

All groups will develop an NSF-style research proposal. Developing a proposal will provide group members with useful experience in research collaboration and proposal writing. The level of implementation of visualizations associated with a proposal can very depending on implementation expertise but everyone should demonstrate an increase in their visual toolkit knowledge and skill over the duration of the course.

Proposals must be related to the topic of dynamic visual information as addressed in a recent NSF proposal A Human-Centered Information Space and paper Falling Down the Rabbit Hole.

Schedule & Readings

Week 1

Tues 1/5 Information Visualization Course Overview Slides Video
The first step in Selecting A Project and Group is to read the proposal and paper mentioned above in order to provide background and context for your selection of a proposal topic. This should be completed before 1/12. Also, it is always challenging to get to know others in a class and even more so in a virtual class. Here is a set of questions intended to start the process of getting to know each other. It may also help you with decisions about project group members. Please fill out the following Google Form by Friday (1/8).

Week 2

Tues 1/12 Value of Visualization Slides Video
By Sunday evening 1/11 you should respond to this form with your first and second choice for the topics described in the second step for Selecting a Project and Group. In class we will breakout into groups to try to get to know each other a bit better. One goal of the breakouts is to begin to form project groups that share common interests.

Week 3

Tues 1/19 Visualization Curriculum in Observable Notebooks Slides Video
Selecting a Project Topic and Group: Step 3 involves another meeting with people interested in specific topics and further decisions about project groups.

Week 4

Tues 1/26 UW IDL Visualization Curriculum in Observable Notebooks Slides Video
You must commit to a project topic and group this week. During class, each group will give a short overview of their project focus.

Week 5

Tues 2/2 D3: Data-Driven Documents Slides Video

Week 6

Tues 2/9 Organizing Tabs (Garrett, Sloan, and Xhun) Slides Video

Week 7

Week 8

Week 9

Week 10

Finals Week

Tues 3/16 Final Project Showcase


Your personal journal and participation in the seminar and discussion group will count for 30% of your final grade. Leadership of discusssion of the readings your group selects and the group's final project showcase will be another 20% of your final grade. Your proposal will count for the remaining 50% of your grade. The proposal grade and project showcase will include your contributions as judged by group members.


This seminar has evolved over the years. It began a couple decades ago following Pat Hanrahan and I co-chairing a DARPA ISAT study group on information visualization. The first version was modeled on a class Pat taught at Stanford. Over the years I have included content from courses offered by Tamara Munzer at UBC and Maneesh Agrawala at Berkeley and Stanford. The current version also incorporates content from Jeff Heer's course at UW, including linking to the excellent Vega-Lite Visualization Notebook Curriculum developed by Jeff, Dominik Moritz, Jake VanderPlas, and Brock Craft.