The Power of Paper

Here are ruminations on the real power of the paper and other “two dimensional” surfaces we use to present data or information. Inspired by respectful scientists of visualization since 1960s…

Typical answer from many (all?) of you about dimensions of the paper is 2 (two). Not a big surprise.

Paper sheet, two dimensions

Paper sheet, two dimensions

You see vertical and horizontal axis, what is called width and height. Below is a typical sheet to confirm you are right.

Width, Height

Width, Height

Let’s look at the same sheet more carefully. There is a gradient light/shadow on it. Consider the strength of the light or shadow as a value. It is true third dimension. We’ve got the sheet with three dimensions: width, height and value.

Width, Height, Value

Width, Height, Value

Well, so what? We squeezed three dimensions. What else?
Of course there is opportunity for fourth dimension:) Let’s pay attention to the surface of the paper, represent it as a texture, thus make it applicable for digital visualizations. Texture could be different. Don’t mix it with the pattern. Same texture could be scaled in and out, but it is still same texture. Below is a same sheet with texture as fourth dimension.

Width, Height, Value, Texture

Width, Height, Value, Texture

What else? Is our piece of paper done? No! There is fifth dimension – color. Code something into color and you use five dimensions. Don’t mess up value and color, they are different things. Hence, below is a same sheet with five dimensions.

Width, Height, Value, Texture, Color

Width, Height, Value, Texture, Color

At this point I am sure you are confident that we are still able to use even more dimensions. Here is 6th. Size. The sheet could be of different size. Smaller, bigger. Size also encodes, size does matter.

6 dimensions

6 dimensions

Very good. What else on that piece of paper (or digital picture) is capable to encode? The shape. Different shapes encode different things. Below are samples of the shapes, all with 6 dimensions. Together with shape encoding we are getting 7 dimensions.

7 dimensions

7 dimensions

OK, we are not finished yet. There is still a dimension to use. Guess what? Orientation. The sheet (and digital image) could be oriented differently. Independent of shape or size. Below is example.

8 dimensions

8 dimensions

So here you go – 8 dimensions to use during information visualization. All 8 are applicable for paper and digital designs. Very important for efficient BI designs. How to fit Big Data into single widget? Make information from data. But what if information is big too? Use efficient information modeling to get much much more from the same piece of space. This is design wisdom. Use it. Start from 4-5 dimensions. Continue to 8.

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