List of Influences: Jock Mackinlay

Jock D. Mackinlay was working on information visualization long before the field or the term even existed. His Ph.D. thesis on the automatic visual representation of data translated Bertin’s semiological texts into a useful piece of software (and badly-needed visualization theory). His work also includes Cone Trees, the Perspective Wall, an analysis of the visualization design space, as well as the Readings in Information Visualization (together with Stuart Card and Ben Shneiderman). Mackinlay worked at PARC from 1986 to 2004, when he joined Tableau Software – a company based on a Ph.D. thesis inspired by his work 15 years earlier.

I have listed the 10 books and papers in the order they influenced my work on information visualization, which also happens to be in roughly chronological order of their publication. If I could have included as many items as Pat Hanranan, I would have also included both Arnheim and Gibson.

Jacques Bertin, The Semiology of Graphics (1967)
The first copy I saw was in French, owned by font designer Charles Bigelow, who provided me with valuable advice as I started working on my PhD dissertation in 1982. I could see that it was an important book even though I don’t read French. I will never forget the day I found the just-published English translation in a locked cabinet at Stacey’s bookstore. Although it was very expensive for a graduate student, I snapped it up immediately, since it was central to my dissertation work. I agree with Pat Hanrahan that the book is worth multiple readings – in fact, you have to read it multiple times to get the full value.
William S. Cleveland, The Elements of Graphing Data (1980)
This book was my introduction to John Tukey’s world of Exploratory Data Analysis, which describes the synergistic relationship of statistics and graphical views of data. I was also influenced by Cleveland’s studies with McGill on the graphical perception of quantitative data.
Edward R. Tufte, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information (1983)
Tufte introduced me to the history of the visual display of information. I recommend all his books.
Steven Feiner, APEX: an experiment in the automated creation of pictorial explanations. IEEE Computer Graphics and Applications (CG&A), 5(11), pp. 29-37, 1985
Steve Feiner and I were PhD students at the same time. When I first heard about his dissertation work, I feared that I had been “scooped,” but it turned out that our dissertations were beautifully synergistic. I focused on automatically designing individual graphical views of data, while he focused on automatically telling stories with multiple graphical views. Comparing our dissertations showed me that automatic presentation requires a deep and fundamental understanding of human communication, which is still an open problem. This paper led directly to my research in interactive visualization.
Stuart K. Card, Thomas P. Moran, Allen Newell, The Psychology of Human-Computer Interaction (1983)
This book introduced me to cognitive science and its application to the engineering of user interfaces, which is central to the design of effective visual analysis tools. After my dissertation, I went to Xerox PARC to work with Stu and Tom. My collaboration with Stu expanded to include George Robertson, who worked with the authors of this book when they were at Carnegie-Mellon University. Stu, George, and I explored 3D graphics and interactive animation, resulting in a research prototype called the Information Visualizer and the coining of the term “information visualization.”
Kim M. Fairchild, Steven E. Poltrock, and George W. Furnas, SemNet: Three-dimensional graphic representation of large knowledge bases. In Raymond Guindon (ed), Cognitive Science and its Applications for Human-Computer Interaction, pp. 201-233, Lawrence Erlbaum, 1988
I saw the demo before I read the paper. The work clearly describes the challenge of 3D graphics. Their use of interactive animation is inspirational.
Donald A. Norman, The Psychology of Everyday Things (1988)
This book shows that the design of information displays applies to physical objects.
Christopher Ahlberg, Christopher Williamson, Ben Shneiderman, Dynamic Queries for Information Exploration: An Implementation and Evaluation, Proceedings of ACM CHI, pp. 619-626, 1992.
This influential paper describes the power of interactive animation for data analysis.
Colin Ware, Information Visualization: Perception for Design (2000)
This book describes how knowledge about human perception can be used to design effective visualizations.
Chris Stolte, Diane Tang, Pat Hanrahan, Polaris: A System for Query, Analysis, and Visualization of Multi-Dimensional Relational Databases. IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics, 8(1), pp. 52-65, 2002.
This paper describes how information visualization can be connected to databases with an intuitive drag-and-drop user interface, thus connecting visualization research to the practical world of computer-based data. After reading this paper, I accepted with interest and enthusiasm Chris’s invitation to be a member of his dissertation committee. Turned out his dissertation was built directly on ideas from my dissertation. When he later invited me to join him at Tableau Software to commercialize these ideas, I jumped at the chance to bring visual analysis to everyone.

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Robert Kosara

Robert Kosara is a Research Scientist at Tableau Software, and formerly Associate Professor of Computer Science. His research focus is the communication of data using visualization. In addition to blogging, Robert also runs and tweets.

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