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.




Behavior/Experience Readings W1

Readings Week 1
Design for Behavior & Experience

“Chapter 7 Hurried Ethnography for the Harried Ethnographer” Ethnography: A way of Seeing. Wolcott, 2008.

  • What is the minimum or maximum time needed to be spent in the field to claim ethnographic validity? The researcher’s belief that enough time will produce guaranteed outcomes is at odd with the realist’s understanding that it’s impossible to exhaust any topic of inquiry.
  • “Ethnographic accommodation” is a researcher’s limitations of time that are put upon an study that employs ethnographic means.
  • How should a researcher handle time? As a scarce resource. Plan out time and set limits to fieldwork that take into account the other parts of the project.
    • When field work is not yielding any new or novel insights, it may be time to start writing.
    • Writing while still having time set aside for field work permits an initial analysis that a researcher can use to focus the remaining observation time.
    • Begin writing as soon as you think you might not be able to get it all. Do not put off writing by waiting to be a more astute observer.
    • Once you begin to review collected data in your head, start writing. Begin with the comfortable or well-synthesized ideas, and the writing should guide the remaining time you set aside for field work.
    • Start writing if half of your total time is remaining. Writing and organizing data often takes more time than observations themselves.
    • “People do writing this fashion [fieldwork first, then writing last] but this is one reason why so many monographs are uninspired.” Rosalie Wax
  • Writing about your thoughts before fieldwork can help to focus your observations on its ultimate purpose, and to organize your final account.
  • In subfields of anthropology, rapid fieldwork has become common but should not be dismissed. Common surveys, questionnaires, targeted interventions are not rushed as much as they are repetitive and formalized. Ethnographers are then considered data sources for teams conducting anthropological appraisals.
  • Anthropological appraisals may use common interviewing techniques, or even group interviews (focus groups), where an ethnographer would partake in a less structures interview/conversation and potentially identify a key informant.

“[…] Much stands to be gained for any researcher who pauses long enough to have a look around, with the intention of putting an inquiry into some broader perspective.”

Ethnographic Reconnaissance

  • –an ethnography precursor, permitting an initial survey or examination which is followed by a more detailed inquiry.
  • A windshield survey–or a survey of a community from a drive around town–is a rapid appraisal technique that can lead to valuable observations for further examination.
  • Ethnographic reconnaissance does not carry the notion that it must be done quickly, only that time must be set aside for getting one’s bearings in a new situation.
  • Do not disregard intuitive feelings about what is going on in a project, even if you’re part of a team performing pre-selected rapid assessments. Reconnaissance and getting one’s bearings should aware remain forefront while doing fieldwork.
  • Advice for initiating fieldwork to realize maximum return on ethnographic reconnaissance:
    • ethnographic reconnaissance develops organized common sense, free from inappropriate professionalism. don’t stick to overly scientific methods for observing the nuance complexity of human activity.
    • a researcher conducting ethnographic reconnaissance should try not assume a tourist or poll-taker or professional researcher identity, rather an interested human being. All of those identities could hinder natural conversation.
    • do not feel pressured to “sample” the population in any certain way. There will always be “gate keepers” of the community and they are worth your time as well.
    • write up notes quickly thereafter a reconnaissance effort. Initial opinions, anticipated problems, observations that go against your conceived notions are often fleeting once removed from the field.
    • keep in mind you are there to learn how those in this setting make sense of their world; if they can’t answer a question, it’s not part of their world. an idealistic goal for interviewing is to get them to talk with the fewest direct questions. ask questions as they come to you.
    • know what information is already out there (community history, maps) and do not feel obligated to reproduce it, but consider its biases and affordances carefully before inclusion in your reconnaissance or ethnography.

Systematic Research

  • Systematic research doesn’t always describe the existence of a community in ethnography. Care should be taken to understand when and how to count what needs to be counted, and measure what needs to be measured.
  • Problems and questions that are defined or redefined in terms of computational capabilities shift the researcher further away from orienting traditions of ethnography.
  • Photography, videography, and systematic research should not become ethnography–they are tools, not philosophies.
  • Stepwise research should not go against timing, but instead inform it. Dedicate chunks of times to different topics over the course of the fieldwork, and observe what changes and what doesn’t.
  • long-term fieldwork by ethnographers can provide “finer distinctions between change efforts and changed results, or between change and rhetoric of change.”


The Interpretation of Cultures “Chapter 1 Thick Description: Toward an Interprettive Theory of Culture” C. Geertz, 1973.

“To try to find the figure in the carpet of one’s writings can be as chilling as trying to find it in one’s life; to weave, post facto, a figure in —”this is what I meant to say”—is an intense temptation.

  • New ideas take hold of the intellectual community with vigor. It is applied to many problems and many situations. The community applied is where it is applicable and desists where it cannot be extended. What is does explain is now brought into focus, and the pseudoscience falls away.

“The concept of culture I espouse […] is essentially a semiotic one. [M]an is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun, I take culture to be those webs, and the analysis of it to be therefore not an experimental science in search of law but an interpretive one in search of meaning.”

  • If you want to understand science, look at what practicing scientists do. If you want to understand anthropology, look at ethnography.
  • Ethnography is more than just establishing rapport, selecting informations, transcribing texts, etc. It is an intellectual effort called “thick description” by Gilbert Ryle.
    • “Thick Description” is both thinking and reflecting, as well as thinking of thoughts.
    • A “thin” description of events merely records actions or direct observations, but a “thick” description finds a hierarchy of meaningful structures that leads to the actions. Where was this action learned? What was the intention behind the action? What is the context of the action? What is the action codifying?
  • Ethnography is a collection of data that is really a “construction of other people’s constructions of what they and their compatriots are up to. [I]t does lead to a view of anthropological research as rather more of a observational and rather less of an interpretive activity that it really is.” Analysis is sorting out the structures of signification.

“What the ethnographer is in fact faced with […] is a multiplicity of complex conceptual structures, many of them superimposed upon or knotted into one another, which are at once strange, irregular, and inexplicit, and which he must contrive somehow first to grasp and then to render.”

  • Human behavior as symbolic action has a significance. The communication by an action’s agency is of significance. With this componential analysis of culture, “culture is composed of psychological structures by means of which individuals or groups of individuals guide their behavior.”

“The cognitive fallacy—that culture consists of ‘mental phenomena which can [should] be analyzed by formal methods similar to those of mathematics and logic’—is as destructive of an effective use of the concept as are the behaviorist and idealist fallacies to which it is a misdrawn correction.”

  • Ethnographers seek to speak to and with individuals, not for them.

“Culture is not a power, something to which social events, behaviors, institutions, or processes can be causally attributed; it is a context, something within which they can be intelligibly—that is, thickly—described.”

  • Behaviors are the vehicle for culture. Behaviors’ relationships to each other is intrinsic, but it’s their role in patterns of life that give them meaning.
  • Inspecting events his how we interpret symbols and symbol systems, not by setting them up and organizing them into our own patterns.
  • Searching for sound, overarching order in cultural proceedings discredits analysis; do not divorce interpretations of events from the events themselves.

“If anthropological interpretation is constructing a reading of what happens, then to divorce it from what happens—from what, in this time or that place, specific people say, what they do, what is done to them, from the whole vast business of the world—is to divorce it from its applications and render it vacant. A good interpretation of anything—a poem, a person, a history, a ritual, an institution, a society—takes us into the heart of that of which it is the interpretation. When it does not do that, but leads us instead somewhere else—into an admiration of its own elegance, of its author’s cleverness, or of the beauties of Euclidean order—it may have its intrinsic charms; but it is something else than what the task at hand—figuring out what all that rigamarole with the sheep is about—calls for.”

  • There is a distinction being speaking and writing. An informant speaks; speaking is the event.  An ethnographer writes (inscribes); writing is the thought of speaking… or the meaning of the speaking.
  • Cultural analysis is guessing at meanings and assessments of such guesses; it is not all-encompassing or robust, rather its nuanced and situational.
  • Ethnographic descriptions are…
    1. …interpretive.
    2. …interpretive of the flow of social discourse.
    3. …attempts to rescue the “said” of discourse from ephemerality.
    4. …microscopic by nature.
  • Any larger, broader implications or abstractions of culture are often from extended acquaintances with extremely small matters, not a wide variety.
  • “To regard [ethnographic findings] as anything more (or anything less) than [particular] distorts both them and their implications, which are far profounder than mere primitivity, for social theory.”
  • This methodological critique of the microscopic nature of ethnography is valid, yet not to be resolved by considering the events as an actual microcosm, but resolved by “realizing social actions are comments” on society, with no bounds nor guarantee where the interpretation can go.
  • Generality of cultural theory grows from the “delicacy of its distinctions, not the sweep of its abstractions.”
  • Cultural analysis does not build on other analysis; it “plunges deeper into the same things” and enriches the understanding of both analyses.
  • Cultural theory is not predictive. It guides the lens to which we can view past events, and potentially anticipate future occurrences of the event.

“In ethnography, the office of theory is to provide a vocabulary in which what symbolic action has to say about itself—that is, about the role of culture in human life—can be expressed.”

  • Cultural analysis is, by definition, incomplete. They are sustained by continued debate and discussion. Yet, the more narrow the details, the less complete they become.

“The danger that cultural analysis, in search of all-too-deep-lying turtles*, will lose touch with the hard surfaces of life-with the political, economic, stratificatory realities within which men are everywhere contained-and with the biological and physical necessities on which those surfaces rest, is an ever-present one. The only defense against it, and against, thus, turning cultural analysis into a kind of sociological aestheticism, is to train such analysis on such realities and such necessities in the first place.”

*An old Indian story goes: The world rests upon a platter that is on the back of an elephant and that elephant stands on the shell of a turtle. Each turtle, in turn, rests on another turtle.

“Ethnography” in The Encyclopedia of Human-Computer Interaction, 2nd Ed. D. Randall and M. Rouncefield.

What is Ethnography?

  • “Ethnography is a qualitative orientation to research that emphasizes the detailed observation of people in naturally occurring settings.”

Why use Ethnography?

  • “Perhaps the main virtue of ethnography is its ability to make visible the ‘real world’ sociality of a setting through detailed descriptions of the ‘workaday’ activities of social actors within specific contexts.”
  • Ethnography seeks to observe and record activies as social actions embedded in a socially organized domain.

Doing Ethnography – Relying on the Kindness of Strangers

  • The social world ethnographers plunge into is often not organized in the way researchers expect to find it.
  • Recording the richness of everyday activities is often difficult because of its commonplaceness.
  • Ethnography does not take immense amounts of training, nor is its goal to search for hard-to-find things; nor is it simply hanging around or experiencing another community. It is listening and watching to the guiding principles that structure others’ activities.

What does an Ethnographer do?

  • An ethnographer does not need to go look for data; they look for communities and actions within these contexts to observe, the data is then presented to them in that context.

“The point of fieldwork is to understand the social organization of activities within the setting.”

Collecting Data

  • “In terms of what the fieldworker collects by way of data, […] it will be dictated not by strategic methodological considerations, but by the flow of activity within the social setting.”
  • Everything an ethnographer experiences or witnesses or observes is data. There is no sense in having all the data, but nevertheless your record of it should far exceed your use of it.
  • Ethnography is “the deliberate attempt to generate more data than the investigator is aware of at the time of collection” (quoted in Dourish (n.d.: 2). Mass amounts of data collection tends to happen as a consequence of the ethnographer’s immersion in a setting. Recording things often comes naturally as a foreigner in a new country wants to document everything they don’t understand.

Grounded Theory for Qualitative Research

Glaser and Strauss (1967); Strauss and Corbin (1990); Glaser (1992)

based on Dick, Bob (2005)  Grounded theory: a thumbnail sketch


Grounded theory begins with a research situation, and observations regarding such a situation. Constant comparison is the heart of the process. Compare interview data with other interview data, then make theories, compare that theory to interview data, etc. These comparisons are often noted in margins of text, and encoded to the likes of the researcher. Relative structure of themes and how themes relate to each other can be written as memos, and then memos are sorted as a skeleton upon which writing can occur. 

Grounded Theory, process


“In short, data collection, note-taking, coding and memoing occur simultaneously from the beginning. […] The theory is emergent — discovered in the data, Glaser will say.”

What most differentiates grounded theory from much other research is that it is explicitly emergent.  In this respect it is like action research: the aim is to understand the research situation.  “The aim, as Glaser in particular states it, is to discover the theory implicit in the data.”


Questions to judge grounded theory research: Does the theory fit the situation?  Does it help the people in the situation to make sense of their experience?

convergent interviewing (see Note-Taking)
  1. Data Collection
    • Observations
    • Interviews
  2. Note-Taking
    • Glaser recommends not taking notes or recording. This stimulates natural rapport and leaves you with a summary rather than being bogged down in word-by-word transcriptions.
    • Dick recommends recording the session, taking very minimal notes, so that you can go back and verify your effectiveness.
    • Convergent interviewing can also be used among a group of researchers. In this, interviews are found touch on similar subjects, and similarities and discrepancies are identified for further study and appropriate theorizing:
  3.  Coding
    • Start by asking general questions about the situation and how the participants manage their situations.
    • On the second interview develop a code in the margins that compares the first interview to the second interview.
    • When repetition of codes begins to emerge, convert them into memos.
    • Memos and categories of memos can be organized in various sub-groups in a hierarchical or network fashion.
    • The process of interviewing stops upon saturation, where no new information in a category is added.
  4.  Sampling
    • The sample of interviews should be emergent, in that, when new categories emerge, differences in those categories should be sought out to study.
    • You shouldn’t limit your research to the initial sample if it ends up not being completely representative of the diversity of your population.
  5.  Memoing
    • “A memo is a note to yourself about some hypothesis you have about a category or property, and particularly about relationships between categories.”
  6. Sorting & Writing
    • Reorganize the memos as needed to describe the phenomena/situation to an outside audience. This guides the writing structure.
  7. Using Literature
    • It is not apparent at first what literature will be appropriate to cite in writing until the observations and interview processes begin.
    • The literature to be cited should be treated as equal to the data you’ve collected.
    • Glaser warns about reading too specific of literature before interviews, in that the coding and memoing could guide you to make assumptions that won’t exist during your observations/interviews.
    • If an apparent disagreement between your emerging theory and the literature exists, don’t assume that your theory must be wrong.  You should seek to extend the theory so that it makes sense of both the data from your study and the data from the literature.

“In short, in using grounded theory methodology you assume that the theory is concealed in your data for you to discover.  Coding makes visible some of its components.  Memoing adds the relationships which link the categories to each other.”

Glasses: This Object and its Origin

Objects exist in multiplicity.

The physicality of this specific pair of glasses is just one perspective in defining these glasses.

these are my glasses

From where did these glasses come? Of what materials are these glasses crafted? What parts of these glasses are unique to myself? What important milestones have these glasses passed? Where and when do these glasses get used (or not used)? How do these glasses effect my life (physically, emotionally, etc)?

From where did these glasses come?

These glasses were ordered on Zenni Optical‘s website.

Zenni Optical began in 2003 in the San Francisco Bay Area. They boast more than 6,000 styles of frames online, including men’s/women’s/kid’s frames and lenses, as well as sunglasses and sportswear glasses. Zenni owns at 248,000 sq. foot facility that “houses state-of-the-art Rx and Edging Labs.” While the pictures show the San Francisco offices, the manufacturing plant is located in China (according to the Terms of Use), and most US orders are made in China, shipped to San Francisco, then to your desired location.

Of what materials are these glasses crafted?

These frames are specified as Browline Sunglasses #732021

the specifications for my frames

Browline Sunglasses #732021 are made from a mixture of acetate (Cellulose acetate) and silver alloy full rim and silicone nose pieces. The lenses are made of 1.61 High Index plastic,  though no specific plastics are specified over 1.58 refractive indexes. There is an anti-reflective coating on them to reduce glare that is of unknown/non-specific composition.

What parts of these glasses are unique to myself?

The prescription: I have myopia, or nearsightedness, in that I can’t see at distances well, but reading-length vision is appropriate–indicated by the negative sphere (SPH) lens power. (I also have a slight myopic astigmatism in my right eye).


PD stands for pupillary distance, or the distance between the pupils. According to an infographic on Zenni Optical’s website, adult PDs usually fall between 54mm-74mm.

The lenses are often dirty, as I only clean them with cotton part of a shirt I am currently wearing. The frames are not level with the table, as I do not adjust them to uniquely fit my ear and nose-bridge shape.

What important milestones have these glasses passed?

I broke my previous pair of glasses on July 10th, 2015 at approximately 1:15am. I took them off while sitting on a front porch in the Short North of Columbus, Ohio, and a friend stepped on them.

I ordered these glasses on Dec 12, 2015. They arrived Dec 21, 2015. 12 of 15 selfies I’ve taken since Dec 21, 2015 have been while wearing these glasses. I’ve now owned them for 56 days.

Where and when do these glasses get used (or not used)? 

I wear these glasses most days. I also have contact lenses which I wear on occasion. I normally only wear contact during sports with physical interaction (like volleyball) or when I plan on running long distances (sweating a lot).

When I put on my glasses in the morning, I grab them from the top (or second to top) shelf on my bedside table. I usually set them next to my iPhone while it is charging, a glass of water, and my keys and wallet. I wear them while commuting and while in class. I often wear them while at the gym but find myself taking them off when doing some ab exercises on the ground. I take them off to shower at home, and I place them next to the hand soap dispenser on the left side of the sink.

How do these glasses effect my life (physically, emotionally, etc)?

Physically these glasses are a hassle when wearing them in the rain. I commute using public transit and I’ve only worn them once in the rain. They also leave a slight impression on the bridge of my nose from wearing them on a daily basis.

impression of the silicone nose pad after daily wear

I originally bought the glasses because of the 1960s academic style, epitomized by Henry Crane (portrayed by Rich Sommer) in AMC’s MadMen. I think of glasses as an essential part of my personal style. This particular style emphasizes a brow line that I personally think is weak compared to other’s brow lines.

Rich Sommer as Henry Crane in AMC’s MadMen, styled by Janie Bryant


Research Methods: Readings II

“Why Should Engineers and Scientists Be Worried About Color?” Link
Bernice E. Rogowitz and Lloyd A. Treinish

the same data but mapped with mathematically equivalent scales, but one adds a threshold of significance (sea-level)

With the color map on the left, elevation is a continuous variable. However, its corresponding color scale ranges among approximately 5 discrete color categories. This confuses the reader.

“One result of this work has been a set of colormaps which take into account the data type, the spatial frequency of the data, and properties of the human perceptual system.  These colormaps are all designed to create more faithful impressions of the structure in the data.”

Data types include:

  • Nominal (no mathematical relationship)
  • Ordinal (occur in an order, but no mathematical relationship)
  • Interval (experimentally determined relationships)
  • Ratio (equal measurement between values, with zero included)

How do we choose color for these data types, so that our perception of color judgement matches the comparison of the data types?

Hue, Saturation, and Luminance: three perceivable dimensions of color

Hue, by itself, is not known for producing accurate judgments of a coded variable with varying magnitude. How to choose between a saturation-based color scale or luminance-based one? If there are great frequency shifts, use saturation-based color scale to see the graduation of changes. If there are small frequency shifts, use luminance-based color scale to emphasize distinctness in extremes.

Two special cases for color ranges: Segmentation and Highlighting

  • “In segmentation, the analyst’s goal is to look at the whole range of data, but partitioned.  If the segments are derived from interval or ratio data, it is important to preserve the perception of order, that is, that the order of the segments matches the order of the data values.”
  • “In highlighting, the analyst’s goal is to focus on a limited range in a variable and study how this range expresses itself in the data set.  The analyst, for example, may want to probe the exact ranges where the dose of a radiological treatment affects distant healthy tissue, or the particular magnitude at which the wind changes direction in a meteorological simulation.”
four color maps of photochemical pollution levels with a rainbow-scale (top-left), a isomorphic color-scale (top-right), segmented color-scale (bottom-left), and a highlighting color-scale (bottom-right)

So why the three other color scales? Firstly, an isomorphic color mapping has equal perceptual changes in color between equal intervals of the data. This is the “most” truthful.

Let’s say an alternate analysis is needed (maybe even quickly), a segmented map could show dangerous areas. In the bottom-left map, maybe 140 and above are toxic levels of chemicals. They are easily picked out of the map. What about a specific area, like low levels of a chemical that needs to be evenly spread throughout an area? The lower-right map shows off areas lower than 50 with perceptual ease. The higher areas, sufficient in chemical concentration, are not distinguished between.


“Visual Math Gone Wrong” Link
Robert Kosara

from the US Census Data Visualization Gallery

So what’s going on here? We have some population arithmetic. Important statistics, but what’s going on visually? Area arithmetic: something perceptually is four times as hard to grasp as single dimensional arithmetic. (And outlines for negative population double coded with the subtraction symbol. A good effort, fill would have been better without an outline, maybe on a toned background. But just use a bar chart since population is only a single dimension.)

Where do bar chart comparisons fail? Only once you get to vastly different scales (near 50x-100x difference between minimum and maximum values). Otherwise, comparisons among column components as well as cross-column comparisons are possible.


Ch 6: Visualizing for the Mind from The Functional Art
Alberto Cairo

“The ability to anticipate what the brain wants to do can greatly improve your information graphics and visualizations.” —PREATTENTIVE FEATURES

The detection of object boundaries is based off of variations of light intensity and color, and on how well the edges of the things you see are defined.

The brain is much better at quickly detecting variations in shade than in shape.

notice how color effects the visibility and ease-of-search when iconography is plentiful and too similar

Gestalt School of Thought preaches that the brain can recognize and sort differences in patterns because conscious thought can catch up with it. Examples include proximity, similarity, connectedness, and closure.

Cleveland and McGill (at Bell Labs 1984) published a groundbreaking study that pitted visualization methods against data perception accuracy. Most notably, position along common scale (single dimension with same starting point) and position along non-aligned scale (single dimension with same scale but different baselines) allowed accurate judgements. However, estimations in color saturation, color shading, and curvature were the least accurate.

10 vs 7 comparisons in terms of single-dimension, circular area, and hue

Stereoscopic depth perception (the difference between left eye and right eye images) allows humans to see in 3D however, there are monocular cues that also assist in 3D vision, including saccades, shadows, relative size, and detail/horizon blur.

“Color Use Guidelines for Mapping and Visualization”
Cynthia A. Brewer


One-Variable Color Schemes

Qualitative Schemes: categorical, no computational relationship between states

  • when using color between categorical data, distinguish them with differences in hue, and slight differences in lightness… not equal lightness. (Why? the physiological system to distinguish hue has poor shape- and edge-detection, the lightness difference will clarify boundaries.)
  • the more categories (the closer your hues), the greater the difference in lightness needs to be. also, consider why you’re displaying that many categories.
  • if any area is small by comparison to other areas its spatially proximal, a greater contrast in lightness would benefit detection.

Binary Schemes: on- or off-states, yes- or no-states

  • differences in hue and/or lightness can be used equally effectively.

Sequential Schemes: ordered, low- to high-values

  • mapping low values and high values depend on the display. treat the display or background default as low, and the addition of ink or light (etc) as an increase.
  • pure black-and-white schemes will have a disadvantage when it comes to the default of the display (areas with no data, like water on a country map) will appear to be on the sequential scale as a zero point.
  • it is not recommended to vary a sequential scheme by saturation only when there are more than 3 sequenced points in your range
  • if using more than one color in a sequential scheme, vary lightness and darkness singularly and evenly, despite hue.
  • full-spectrum schemes (rainbows) are perceptually disadvantageous because yellow is perceptually lighter in hue, and darkened yellow is perceptually desaturated, leading to misperceiving information where, often, none exists.

Diverging Schemes: ordered, with a noteworthy midpoint (or similarly critical point)

  • recommended to use two hues and darken them as their absolute value moves away from the critical point.

Two-Variable Color Schemes

Qualitative vs Binary Schemes

  • choose two hues (one for each binary) and vary lightness by qualitative values
  • increased saturation on the binary value you wish to emphasize

Qualitative vs. Sequential Schemes

  • choose three hues for the qualitative, and vary lightness by sequential values

Sequential vs. Sequential Schemes

  • a logical mixture of two hues and a lightness. lightest represents low sequence in both variables; increased hue and lightness in each color paired with each sequential schemes; increased hue combines in both to show high sequence in both variables.

Balance Schemes

  • neither end of a balance scheme should be emphasized, choose hues carefully to match saturation as best as possible, and vary hue equally between the domain.
  • a special case of sequential/sequential scheme, but one variable increases as the other decreases and vice-versa: they cannot diverge from this formula.

Diverging vs. Diverging Schemescolor_schemes_diverge.png


Research Methods: Readings

The Eyes Have It: A Task by Data Type Taxonomy for Information Visualizations
Ben Shneiderman (1996)

  • Information Seeking Mantra: Overview first, zoom and filter, then details-on-demand
  • An issue arise as information systems grow in size–how to design for two cases: known-item search and browsing for patterns
  • (In 1996) GUIs are becoming more advanced, more detailed, and more colorful
  • Scientific visualization has the ability to display, explain, and make comprehensible complex phenomena. Abstract visualization has the ability to spot patterns, outliers, or gaps.
  • The bandwidth of visual information consumption is higher than any other sense.
  • Task Taxonomy:
    1. Overview
    2. Zoom, on subset of interest
    3. Filter, hide uninteresting items
    4. Details-on-Demand, when requested or needed
    5. Relate, show relationships
    6. History, to support undo and replay and refinement
    7. Extract, sub-collections and query parameters
  • Data Types
    1. 1-dimensional (like alphabetized, text)
    2. 2-dimensional
    3. 3-dimensional
    4. Temporal (like one-dimension but with ability to overlap)
    5. Multi-dimensional (often seen with sliders and coded scatterplots)
    6. Tree (hierarchy)
    7. Network
  • Advanced filtering (partial search, boolean operations, etc) will be needed to help users search for data in ever-growing libraries
Google Maps shows an overview, permits zoom, and gives details when queried.


“Do Artifacts have Politics?” from The Whale and the Reactor: a Search for Limits in an Age of High Technology
Langdon Winner (1986)

  • Controversy: technical devices have political qualities, embody specific forms of power and authority.
  • “The theory of technological politics suggests that we pay attention to the characteristics of technical objects and the meaning of those characteristics.”
  • Two ways to show theory of technological politics:
    1. “Instances in which the invention, design, or arrangement of a specific technical device or system becomes a way of settling an issue in the affairs of a particular community.”

    2. “Cases of what can be called ‘inherently political technologies,’ man-made systems that appear to require or to be strongly compatible with particular kinds of political relationships”

  • The low bridges and overpasses of Long Island roads prevents buses from using the main roads–a purposeful device used from the 1920s through 1960s to keep inner city, lower class peoples out of Long Island.
  • The 1970s demonstrations of public works buildings that were not equipped to handle navigation by handicapped people; not a malicious use of technology, but that of mostly neglect.
  • A tomato picking machine, developed in 1940 California, could harvest a new style of hardier, less-tasty tomato faster and cheaper than hand-picking. A technology put approximately 32,000 out of work for a profitable 600 who could afford to keep their farms.
    • “What we see here instead is an ongoing social process in which scientific knowledge, technological invention, and corporate profit reinforce each other in deeply entrenched patterns, patterns that bear the unmistakable stamp of political and economic power.”

  • The technologies use to build our world situate some groups to be favored while some groups remain at various levels of awareness. It is often the most influential choices are made near the technologies inception, and those choices are ingrained in the technology making it difficult to divorce if issue arises.
  • “The automatic machinery of a big factory is much more despotic than the small capitalists who employ workers ever have been.” – Friedrich Engels, 1872

    • Authority in capitalism cannot be abolished, it can only be displaced and redistributed. Authority arises to cooperate teamwork and thus progress. A completely automatic factory is more authoritarian because it takes no input from workers, whereas small business leaders do.
  • Technology and advancement is a result a social structure existence, that without, would have never produced the technology in the first place.
  • “In many instances, to say that some technologies are inherently political is to say that certain widely accepted reasons of practical necessity–especially the need to maintain crucial technological systems as smoothly working entities–have tended.”
Harvest mechanization helps agriculture remain competitive
Despite the employment loss after it’s inception, this article says otherwise:

Although mechanization has reduced the number of labor hours for harvesting, overall employment for rice and processing tomatoes has risen due to increased production, and so have harvester operator wages.