Visual Poetry 2008 ... better this time!
A couple of years ago I posted here a quite harsh critique of Visual Poetry 2006 titled: "Visual Poetry (mimicking TextArc the bad way?)" in which I argued that data visualization, even when its purpose is beauty and art, must strive to be informative and enthrall people with intriguing bits of information that can be extracted from the screen. Visual Poetry 2008 seems to be a lot more interesting and closer to my idea of informative art.
In my old post I criticized the use of visualization without careful thinking. My post generated quite some interesting discussions. Robert Kosara posted a response on his EagerEyes: "The Visual Mapping of Poetry" and I replied with another post here: "Visual Poetry (part 2): must visualization necessarily convey information?".
Here is my review of Visual Poetry 2008.
From the author Boris Müller's:
"Poetry on the Road is an international literature festival which is held every year in Bremen, Germany. Since 2002 I am commisioned to design a visual theme for the festival. While the theme itself is changing, the underlying idea for the visuals is always the same: All graphics are generated by a computer program that turns texts into images. So every image is the direct representation of a specific text. The design and the development process are a collaboration with the design agency jung und pfeffer."
DescriptionThis is the visualization designed for this year's edition:
It represents multiple texts at the same time and attempts to compare word frequency distributions among them. Each horizontal line is a single poem and each element on the line is a single word. The words are sorted by their frequency in the text and mapped to line width. Each line connects the same word from one poem to another; normally with tapered lines since the same word has different frequencies in different poems. Words which appear only once are represented with an "X".
What I like
- Simplicity: compared to the visual poetry 2006 this mapping is a lot more comprehensible, very simple. A line is a poem, a dot is a word, same words in different poems are linked with a line. Since I am a big fan of simplicity this is the first thing I like to mention.
- Beauty: though probably related to simplicity, beauty is a great feature of this image. The chosen color is attractive, the sinuous curves are aesthetically pleasing, and I think there is the right balance between chaos and structure. Not too chaotic to be disturbing, not too structured to be dull.
- Patterns: I can clearly see some patterns! This is what I meant in my older post. Here I perceive simplicity and beauty and yet I can see some patterns. If you try, for instance, to follow the path of a single word from poem to poem you can see how certain words "sinuously" become very frequent or infrequent. Another pattern: the second poem from the bottom contains quite a lot of "X" words which are not used in other poems. One natural question would be: "How does it use such an amount of singular words?", "What poem is this?"
What is missing
In one word INTERACTION. Oooh it's a pity! The only thing we can do with the "interactive" version is to type a word and have it highlighted.
I understand that the original visualization is probably designed only to be printed on paper and not as an interactive artifact. One might argue then that interaction here is just not wanted or possible. Nonetheless, in the project's web page you can find a small interactive demo (see at the bottom of the page). My critique here thus refers to this demo exclusively.
- Hovering: recognition vs. recall is at stake here. I don't want to remember one word first and then search for it in the text, I'd rather like to discover which words are those that expose some interesting patterns. Even a simple added feature like "hovering" onto a lines to see which word it is, would be great to have.
- Filtering: a bit more advanced as a feature and not necessarily needed in such a piece of art but imagine to have one simple slider to isolate the words within a certain frequency range. That would be even more fun.
- Labels: this is a bit more serious. Why not adding few small labels to at least say which poem is which? It would need 5 labels! Only 5: one for each poem. Adding labels to words is obviously more problematic but again, why not showing the word associated to a line when hovering with the mouse pointer?