Affinity Diagramming

or the KJ method

Affinity diagramming is a conceptual organizational exercise that can have numerous benefits for problem solving in team environments. Ideas are not only identified by a group, but then explicitly categorized and grouped. Enumerating instances and aspects of cultural phenomena—and categorically naming them—identifies trends and highlights differences. A phenomenon, whether it is a behavior or a problem or both, is best understood when the interlocking parts of the system can be made explicit.

History and Theory

Affinity diagramming was developed by Jiro Kawakita over the course of fifteen years while he was conducting ethnographic research in the Himalayas. Its popularity in Japanese management culture spread primarily through its introduction at the Free Campus University, at which Kawakita was a professor (Scupin 233-234). The KJ Method is the application of affinity diagramming, or the formalization of verbal/written procedure. Kawakita’s proposition suggests a connection between unstructured observations and scientific hypothesis testing or experimental design, which heretofore was arcane and non-specific (10).


“An affinity is built from the bottom up by first grouping similar observations, labeling them, then building larger groups out of these small groups” (Beyer 30).  Team members—ideally a group of several—will follow three steps to create the affinity, and additional step of analysis or reflection. Scupin describes the steps as label making, label grouping, chart making, and analysis (235). The following descriptions for each step are an amalgam of the KJ Method as described by Hoerl & Snee, Scupin, Kawakita himself, as well as experienced by a tutorial given by Professor Kristian Kloeckl at Northeastern University in October of 2016.

I. Label Making

Assemble a group of several participants. Hand out pieces of paper, big enough to write a sentence or phrase on, to each participant. Post-It® notes work as well. Clear a board or wall or a table to act as a canvas. Label the center of the canvas with the problem/phenomena concisely. Allow each participant to brainstorm ideas, concepts, objects, actors, interactions, behaviors, emotions, or related phenomena associated with the target problem/phenomena. As a participant thinks of an idea, they write it on an individual piece of paper, verbalize it to the group, and adhere it to the canvas in no specific place. Do such until the enumeration begins to slow down.

II. Label Grouping

Then, the team begins to group the ideas on the canvas by whichever criteria seems rational. The team does this simultaneously and silently. Participants are encouraged to group, regroup, split and combine papers on the canvas despite another participants opposing groupings. Once a distinct amount of groups emerges—or participant consensus or attention fatigue sets in—the grouping phase is over.

III. Chart Making

Once the groups of paper have been established, participants begin to devise titles or categorical names for the groups of labels. In discussion of titles, individuals can propose titles that restructure, or oppose the groups of labels made in the previous step. If any phrase or concept is perceived as an outlier, it is helpful to have the author explain the experience that led them to include this. Often these clarifications lead to the outlier being fed into an existing group, or expanding another grouping’s title. Once every grouping of concepts has a title, larger structural questions should be asked: do certain groupings fall completely within others? and do certain groupings share common traits with other label groups? Arrange the chart utilizing structural visual metaphors, such as inclusion/subset, opposition, or union.

IV. Analysis

No affinity diagram is complete without analysis. Kawakita recommends an analysis that is both concise and smooth (12).  A verbal and or written explanation guides the team in distinguishing the interpretations from the descriptions. It reduces the complexity of the enumerated labels into a form that is manageable and consumable by parallel participants, or amateurs, or clients (Scupin 236). The analysis can begin to explore what labels are causes and which labels are effects. Additionally, the analysis can provide guiding structural vocabulary for a team enacting a solution appropriate for a context laid out in the affinity diagram.



I. Label Making


Participant members Irene De La Torre, Jessie Richards, and Andrew Tang produced this affinity map under the facilitation of Patrick J. O’Donnel. The behavior explored was the “Pedestrians Crossing the Street,” ultimately fulfilling a larger study of waiting in urban contexts. Enumeration of actors, technologies, places, concepts, behaviors, interactions, emotions, and rationales plotted the range of data that comprises a pedestrian waiting and crossing the street. Post-it notes were given to each participant. As each concept was written down it was announced to the room, without concern of redundancy or judgment. The canvas filled up, and the generation of concepts slowed, after about seven minutes.

II. Label Grouping


During the silent phase, labels were moved frantically about. The most intriguing behavior was the use of space outside of the canvas for organization—like the wall the white board was attached to, and a nearby table top. Our canvas was full at the end of the label making, but white space between semi-grouped concepts seemed promote the cognitive function of organization while not overwhelming the visual search. A few participants found themselves picking up a label, trying to make it fit in, only to hand it off to another participant, in hopes they had a connection that sparked upon it being received. The result was nine groupings of concepts.

III. Chart Making


After reaching wa—a Japanese word for the harmony that arises from group consensus (Scupin 234)—the facilitator broke the silence with talks of categorization of the most obvious groupings first. To make titles for these groupings, the participants discussed each group individually. A natural reaction to a conceptually sound grouping was the instantaneous offer to suggest a title. If several iterations of a title could be suggested, more often the title was selected from them.

If the brainstorming of titles did not immediately yield results, the facilitator asked if there was an outlier in the group that is holding back a near-inclusive title. At this point, the creator of the outlier label gave a brief explanation as to why they included it initially. Usually this type of clarification guided the group to move the label to another grouping, or brainstorm an inclusive title. Once grouping titles were agreed upon, the post-it notes were circled by dry erase marker, to signal its completeness. The results for the pedestrian crossing diagram was category titles such as “actors in compromising safety,” “timing,” and “crosswalk awareness.”

IV. Analysis

The context charted by the affinity diagram shows a concern with human-recognized objects (actors and technology), actor concern for safety, and acts of crosswalk system awareness. Though the time spent waiting at a crosswalk is relatively low compared to the totality of an average pedestrian journey, a consciousness of system temporality was apparent. The participants also grouped system signals and distracting stimuli in a group called “crosswalk awareness” that suggests distraction and information-retention exist on a spectrum, and vary in attention from person to person or trip to trip. The amount of stimulation at a crosswalk can actively compete with each other. Additionally, many artifact and architectural labels were grouped, suggesting that actors are aware of the regularity/design of crosswalk intersections.

Pedestrians crossing the street is a context more nuanced than just an exchange between pedestrians and traffic that results in waiting. The improvisational behaviors of pedestrians making judgments about how to opportunistically jaywalk is a complex algorithm that is shaped by the “cognitive mind extension” described by Clark and Chalmers. The systems of trains, automobiles, cyclists and pedestrians all emit visual and sonic stimuli that, when subconsciously processed, is helpful—and life-saving—but, when attended to, is stress-inducing. Some might say these stimuli are even a symbolic epitome of hurriedness in urban life. The affinity diagramming brought about the considerations that constitute a context in which potential interventions and solutions can be embedded.


Beyer, Hugh. “User-centered agile methods.” Synthesis lectures on human-centered informatics 3.1 (2010): 1-71. Morgan & Claypool Publishers. Web. 17 Oct. 2016.

Clark, A. and Chalmers, D. “The extended mind.” Analysis 58, 1 (1998), 7–19.

Hoerl, Roger, and Ron D. Snee. Statistical thinking: improving business performance. Vol. 48. John Wiley & Sons, 2012. ProQuest. Web. 14 Oct. 2016.

Kawakita, Jiro. “The original KJ method.” Tokyo: Kawakita Research Institute (1991). Web. 17 Oct. 2016.

Scupin, Raymond. “The KJ Method: A Technique for Analyzing Data Derived from Japanese Ethnology.” Human organization 56.2 (1997): 233-7. ProQuest. Web. 14 Oct. 2016.




Beh/Exp Readings W8

McLuhan, Marshall. “Clocks: The scent of time.” Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1964) (1964): 145-161.


  1. Smell, a sense that many now-forget used to be considered the root of memory, is a sense that is iconic, subtle, and delicate.  Electric mechanization of tools shaped society into valuing the visual over the audile-tacile-aromatic.
  2. The event of electricity and mechanization is at odds with the standardization of time and space. The world exists in multiplicities, rather than regularities, and our language and our society arguably lacks a guiding philosophy to account for it.
  3. “The clock and the alphabet, by hacking the universe into visual segments, ended the music of interrelation.” Visual media (and that of greater technologies as well) has caused a reliance on regularity and equanimity between man that does not equate to man’s perception of his experiences. “This is the difference between marching soldiers and ballet.”


  • “Such a sense of impatience, of time as duration, is unknown among non literate cultures. Just as work began with the division of labor, duration begins with the division of time, and especially with those subdivisions by which mechanical clocks impose uniform succession on the time sense.”
  • “As a piece of technology, the clock is a machine that produces uniform seconds, minutes, and hours on an assembly-line pattern. Processed in this uniform way, time is separated from the rhythms of human experience. The mechanical clock, in short, helps to create the image of a numerically quantified and mechanically powered universe.”
  • “The sense of smell, long considered the root of memory and the unifying basis of individuality, has come to the fore again in the experiments of Wilder Penfield. During brain surgery, electric probing of brain tissue revived many memories of the patients. These evocations were dominated and unified by unique scents and odors that structured these past experiences. The sense of smell is not only the most subtle and delicate of the human senses; it is, also, the most iconic in that it involves the entire human sensorium more fully than any other sense. It is not surprising, therefore, that highly literate societies take steps to reduce or eliminate odors from the environment.”
  • Mumford does not recognize “mechanization as the translation of society from audile-tactile modes into visual values. Our new electric technology is organic and nonmechanical in tendency because it extends, not our eyes, but our central nervous systems as a planetary vesture. In the space-time world of electric technology, the older mechanical time begins to feel unacceptable, if only because it is uniform.”
  • “Our language derived from phonetic technology cannot cope with this new view of knowledge. We still talk of electric current ‘flowing,’ or we speak of the “discharge” of electric energy like the lineal firing of guns. But quite as much as with the esthetic magic of painterly power, ‘electricity is the condition we observe when there are certain spatial relations between things.’ “

“During the Middle Ages the communal clock extended by the bell permitted high coordination of the energies of small communities. In the Renaissance the clock combined with the uniform respectability of the new typography to extend the power of social organization almost to a national scale. By the nineteenth century it had provided a technology of cohesion that was inseparable from industry and transport, enabling an entire metropolis to act almost as an automaton. Now in the electric age of decentralized power and information we begin to chafe under the uniformity of clock-time. In this age of space-time we seek multiplicity, rather than repeatability, of rhythms. This is the difference between marching soldiers and ballet.”

  • “It is a necessary approach in understanding media and technology to realize that when the spell of the gimmick or an extension of our bodies is new, there comes narcosis or numbing to the newly amplified area. The complaints about clocks did not begin until the electric age had made their mechanical sort of time starkly incongruous.”
  • “Historians agree on the basic role of the clock in monastic life for the synchronization of human tasks. The acceptance of such fragmenting of life into minutes and hours was unthinkable, save in highly literate communities. Readiness to submit the human organism to the alien mode of mechanical time was as dependent upon literacy in the first Christian centuries as it is today. For the clock to dominate, there has to be the prior acceptance of the visual stress that is inseparable from phonetic literacy. Literacy is itself an abstract asceticism that prepares the way for endless patterns of privation in the human community. With universal literacy, time can take on the character of an enclosed or pictorial space that can be divided and subdivided.”
  • “It was not the clock, but literacy reinforced by the clock, that created abstract time and led men to eat, not when they were hungry, but when it was ‘time to eat.'”
  • “Clocks are mechanical media that transform tasks and create new work and wealth by accelerating the pace of human association.”
  • “Long before the industrial revolution of the later eighteenth century, people complained that society had become a ‘prose machine’ that whisked them through life at a dizzy pace.”

“The clock and the alphabet, by hacking the universe into visual segments, ended the music of interrelation. The visual desacralizes the universe and produces the ‘nonreligious man of modern societies.'”

  • “Primitive man lived in a much more tyrannical cosmic machine than

    Western literate man has ever invented. The world of the ear is more embracing and inclusive than that of the eye can ever be. The ear is hypersensitive. The eye is cool and detached. The ear turns man over to universal panic while the eye, extended by literacy and mechanical time, leaves some gaps and some islands free from the unremitting acoustic pressure and reverberation.”

Mumford, Lewis. “The Monastery and the Clock.” Technics and Civilization (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1934) (1934): 12-18.


  1. The regulation of time, and expressions of that regulation, has its origins in the monasteries of the West in the seventh century. The effect was both that of keeping time, as well as the synchrony of man’s actions.
  2. The clock’s technologies overcame maleffects of weather and translated movement in space (hands on a facade) into movements of time. For Mumford, this permitted the clock–rather than the steam-engine–to beceom the “key-machine” of the Industrial Age. Time was now expressed as a resource of the economy.
  3. Time took on the characteristics of space: it can be manipulated, divied, expanded. Time was now abstracted from organic or experiential time, and it dictated human activity and behavior.


  • “The monastery was the seat of a regular life, and and instrument for striking the hours at intervals or for reminding the bell-ringer that it was time to strike the bells, was an almost inevitable product of this life. If the mechanical clock did not appear until the cities of the thirteenth century demanded an orderly routine, the habit of order itself and earnest regulation of time-sequences had become almost second nature in the monastery.”

“[…] for the clock is not merely a means of keeping track of the hours, but of synchronizing the actions of men.”

  • “[…] by the thirteenth century there are definite records of mechanical clocks […] and the new clocks, if they did not have, till the fourteenth century, a dial and a hand that translated the movement of time into a movement through space, at all events struck the hours. The clouds that could paralyze the sundial, the freezing that could stop the water clock on a winter night, were no longer obstacles to time keeping […]”

“The instrument presently spread outside the monastery; and the regular striking of bells brought a new regularity into the life of the workman and the merchant. The bells of the clock tower almost defined urban existence. Time-keeping passed into time-serving and time-accounting and time-rationing.”

  • “The clock, moreover, is a piece of power-machinery whose ‘product’ is seconds and minutes: by its essential nature it dissociated time from human events and helped create the belief in an independent world of mathematically measurable sequences: the special world of science.”
  • “In terms of the human organism itself, mechanical time is even more foreign: while human life has regularities of its own, the beat of the pulse, the breathing of the lungs, these change from hour to hour with mood and action, and in the longer spans of days, time is measures not by the calendar but by the events that occupy it.”

“To become ‘as regualr as clock-work’ was a bourgeois ideal, and to own a watch was for long a definite symbol of success. The increasing tempo of civilization led to a demand for greater power: and in turn power quickened the tempo.”

  • “To keep time was once a peculiar attribute of music [.] But the effect of the mechanical clock is more pervasive and strict: it presides over the day from the hour of rising to the house of rest.”

“When one things of the thinks of the day as an abstract span of time, […] one invents wicks, chimneys, lamps, gaslights, electric lamps so as to use all the hours belonging to a day. When one thinks of time, not as a sequence of experiences, but as a collection of hours, minutes, and seconds, the habits of adding time and saving time come into existence. Time took on the character of an enclosed space: it could be divided, it could be filled up, it could even be expanded by the invention of labor-saving instruments.”

  • “Abstract time became the new medium for existence. Organic function themselves were regulated by it[.]  A generalized time-consciousness accompanied the wider use of clock.”
  • “The modern industrial régime could do without coal and iron and steam easier than it could do without the clock.”

Beh/Exp Readings W7

Gilloch, Graeme. “‘Seen from the Window’: Rhythm, Improvisation and the City.” Bauhaus and the City: A Contested Heritage for a Challenging Future1 (2011).


  1. Lefebvre suggests the Bauhaus defined the modern perspective on space: objects in space have dynamic relationships (they are assemblages, not isolated), interior space (and objects within) and exterior space share complementary aspects of a ‘total design,’ and a global space, that of homogeneity, erases the social and political character of its production.


  • “Clean lines and unadorned surfaces are prized as part of a modern technological orthogonal aesthetic based on rationality and austerity. As buildings lose their particular ‘face,’ Lefebvre complains, the cityscape itself is increasingly distinguished by an intense monotony, by a formal and functional anonymity” (187).
  • “When it comes to the question of what the Bauhaus’s audacity produced in the long run, one is obliged to answer: the worldwide, homogeneous and monotonous architecture of the state, whether capitalist or socialist.” (quoted Lefebvre)

Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. “A Theoretical Model for Enjoyment.”The Improvisation Studies Reader: Spontaneous Acts. Eds.  Rebecca Caines and Ajay Heble, eds. New York: Routledge, 2015. 150-161.


  1. Flow experiences arise from flow activities–activities in which a person can engage in total involvement, a total merging of activity and awareness. Flow experience is sought after for its intrinsic value rather than external reward.
  2. Flow activities are feasible for the participants, centered around a field of limited stimuli, permitting of a loss of self-consciousness, coherent assemblages of demands and feedback, and rewards in themselves.
  3. Flow activities are achieved when a person’s perception of their skills/capabilities are matched by their perception of the challenges/opportunities the activity presents.


  • “In a variety of human contexts, then, one finds a remarkably similar inner state, which is so enjoyable that people are sometimes willing to forsake a comfortable life for its sake. In many cases, the importance of the experience is blurred by what appear to be the external goals of the activity–the painting that the artist wants to create, the theory that the scientist strives to prove, or the grace of God that the mystic seeks to attain. On a closer look, these goals lose their substance and reveal themselves as mere tokens that justify the activity by giving it a direction and determining rules of action. But the doing is the thing” (151).
  • “Ideally, flow is the result of pure involvement, without any consideration about the results. In practice, however, most people need some inducement to participate in flow activities, at least at the beginning, before they learn to be sensitive to intrinsic rewards” (154).
  • “What is usually lost in flow is not the awareness of one’s body or one’s functions, but only the self construct, the intermediary which one learns to superimpose between stimulus and response” (154).
  • “[…] the various elements of the flow experience are linked together and dependent on each other. By limiting the stimulus field, a flow activity allows people to concentrate their actions and ignore distractions. As a result, they feel in potential control of the environment. Because the flow activity as clear and non-contradictory rules, people who perform in it can temporarily forget their identity and its problems. The result of all these conditions is that one finds the process intrinsically rewarding” (158).
  • “Flow is experienced when people perceive opportunities for action as being evenly matched by their capabilities” (159).

Kloeckl, Kristian. The Urban Improvise. Northeastern University Department of Art + Design and School of Architecture, Boston.


  1. A multi-disciplined advancement in technology has enabled responsive environments and artifacts to constitute the interconnected, real-time urban context. If these interactions are likened to a theatre drama (by Laurel in Computers as Theatre), then the potential to go off-script shifts the appropriate metaphor to that of an improvisation.
  2. Of the improvisational performance, the art comes from an openness to ongoing processes, the felt timing places the exchanges into relevance, and the form is recognized and attributed through (and while) doing.
  3. An improvisation-based view of urban computing, its environments and contexts, and its inhabitants/actors means one may consider a new emphasis on possibility and preparation.


  • “While this conceptual model [Laurel’s Computers as Theatre] has opened up interesting new ground, limitations arise as it is based on forms of scripted theatre: In scripted theatre, unlike real life, the process of choice and decision making takes place during rehearsal and practice and not during the actual staging of the performance. In the sense that drama formulates the enactment and not the action, it is unlike real life. Instead, in improvisational techniques, as in real life, anything can happen. Actions are situated in context and always in flux, situations are essentially unique, the focus is on dynamic choice in a dynamic environment. I suggest, therefore, that improvisation  is a model that can more effectively frame real life interactions in and with responsive environments and artifacts in today’s hybrid cities” (3).
  • “While not following a previously formulated plan as such, improvisation does acquire in this way some form of consistency in that it connects with what has come before in an ongoing process of repetition and variation” (7).
  • “Improvisation overcomes several dichotomies instilled by modern thought. It’s practice overcomes clear distinctions between repetition and novelty, discipline and spontaneity, security and risk, individual and group, and ultimately order and disorder. It overcomes a distinction between these poles by doing away with a binary opposition and embracing a mind frame of complexity, in which order and disorder, information and noise form a mutually constitutive relationship” (7).
  • “The awareness of time in improvisation ensures the relevance of actions. And through the experience of time – when you do something, when you don’t, when you start, when you stop – you realize that you have a choice. You start, you stop. You change. You determine your experience. More than metric time it is felt time  and event time that is of relevance here” (13).
  • “The phenomenology of the moment for improvisational performers is as much material for their art as is their past training and practice of structures and procedures” (13).

Readings Beh/Exp W6

Readings Week 6
Design for Behavior & Experience
Patrick J. O’Donnel

Verbeek, Peter-Paul. “COVER STORY Beyond interaction: a short introduction to mediation theory.” interactions 22.3 (2015): 26-31.


    1. There are three approaches (or philosophies) to considering the human-technology duality: technology as extension, technology as dialectic, technology as hybridization.
    2. Don Ihde categorizes human-technology relationships as embodiment, hermeneutic, alterity, and background relations;  Verbeek proposes the existence of a three additional categories for relationship: cyborg and (embedded) interaction context and augmentation.
    3. If designing technologies is designing the mediation of the human-technology-world triad, then designing must be understood through an ethical lens. Verbeek recommends that designers should anticipate mediations and adopt libertarian paternalism philosophies while creating. Shying away from mediations won’t benefit society; literacy and responsibility of mediations is the only path forward.


    • “Still, interaction might not always be the most helpful concept for understanding the relations between humans and products, or for understanding technological artifacts in general. Recent insights from the philosophy of technology, specifically from the approach of ‘technological mediation,’ lead us to rethink the relations between humans and things, shedding new light on the field of interaction design.”
    • “[H]umans and technologies should not be seen as two ‘poles’ between which there is an interaction; rather, they are the result of this interaction.”
    • “Designing technology is designing human beings: robots, vacuum cleaners, smart watches—any technology creates specific relations between its users and their world, resulting in specific experiences and practices.”
    • “(Some) technologies do much more than merely function—they help to shape human existence.”
    • “Seeing technologies as more than neutral opens the door to arguments like “the machine made me do it” (Joe Pitt).
    • “Cognition, they claim, cannot be limited to the human mind, but rather is extended to the material artifacts people use, such as agendas, computers, and even brain implants: They help us to think, remember, and have experiences” (Andy Clark & David Chalmers).
    • “In Ernst Kapp’s philosophical-anthropological approach to technology, for instance, technologies are seen as projections of human organs. A hammer is a projection of the fist, a saw of teeth, and the telegraph network—the high-tech of his day—of the human nervous system.”
    • “Technologies and human beings help to shape each other. Technologies are an element of human nature: They are part of us.”
    • “(Adoption of the hybridization philosophy of human and technology relations) implies that designers, in fact, do not merely design products, but human practices and experiences as well. Products do not only have functional, interactive, and aesthetic qualities, but are in fact also mediators in the lives of human beings. Designing things is designing human existence.”
    • “In embodiment relations, technologies form a unity with a human being, and this unity is directed at the world: We speak with other people through the phone, rather than speaking to the phone itself, and we look through a microscope rather than at it. […] (human – technology) —> world.”
    • Hermeneutic relations, as Ihde calls them, are relations in which human beings read how technologies represent the world, such as an MRI scan that represents brain activity or the beeping of a metal detector that represents the presence of metal. Here, technologies form a unity with the world, rather than with the human being using them. […] human —> (technology-world).”
    • “In a third type of human-technology-world relations, which Ihde calls the alterity relation, human beings interact with technologies with the world in the background of this interaction. […] human —> technology (world).”
    • “Ihde distinguishes the background relation, in which technologies are the context for human experiences and actions. The sounds of air conditioners and fridges, the warm air from heating installations, the notification sounds from cellphones during a conversation—in all of these examples, technologies are a context for human existence, rather than being experienced themselves. […] human (technology/world).”
    • “A brain implant, for instance, that is used for deep brain stimulation to treat Parkinson’s disease or psychiatric disorders, is not merely embodied; rather, it merges with the human body into a new, hybrid being. I have proposed to call this a cyborg relation: human/technology —> world.”
    • “Other technologies merge with our environment, into ‘smart environments’ with ‘ambient intelligence’ and sometimes even ‘persuasive technologies’. Here, technologies are not just a background for our existence, but rather an interactive context: They detect if people are present or not, recognize faces, give feedback on behavior. […] human <—> technology/world.”
    • “Wearable technologies such as Google Glass give yet another human technology configuration. They result in a bifurcation of the human-world relation: On the one hand, smart glasses can be embodied to give an experience of the world, while, on the other hand, they give a representation of the world in a parallel screen. This relation could be called augmentation, combining an embodiment relation and a hermeneutic relation: (human – technology) —> world + human —> (technology – world).”
    • “Steven Dorrestijn has developed a framework to categorize these contact points, using the human body as a reference [13]. He distinguishes four types of contact, corresponding to four zones around the human body: ‘to the hand,’ ‘before the eye,’ ‘behind the back,’ and ‘above the head.’”
    • “Nynke Tromp et al. have distinguished two dimensions in the influence of technologies on human beings: its visibility and its force. The impact of technologies can be located somewhere on the continuum between ‘hidden’ and ‘apparent,’ on the one hand, and between ‘weak’ and ‘strong,’ on the other [14].”
    • “Strong, apparent influences can be called coercive: turnstiles that force you to buy a ticket before entering the subway, or cars that won’t start when you don’t wear a safety belt. Weak, apparent influences are persuasive. Technologies show their influence, without being overpowering: smart energy meters that give feedback on your energy consumption or e-coaching apps that help you lose weight.
      “The hidden types of influence are often seen as a little more creepy, but in fact they are very common. Hidden, weak influences can be called seductive. Their impact is non-cognitive and mild: placing a coffee machine in the hall of a company to stimulate social interaction, using material that ages beautifully to prevent people from discarding a product prematurely [10,15]. The final type of influence is both strong and hidden; it can be called decisive or implicative because it exerts influence without this influence being noticed. An example is an apartment building without an elevator, implicitly forcing people to use the stairs.”
    • “Technological mediation is part of the human condition—we cannot be human without technologies. This makes the design of technologies a highly responsible activity. Designing technology is designing humanity, in a sense.”
    • “Therefore, along with functionality, interaction, and aesthetics, mediation deserves a central place in the conceptual framework that implicitly and explicitly guides design activities.”
    • “Explicitly influencing people via design is a contested thing to do, though. It puts something at stake that has become one of the most sacred things in contemporary Western culture: human autonomy. For that reason, for instance, Thaler and Sunstein explicitly call their approach a form of ‘libertarian paternalism.’ It is inevitably paternalistic, in the sense that it exerts influence on human beings, but at the same time it explicitly aims to be libertarian, in the sense that it always gives people the possibility to opt out. Nudges should never be given invisibly or without the possibility of avoiding them.”
    • “Human freedom cannot be saved by shying away from technological mediations, but only by developing free relations to them, dealing in a responsible way with the inevitable mediating roles of technologies in our lives.”


Dourish, Paul. “Seeking a foundation for context-aware computing.” Human–Computer Interaction 16.2-4 (2001): 229-241.


    1. Wiesel proposed a vision of ubiquitous computing, where embedded processors are cheap enough to manufacture for specific contexts; Ishii & Ullmer suggested a program of Tangible Bits, that connects the materiality of the physical world (atoms) to the materiality digital world (“bits”) by utilizing physical controls of digital information. Both configurations attempt to tie the physical world to the digital world, as well as reduce the barrier between interface and action. Schuman’s “situated action perspective” suggests that humans, as improvisational actors, determine meaning from interaction based on context—cultural, organizational, physical, and temporal.
    2. Phenomenology, the study of phenomena, equates to the study of embodiment. Husserl sought to reconnect science to the real world by explicating a ‘natural attitude’ that makes sense of contexts with meaning. His student, Heidegger, furthered the radical idea that the world was filled with meaning inherently, and as explorers, our actions reveal the meanings already in place. Another student, Schutz, connected phenomenology to intersubjectivity with a common life-world, inside of which, two subjects gain access to a background that permits actions understood as rational.
    3. Embodiment of interactions places interactions inside of meaning; Meaning comes from actions and interactions, and therefore can only be suggested and not directly designed.


      • Why has context-aware technology developed? “ One spur to the emergence of context-aware computing has been the novel technical opportunities afforded by falling costs, sizes, and power requirements for a range of computational devices and associated advances in sensor technology, which jointly allow us to develop new forms of embedded interaction, augmenting physical environments with computation that can be responsive to the needs and activities of the people that occupy them. A second is the recognition of the mutual influence of the physical environment and the human activities that unfold within it, so that aspects of the setting can be used both to disambiguate and to provide specialized computational support for likely action. A third is an increasing understanding on the part of system developers that human activities, including those that we conduct with and through computation, are enmeshed in a variety of practices and relations that make them meaningful by setting a context within which they can be understood and evaluated. A fourth is the influence of design that draws attention to the symbolic as well as the instrumental use of technologies and the roles that each conception of technology need to play in their design and deployment.”
      • “ the idea of computation embedded into the everyday environment opened up the possibility of computer technology receding into the environment and became useful to us (the population) in completely new ways.”
      • “ Ishii and Ullmer observed that we operate in two different worlds— the world of computation (‘bits’) and the world of physical reality (‘atoms’). However, although the world of physical reality is one with which we are deeply and intimately familiar and one in which we are, as organisms, evolved to operate, most interactive systems make very little use of these natural skills and abilities in supporting interaction.”
      • Tangible Bits and UbiComp are similar in a few ways. “First, they both attempt to exploit our natural familiarity with the everyday environment and our highly developed spatial and physical skills to specialize and control how computation can be used in concert with naturalistic activities. Second, they both use spatial and temporal configurations of elements and activities in the real world to disambiguate actions and so make computational responses a better fit for the actions in which users are engaged. Third, they both look for opportunities to tie computational and physical activities together in such a way that the computer ‘withdraws’ into the activity, so that users engage directly with the tasks at hand and the distinction between ‘interface’ and ‘action’ is reduced.”
      • “ Critically, this means that, for ethnomethodology, social conduct is an improvised affair, carried on in real-time in the course of everyday activity. Social conduct is orderly not because it is governed by some overarching theoretical construction but because people make it orderly. Ethnomethodologists argue that people find, within the conduct of everyday affairs, the resources by which those affairs can be found to be meaningful and rational; so in turn, they recommend that the investigation of social order should not take the form of a search for theoretical principles, but rather should involve the careful examination of specific instances of organized action so as to be able to uncover the means by which people produced  the rationality that they exhibit.”
      • “This perspective, in which the sequential organization of conduct arises in response to the immediate circumstances in which it arises, Suchman termed the situated action  perspective, and it stands in contrast to the traditional planning model in which the sequential organization of action is predetermined by an algorithmic exploration of the ‘search space’ of goals and actions. Suchman did not reject the notion of ‘plans’; instead, she observed that plans, as prespecified formulations of future action, are merely one of a number of possible resources that people draw upon in answering the question, ‘what do I do next?’”
      • “ Context— the organizational and cultural context as much as the physical context— plays a critical role in shaping action, and also in providing people with the means to interpret and understand action. Similarly, because the meaning of action is interactionally determined, temporal context is also involved, as actions and utterances gain their meaning and intelligibility from the way in which they figure as part of a larger pattern of activity.”
      • “ Beyond this, we also need to take account of social, cultural, organizational, and interactional context, which are equally telling for the ways in which action will emerge.”
      • “[…] By embodiment I mean a presence and participation in the world, real-time and real-space, here and now. Embodiment denotes a participative status, the presence and occurrence of a phenomenon in the world.”
      • “[P]henomenology, which, loosely, is the philosophy of the phenomena of experience.”
      • Edmund Husserl, the earliest writer on phenomenology, sought to “reconnect science with the real world, and the means by which this was to be done was to develop the philosophy of human experience on a rigorous scientific footing. This philosophy of the phenomena of experience was phenomenology. Phenomenology set out to explore how people experience the world— how we progress from sense-impressions of the world to understandings and meanings. Fundamentally, it put primary emphasis on the everyday experience of people living and acting in the world, and the ‘natural attitude’ toward the world that lets them easily and unnoticeably make sense of their experience.”
      • “Heidegger rejected this idea. He argued that rather than assigning meaning to the world as we perceive it, we act in a world that is already filled with meaning. The world has meaning in how it is physically organized in relation to our physical abilities and in how it reflects a history of social practice. For Heidegger, the primary question is not ‘How do we assign meaning to our perceptions of the world?’ but rather, ‘How does the meaning of the world reveal itself to us through our actions within it?’”
      • “ [M]eaning, for us (humans), arises from the ways in which we engage with and act within the world. I believe that this is of central importance in trying to understand the notion of embodied interaction that lies at the heart of the two aspects of context-based computation discussed earlier and elsewhere in this issue.”
      • Alfred Schutz “proposed an approach to intersubjectivity rooted in our common experience of the world and on the way in which we can interpret and understand the actions and motivations of others by appeal to the assumption of a shared life-world (or lebenswelt) that, first, grounds our common experience and, second, gives me the necessary background to understand your actions as being rational.”
      • “ The design concern is not simply what kinds of physical skills, say, we might be able to capitalize upon in a tangible interface, or what sorts of contextual factors we can detect and encode into a UbiComp model. Instead, we need to be able to consider how those skills or factors contribute to the meaningfulness of actions.”
      • “Most important, the designer does not have absolute control, only influence. In turn, this suggests that if the meaning of the use of the technology is, first, in flux and, second, something that is worked out again and again in each setting, then the technology needs to be able to support this sort of repurposing, and needs to be able to support the communication of meaning through it, within a community of practice.”

Behavior/Experience Reading W2

Reading Takeaways
10 October 2016

“Sketching User Experiences” Bill Buxton 2007.

  1. Sketching is an aid to design thinking; it is an artifact of the conversation between the real world and the designers’ mind.
  2. The result of ‘holes’ in a sketch is such that a sketch yields more than the effort of towards its inception. Sketches should be pregnant with clues.
  3. Sketches should be quick, timely, inexpensive, disposable, plentiful, clear in vocabulary, gestural, minimal in detail, appropriate in refinement, suggesting of exploration, and ambiguous.
  4. Sketches exist in a contextual environment–not a vacuum–as does experience.
  5. Designing with sketches is a process of generative creativity and reductive creativity; design teams must continually generate but always discard in a controlled convergence through the project completion.

While these descriptions of the space of a sketch, and its role in the design process, are critical for any project that I personally engage in, the last section on creative team dynamics seems very useful going into my final year. Design is rarely created solely through a human and computer interaction; it blossoms from human to human conversations first. All stakeholders should be at the table for design conversations and those people need to be made comfortable to share opinions and concerns. Design is a compromise. You must be a functioning part of a team that is as excited to fail as they are to succeed.


“[One can think of] sketches as a means of working through a design–sketching as an aid to thought.”

“Sketching is not the only archetypal activity of design, it has been thus for centuries.”

“[…] One can get more out of sketch than was put into making it because of its ambiguity.”

“If you want to get the most out of sketch, you need to leave big enough holes.”

“Sketching is fundamental to the cognitive process of design, and it is manifest through a kind of conversation between the designer(s) and their sketches” (Schön & Wiggins 1992).

“…sketching introduces a special kind of dialectic [conversation/dialogue] into design reasoning that is indeed rather unique. It hinges on interactive imagery, by a continuous production of displays [sketches] pregnant with clues […]” (Goldschmidt 1991).

“[Sketches] relate far more to an activity or process (the conversation), rather than a physical object or artifact (the sketch).”

“Being able to visualize things gave me a tool that I could use in all facets of life. What happened to my mind was much more important than the sketches I produced” (Hanks & Belliston 1990).

“Experience is a very dynamic, complex and subjective phenomena. It depends upon the perception of multiple sensory qualities of a design, interpreted through filters relating to contextual factors. […] The experience of even simple artifacts does not exist in a vacuum but, rather, in dynamic relationship with other people, places and objects. Additionally, the quality of people’s experience changes over time as it is influenced by variations in these contextual factors” (Buchenau & Suri 2000).

“Fail early and fail often. And learn.”

“Design is a choice, and there are two places where there is room for creativity: 1. The creativity that you bring to enumerating meaningfully distinct options from which to choose. 2. the creativity that you bring to defining the criteria, or heuristics, according to which you make your choices.”

“What one calls ‘genius’ is much less the contribution of the first, the one that collects the alternatives, than the facility of the second in recognizing the value in what has been presented, and seizing upon it” (Paul Valéry, as translated by Bill Buxton).

“We must generate and discard much more than we keep.” Pugh 1900 called this “controlled convergence”


“Prototyping is the Shorthand of Design” Tom Kelley 2001.

  1. Sometimes a childlike fascination with play is required for design: it is trial and then error and (only) then dramatic improvement.
  2. Bring several prototypes to meetings with clients. Bring interesting materials to client meetings spark the muse. The object or prototype permits conversations that reports obscure in the social, political and emotional blockades.  Prototypes are therefore also performance–for the client, as it is a conversation.
  3. Prototypes do not manifest as revolutionary findings; innovation is often incremental and evidence of a layered history of trials.
  4. Express your ideas through prototypes: quickly and cheaply.
  5. Prototype until you’re silly. They are the source of creative insurance that improves the designers’ chance of success.

This article presents a very clear argument for prototyping. The anecdotal stories serve to remind us that innovation is a disciplined, slow-burn game that must be institutionalized–direct orders from the top! For myself, Kelley’s account of historical accounts of success through prototypes is reassuring of the importance of company cultures that foster design thinking throughout all ranks. When I feel that iterating sketches and prototypes is cumbersome, reminding myself that building is learning makes the process feel much more crucial and sophisticated. The advice about stakeholders and clients in very important. Often when working with non-designers in a project, you must translate their objections into your design vocabulary. The prototype can be a useful boundary object to establish a aesthetic vocabulary that permits all team members to function and communicate uniformly.

“What is Visualization?”

“What is Visualization?” by Lev Manovich (2010)

Found at

“What is information visualization? […] So lets start with a provisional definition that we can modify later. Lets define information visualization as a mapping between discrete data and a visual representation. We can also use different concepts besides ‘representation,’ each bringing an additional meaning.”

Information Visualization–often abbreviated infovis–is a multidisciplinary field that concerns the representation of information or data mapped as visual elements. Strict definitions elude the infovis community because of the diversity of its contextual range. Computer Scientists often classify infovis in terms of interactive displays of data, but this is a narrow view for the potential of graphic form.

The difference between the scientific visualization community and the information visualization community differ moreso in technologies and techniques applied to visualizations, rather than the visualizations themselves. Scientific visualizations developed during the 80s, while 3D technologies were being created; Infovis developed in the 90s and 2000s, when the monitor was abstracted into its natural two dimensions and the rise of big data processing capabilities.

“Infovis uses arbitrary spatial arrangements of elements to represent the relationships between data objects. Scientific, medical and geovisualization typically work with a priori fixed spatial layout of the real physical objects such as a brain, a coastline, a galaxy, etc. Since the layout in such visualizations is already fixed and can’t be arbitrary manipulated, color and/or other non-spatial parameters are used instead to show new information.”

Information Design and Information Visualization differ mostly between data structures: known or undiscovered, respectively.

“By employing graphical primitives (or, to use the language of contemporary digital media, vector graphics), infovis is able to reveal patterns and structures in the data objects that these primitives represent. However, the price being paid for this power is extreme schematization. We throw away  %99 of what is specific about each object to represent only %1- in the hope of revealing patterns across this %1 of objects’ characteristics.”

Manovich suggests that a reductionist abstraction of data is “throwing it away,” but I would argue that is making the data implicit, or potentially obscuring it. There is a valid argument to be made that most infovis efforts are a reduction of the original, but it is a optimist-pessimist dichotomy that describes the nature of the debate: one sees it as an intensification or focusing on the information that is present, the other sees it as a hiding, or disregard of information no longer present.

For years now, the infovis community has privileged encoding of spatial variables (size, position, shape curvature, motion, etc.). This hierarchy places content emphasis on these spatial variables, rather than characteristic (color, texture, transparency) variables. Historically, one can see a similar hierarchy of variables in traditional schools for painting, in which sketches are laid out elaborately first, then shading and color is layered on only after such a spatial encoding has been decided upon. Psychologically and physiologically, the basis of object recognition is closely tied or relate to 2D scene analysis–a valuable result of identification, classification, and comparison that allows to thrive and survive.

“I think that this key of spatial variables for human perception maybe the reason why all standard techniques for making graphs and charts developed in the 18th – 20th centuries use spatial dimensions to represent the key aspects of the data, and reserve other visual dimensions for less important aspects.”

At the end of the 20th century, visualization without reduction became a style all its own. Tag clouds–or word clouds–were an early form of “direct visualizations” that utilized the media of text, and left it text, but offered a new notational system of value.

In Brendan Dawes’s Cinema Redux, frames from a film are made pixelated miniatures that are arranged in a matrix. This visualization method removes one from the experience of film, but presents a visual form that permits temporal pattern recognition. Here, the reduction occurs upon the import, and it is for this reason we can keep their likeness and resist the mapping onto visual primitives. The sampling pattern (of one frame per second) is not an act of reduction, as it is an act of sampling, that still has a one-to-one representation with the source material, but it only a representational fraction of the whole. Sampling should be acknowledged, but should not disqualify a visualization as a synecdoche and lacking nuance.

Direct visualization often utilizes sampling, but does not require it; advancements in interactivity can help to hide away the entirety of raw information, revealing it only when a user has a query or chooses to zoom. While not a requirement, structure and layout of time-based variables is appropriate; space can orchestrate an appreciation for temporally-experienced patterns.

“Thus, space turns to play a crucial role in direct visualization after all: it allows us to see patterns between media elements that are normally separated by time.”

In rethinking information visualization in the modern times, one may conclude the primary focus on spatial variables in visual encoding is a relic of technological limitations.

“I believe that direct visualizations method will be particularly important for humanities, media studies and cultural institutions which now are just beginning to discoverer the use of visualization but which eventually may adopt it as a basic tool for research, teaching and exhibition of cultural artifacts.”

The future promotion of direct visualizations in the humanities and media studies will promote the deeper understanding of meaning and it connections to patterns.


Behavior/Experience Reading W2

Readings Week 2
Design for Behavior & Experience

“Chapter 1 Living with Technology” Technology as Experience. J. McCarthy & P. Wright, 2007.

  • “We don’t just use or admire technology, we live with it.”
  • “The old computing was about what computers could do; the new computing is about what users can do.” -Ben Shneideman
  • Mobile technologies (and the texting, mailing apps therein) have experienced success because then enable what humans like to do: communicate.
  • Teenagers have a unique experience with short messages of digital communication (email, chats, messengers, texts) in that they put time and thought into their composition and content, taking into consideration into designing the conversation to be understood by the recipient.
  • In computing and technology, the terminology for a person has progressed from “cog in the machine” to “source of error” to “user” and now, to “consumer.”
  • “For many everyday tasks, goals and intentions are not well specified: they are opportunistic rather than planned. Opportunistic actions are those in which the behavior takes advantage of the circumstances. Rather than engage in extensive planning and analysis, the person goes about the day’s activities and performs the intended actions if the relevant opportunity arises.” – Donald Normam, 1988.
  • “The user experience development process is all about ensuring that no aspect of the user’s experience with your site happens without your conscious, explicit intent. […] That neat, tidy experience actually results from a whole set of decisions-some small, some large-about how the site looks, how it behaves and what it allows you to do.” – Garrett (2002)
  • A set of design implications cannot create a user experience, and it is often business momentum that pushes this agenda when it is least appropriate.
  • Consumers are not passive, they are emotional, social actors who actively complete an experience for themselves via interactive technologies and products.
  • The experience of the user is recognized by many companies and manufacturers, but the understanding (and thus use) of experience is limited.
  • People generally enjoy overhearing conversations, but not solely one side of a conversation.
  • For pragmatists, knowing/doing/feeling/making-sense are inseparable.

Dewey, a pragmatist, surmises that the relationship between the object and the self is the experience. Actions with these objects are situated and creative. Action is therefore emotional, volitional, and imaginative; experience is the process of sense-making.

  • “When we attempt to pragmatically conceptualize people’s experiences with technology, we are concerned with inquiring into what pragmatism has to offer towards enriching those experiences, even to the point of imaging what a rich experience of technology could be.”
  • Scientific study is often to concerned with backward-looking goals, that of explaining or making sense of what has already happened. Representational or reflective theorizing only makes sense when the world is relatively stable; however, it is more common to design products and artifacts that mediate action because the world is more chaotic.
  1. Technology has a wide range of influences that extended beyond its shell or interface; the relationships between people and technology should be described in “felt” life and “felt” emotional quality of action and interaction.
  2. Look to social and physical circumstances of actions and interactions (rather than exclusively cognitive models) for informed understanding, designing, and interpreting these actions/interactions.
  3. It is difficult to develop accounts of felt experience with technology, because we are present in its ever-moving flow. Its richness is elusive, as “we can never step out of [it] and look up at it in a detached way.”
  4. Models of action and meaning-making encompass felt life and emotional components of action and interaction.
  5. Importance to the emotional-volitional aspect of actions/interactions proves importance upon the aesthetic form in crafting experience.
  6. A revisionary theory of pragmatism, that by doing new form can derive, helps to clarify the nature of experiencing technology and design.

“Chapter 4 Embedded Gear” Digital Ground: Architecture, Pervasive Computing, and Environmental Knowing. M. McCullough, 2005.

  • “What are the essential components [of technologies], and what are the contextual design implications of the components?”
  • “The most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it.” – Mark Weiser
  • The PC is an outdated ideal for personal computing. Graphical interfaces are now too crowded by the need for the potential, rather than aiding common tasks.
  • Design for experience often comes after the software engineers’ role, and thusly it is too late. A consumer will receive what an engineer thinks is the necessary functions for that year. Also a problem described as feature accumulation. -Alan Cooper
  • Pervasive computing, or embedded computing, that has a purpose to physical space, has the chance to begin anew (with interfaces, with user-interaction, etc.)
  • “We face limits to how much we care to do or will consider doing with any one device in one place. More subtly, we also face limits to how much a device can do without better information about its context.”
  • The desktop OS was made to store and perform tasks locally. The internet age assumes connectivity was universal. If the internet of things is to become no less baggy than its DOS relatives, then they must enact situational protocols.

“We have been very good a putting computers into the environment, but we have been very bad at getting them out of the way.” -Mark Weiser

  • Ambient interfaces allow monitoring of potentially relevant information; haptic/tangible interfaces allow latent use of intuitive physics.
  • Specialized technologies become ad hoc networks of things in a contextual space. Interoperability is critical. How to design these connections and make them invisible is a valid question for design.
  • Local networks (compared to universal networks) do not require high-level models of software and are less subject to monitoring of third parties. Properties of scale, discovery, protocol, configuration, and tuning become essential.

“The goal of the perceptual intelligence approach is not to create computers with the logical powers envisioned in most AI research, […] because most of the tasks we want performed do no seem to require complex reasoning or a god’s-eye view of the situation.” The HCI world has begun to value how people play situations, rather than specific outcomes.

Building blocks of technology-embedded space:

  1. Sites and devices are embedded with microprocessors.
  2. Sensors detect action.
  3. Communication links form ad hoc networks of devices.
  4. Tags identify actors.
  5. Actuators close the loop.
  6. Controls make it participatory.
  7. Display spreads out.
  8. Fixed locations track mobile positions.
  9. Software models situations.
  10. Tuning overcomes rigidity.
  • more than 95% of devices with microprocessors embedded in them do not present as “computers” (Intel)
  • sensors intrinsically serve a logic device, reporting if a change (or set of changes) has happened or hasn’t happened
  • pervasive computing depends on unplanned communication, connections only opening when necessary
  • tags are a way to embed information or instructions for other devices to attach to a person or an actor, making the technology conform to the context that the addition of the actor will manifest
  • “The physical environment abounds with opportunities for improving commodity, firmness, and delight through the application of intelligent feedback systems.”
  • “Know when to eliminate an obsolete ‘legacy’ operation, when to automate, and when to assist and action. Know how to empower, not overwhelm.”
  • Representing scenes and situations becomes the challenge of software creation, or people, actors, and things in contexts.
  • Tuning (or tweaking) is incremental adjustments that come as orders from a qualitative, top-level reading of performance. Even when engineers balance complex systems with mathematical models, some tuning still needs to be done.
  • “Location and type have to matter (to new technologies). Otherwise, with everything possible all the time, mostly chaos will result.”


Project:Thesis Readings 1

Embodiment in Data Sculpture: A Model of the Physical Visualization of Information
Jack Zhao and Andrew Vande Moere (2006)

“With human’s inherent proficiency in comprehending the physical affordances present in the real world, some researchers and designers are investigating how meaningful insights can be conveyed by way of sculpting data” (Zhao & Moere, 1).

  • Data sculpture is (1) created from data, (2) exists in space or is physical, (3) possesses both artistic and functional qualities, and (4) an attempt to make obvious the insights and relevance of the data.
  • How data is best presented to inform, educate non-expert audiences, capture attention, and maintain curiosity is largely subjective and contextual.
  • Interpretation of physical objects come from their affordances, something digital media and digital space does not inherently carry.
  • Data sculpture has the potential to communicate information to a mass, lay audience through touch, exploration, and possession. This externalization of data will now have functional and artistic qualities.


“Embodiment is based on the measurement of the distance between metaphor and data and between metaphor and reality” (Zhao & Moere, 2).

  • Qualities data sculpture can take on: physical property of depth and perspective, materiality, and nuance.
  • Data sculpture belongs to design subfields of information aesthetics, artistic visualization, or casual visualization.
  • A predecessor of data sculpture, ambient displays transform architectural space by implicating interfaces for stimulating audience’s attention where none was previously warranted.

“In data sculpture, embodiment describes the expression of abstract data in physical representation through the process of data mapping. In information visualization, and by extension, in data sculptures, data mapping describes the process of translating data values to representations using metaphors. In such processes, metaphors become manifested in representations and draw associations between the abstract data and the perceiver’s prior knowledge or experiences. Metaphor is defined as a concept that is regarded as representative or symbolic to another concept. The primary function of a metaphor is to help people conceive an unfamiliar domain in terms of another familiar domain through drawing connections of similarity between the two” (Zhao & Moere, 3).

  • In the field of tangible computing, the research into the use of metaphor has been based on the theory that users naturally relate what they are experiencing to what they already know. Stronger metaphors exist when they reference a specific mental image, afford the intended interaction and have a place in a mass audiences’ realm of familiarity.


“A more precise definition of data sculpture has emerged from the domain model: a data sculpture is a highly data-oriented physical form, possessing both artistic and functional qualities, to augment facilitates an audience’s understanding of the underlying data and issues” (Zhao & Moere, 4).

“Our model relies on following three axioms:

1. Data sculpture is a system of physical representation and abstract data coupled by a relationship called embodiment.

2. Metaphor is a contributing factor to embodiment and can be gauged by metaphorical distances from the data and reality.

3. Different modes of embodiment determined by different metaphorical distances in data sculpture can affect the informative value.”

Data Stories: Data Sculpture

Data Stores Podcast: Episode 17

Data Sculpture

State of the Art: Part 1

State of the Art: Prior Works Research
Part 1

Thesis key words: Physical data visualization, data installation, data materiality, participatory data visualization

(1) Glue Society – “BT – Longterm Investor”

A series of (TV/digital media) spots using light sculpture to present estimates of investment data.

BT Financial ‘Superannuation’ from The Glue Society on Vimeo.

Materiality: Light

Architecture: digital, sloping, flat

Interaction: None, but animated

Pros: Metaphor equating light with idea and positivity and the future intact; narration clear; mood and graphics align with intended audience

Cons: Numbers not present until the end & their scale is small; light field is essentially flat, no conceivable reason for sloping plane; low resolution data

(2) Bryan Ku – “MB15 Minos”

An interactive installation for Moving Brands that visualized staff members as codified three-dimension, brightly patterned geometric solids based on office location, department, and other facts about the employees.

Materiality: none, digital

Architecture: Operating podium, projection

Interaction: Leap System, hand movements as a signal

Pros: Design of application provided approachability to party-goers; codified system of making able to be discovered (some hints found on side of operating podium); metaphors for socialization strong; integrated live stream of party goers tweets and instagrams

Cons: Lacks materiality; spatial presence brought about by utility; installation competes with experience of party

(3) Bryan Ku – “WIM•BLE•DON”

Flipbook data visualization that operates with a pair of users alternating page turns for the final game of a Wimbledon championship match.

Materiality: Paper, bound book

Architecture: none, mostly flat

Interaction: user-operated, chronological animation

Pros: metaphor in interaction between opponents; sleek visual design; excellent source of storytelling; user-operated creates controlled experience

Cons: unsure how unguided operation would begin; lack of relationship to body or space; experience heightened greatly by video track; assumes knowledge of rules of tennis to communicate story

(4) Doug McCune – “San Francisco Housing Prices

A 3D-printed data sculpture that abstractlyd displays average price per square foot for housing in the San Francisco area.


Physicality: 3D-printed plastic

Architecture: non, ~12″ tall

Interaction: None, static

Pros: Form takes on powerful metaphor of ripping apart; content well-researched and clearly discerned from sculpture; excellent craftsmanship; process well-documented

Cons: No sense of data scale; lack of relation to human body or architecture