An algebraic process for visualization design

Gordon Kindlmann, Carlos Scheidegger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

84 Scopus citations


(Equation Presented) We present a model of visualization design based on algebraic considerations of the visualization process. The model helps characterize visual encodings, guide their design, evaluate their effectiveness, and highlight their shortcomings. The model has three components: the underlying mathematical structure of the data or object being visualized, the concrete representation of the data in a computer, and (to the extent possible) a mathematical description of how humans perceive the visualization. Because we believe the value of our model lies in its practical application, we propose three general principles for good visualization design. We work through a collection of examples where our model helps explain the known properties of existing visualizations methods, both good and not-so-good, as well as suggesting some novel methods. We describe how to use the model alongside experimental user studies, since it can help frame experiment outcomes in an actionable manner. Exploring the implications and applications of our model and its design principles should provide many directions for future visualization research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number06875930
Pages (from-to)2181-2190
Number of pages10
JournalIEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 31 2014


  • Symmetries
  • Visualization design
  • Visualization theory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Software
  • Signal Processing
  • Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition
  • Computer Graphics and Computer-Aided Design


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