The Big Picture
The history of visualisation dates back to the stone age when hunters carved their story into the cave walls to provide information on how to capture prey in order to survive. Nowadays, information is still as important, think of Facebook, Google, and co. The amount of information produced in science, engineering, business or any other area is tremendously increasing and it becomes ever more important to make this information available, readable, and understandable not only for a computer but especially for us as humans.
Visualisations do not only present a visual representation of the data but they help to improve comprehension and decision making, communicate a story, entertain, and they can lie! In this course you will become aware of the intricacies of visualisations. We will investigate commonly acknowledged design principles, subjective dimensions that make a visualisation appealing to the viewer, and take a look at good and bad design practices. You will learn about different methods for visualisation of data from various fields, about what kind of data exists and how data can be represented as a visual variable. During the course you will learn to evaluate and have a critical view on visualisations and create and review your own visualisation.
Intended Learning Outcomes
After participation in the course, the students are able to analyze and discuss visualisations from a critical perspective. They are able to
Structure of the Course
Based on the work of Tufte we will learn about design principles, how to evaluate and critique visualisations and how to decipher the intended audience and questions answered by visualisations. We will look into graphical integrity, in contrast to the rise of fake news. We will also investigate the use of color and subjective dimensions and its purpose in visualisations.
The data model describes the type of data (nominal, ordinal, and quantitative) and which operations can be applied to it. 
We'll discuss representations of data and their relation (Entities, Relationships, Attributes) and how to map the data model to the conceptual model and vice versa.
In visualisation data needs to be mapped to visual variables representing the different dimensions. We'll learn about how these mappings can be conducted and which variables are most distinct to us as humans These include e.g. position, size, grey value, texture, color, orientation, and shape.
Didactic Concept, Schedule and Assignments
The course concept comprises basic readings, online research, workshops, group work, and lectures. After a first introductory lecture on site, the organization of the course is introduced and the subject is treated in three online workshops. Each of the three online workshops has a duration of three hours each. In a final session on site the results of the conducted project will be presented in a poster session.
Taking an active part in this course is crucial as the didactic concept is built on interaction and discussion between the students and between students and the lecturer.
The online workshops will be divided into lectures, group works, and discussions in the plenum. During the group works the students will learn to evaluate, critique, and create various visualisations.
For each workshop an assignment has to be completed by each of the participants beforehand which will provide essential content needed during the workshops. Therefore, the participants are expected to have their solutions to the assignments ready for the respective workshops.
Introductory lecture on site
1st online workshop
In this workshop we will investigate several of the collected interactive visualisations and discuss their goals, qualities, and intended audience. For this we will introduce Tufte’s Design Principles and Design Critique in a short lecture of about 1h. The participants will then be partitioned into small teams. In each team
This part of the workshop should take about 1h.
In the last part each team will present its best and worst visualisation to the other participants of this course and we will discuss the benefits and drawbacks in the plenum. (1h)
Note: You can access all articles via IEEE Xplore but you need to create a VPN connection to the TH Köln to access the papers.
2nd online workshop
In this workshop you will learn a bit more about common visualisation techniques used for exploratory analysis. In addition you will create your own visualisation technique, so bring along pen&paper (and something to digitalize the result) or digital drawing tools.
The participants will be partitioned into small teams. In each team
This part of the workshop should take about 45 minutes.
The workshop then continues with a lecture amending any missing common data types, visual variables, or typical visualisations used in information visualisation and visual analytics, as well as how to map data to visual variables. This will take about 45 minutes.
In the last part of the workshop you will gather in small groups again,
Make sure that your design thoroughly describes what data dimensions you have and how these are mapped to the visualisation. This part should take about 1h.
Finally, each group will present their design to the rest of the course. The presented designs must not contain any text except to describe the dimensions represented in your visualisation! The data must be visually represented!
3rd online workshop
In this workshop we will discuss the collected tools and begin to define the final projects which have to be presented at the wrap-up session on site. In the plenum we will first gather the collected tools. (10min)
Based on the selected list we will create small groups of 2-3 people where each group discusses 1-2 tools. (20min)
The outcome of this discussion will be presented in the plenum. (15min)
In the second phase, the participants will be partitioned into small teams of 2-3 people for the final project. In your team
Finally, each group will present their idea and mock-ups to the rest of the course. The presented designs must not contain any text except to describe the dimensions represented in your visualisation! The idea must be visually represented. (20min)
You will need to prepare three things in your final project: A project plan, a project, and a poster. All three components (project plan, project files, poster) must be uploaded to the web science wikipage of this course no later than three days in advance to the wrap-up session on site.
Based on your project mock-ups, you will create a detailed project plan, which should address the following points.
As a ballpark number: your project plan should contain about 3-4 pages of text, plus 5-6 pages of sketches and images of the final visualisation with explanation. Make sure to list a link to the final visualisation.
You are free to choose any format of representation for your final visualization. This can range from pen&paper-prototypes, over Power Point presentations, to usage of existing tools, such as Tableau, up to to real implementations as a web page or program. Choose the method you feel most comfortable with and with which you expect the best results. Part of the grading will incorporate the amount of work required to create the prototype.
If you choose to create a real implementation, make sure you cite all sources that you use. This is mandatory.
If you choose not to create a real implementation (maybe because you have no experience in programming), you can use made up data to convey your idea. Your visualisation should nevertheless be interactive, e.g. a clickable PowerPoint presentation or goto-assignments for pen&paper prototypes.
For grading the final project, we will evaluate projects by the following criteria:
Make sure all intended interaction is represented in your prototype or at least in the design mock-ups.
Also create a DIN A0 poster describing the gist of your visualisation as a PDF which we will use for the wrap-up session on site. Upload the poster as a PDF to the web science wikipage at least three days before the on-site meeting.
Wrap-up session on site
In the wrap-up session on site we will create a poster session. We will print the posters for you. From each team two people have to present its project in front of their posters while the others investigate the presentations of the other teams. Please cycle through your team to change the presenters from time to time. Make sure your presentation is short enough so that each course member can take a look at all posters.
Each team has to present its interactive prototype. For this you should bring your own laptop or PC if required. In case your team does not have a laptop or PC, send your visualisation to your lecturer at least one week in advance with a detailed installation description. In case you created a web visualisation, create an appropriate web server and send the lecturer your link if you don’t bring along your own laptop.
The grades will be reported to the examination office shortly after the on-site weekend (~1-2 weeks later). You can get feedback to your grading if required by contacting your lecturer.
Past Course Pages