Playful Visualizations at Work, Working Visualizations at Play

Posts tagged ‘Photoshop’

Seeing and Doing

Before I begin, I’m going to apologize. I will not be present at the Research Slam and so I don’t get a chance to play with glitter. Or communicate my work on one large sheet of paper in a way that balances both an overall view of my research along with enough details to make it comprehensible and interesting.

Claire, Meaghan, further thoughts about poster-ing as a form of visualization that might help us for presentations later on?

I will, however, try to put together a presentation-esque page on this site for all those interested in what my work is. A virtual poster, if you will.

In the meantime, I’m going to talk about the act of making a visualization less useful. I realize this is not what we think of ourselves as doing, but the work I have been doing in Many Eyes has been leading me in this direction.

As you may have noticed, I’m the one a bit hung up on “but what will I use this for?” Despite trying to let go of this obsession, I still think of my visualizations in terms of use-value. And while the mere act of seeing anew that is at the heart of visualization always possesses this mix of dulce et utile, the balance between the two seems to shift depending on where I am in the process of creating multiple iterations of visualizations. Or, to put it another way, the further I push the visualizations associated with a given topic, the more I insight I gain into the text from the process even as my readers gain less insight from the final product than they would have from the original.

I’ll provide an example, and nicely circumvent the aforementioned problem by making you, O readers, a part of the process.

I began with one of the Word Tree visualizations in Many Eyes.

As before, feel free to click on the caption and play with the Visualization in Many Eyes. You can type anything you want into the search box and the word tree will move to show you all the sentences in the text that have that phrase and how they “branch” off. This dynamic visualization is eminently useful as a way to think about characters and get a quick glance at the different traits associated with them. I chose Gwendolen because the impression I got of the novel while reading it was that her feelings were the most interesting. And here they are.

Now I wanted to explore what exactly it was that Gwendolen felt. To do that, I returned to the one form of text analysis with which I think we’re all familiar; the “Find” function in Microsoft Word. I took all the sentences in the text where either “Gwendolen felt” or “She felt” in relation to Gwendolen appeared. I then sorted them into those sentences that used “felt” to refer to emotions or those that used it differently, such as referring to actual contact between two people. Then I color-coded each sentence based on whether the emotions were positive, negative or neutral/unclear.

The Good:

Gwendolen felt ready to manage her own destiny? Gwendolen felt daring. Gwendolen felt some strength.  She felt well equipped for the mastery of life. She felt quite sure of herself. She felt assured that she could act well. She felt satisfied with her prospects at Offendene. She felt kindly toward everybody and was satisfied with the universe. She felt as if she were reinforcing herself by speaking with this decisiveness to her uncle. She felt prepared to hear everything. She felt equal to arguing with him about her going on the stage. She felt able to maintain a dogged calm in the face of any humiliation that might be proposed. She felt an equal right to the Promethean tone. She felt at this moment that it was not likely she could ever have loved another man better than this one. She felt the more assured that her expectations of what was coming were right. 

The Bad:

Gwendolen felt the bitter tears of mortification rising and rolling down her cheeks. Gwendolen felt some anger with her mamma, but carefully concealed it. Gwendolen felt herself painfully in the position of the young lady who professed to like potted sprats. Gwendolen felt that the dirty paint in the waiting – room, the dusty decanter of flat water, and the texts in large letters calling on her to repent and be converted, were part of the dreary prospect opened by her family troubles; and she hurried away to the outer door looking toward the lane and fields. Gwendolen felt every word of that speech. Gwendolen felt that she was being weighed. Gwendolen felt a sinking of heart under this unexpected solemnity. Gwendolen felt a sudden alarm at the image of Grandcourt finally riding away. Gwendolen felt herself stricken. Gwendolen felt suddenly uncomfortable, wondering what was to come. She felt passionately averse to this volunteered love. She felt anew current of fear passing through her. She felt herself very far away from taking the resolve that would enforce acceptance. She felt shaken into a more alert attention, as if by a call to drill that everybody else was obeying. She felt a sort of numbness and could set about nothing. She felt a retrospective disgust for them. She felt compelled to silence. She felt her heart beating with a vague fear. She felt herself in an attitude of apology. She felt bashful about walking up to him and letting him know that she was there,.  She felt a peculiar anxiety to-day. She felt sick with irritation. She felt a little dispirited. She felt them to be insulting. She felt like a shaken child – shaken out of its wailing into awe. She felt some tingling bashfulness at the remembrance of her behavior towards him. She felt a rising rage against him mingling with her shame for herself. What she felt beside was a dull despairing sense. She felt her habitual stifling consciousness of having an immovable obstruction in her life. She felt herself reduced to a mere speck. She felt a peculiar vexation that her helpless fear had shown itself, not, as usual, in solitude, but in well-lit company. 

The Neutral:

Gwendolen felt this lot of unhoped-for fullness rounding itself too definitely. Gwendolen felt an inward shock. Gwendolen felt a contradictory desire to be hastened. Gwendolen felt as if her heart were making a sudden gambol. She felt quietly, unargumentatively sure. She felt something very far from indifference as to the impression she would make on him. Was it triumph she felt most or terror?

You can see several interesting things from these phrases. One is that Gwendolen is not a happy person. Two is that she is most definitely the “Spoiled Child” Eliot names her. The act of going through the text and pulling out these quotes one by one was fascinating. The process didn’t provide a whole new view of Gwendolen’s character, but it did create a portrait of her that seemed come to life differently than the one that appears over the course of the novel. It’s a slightly altered picture of both her vulnerabilities and her determination, especially as it takes no notice of any changes in her over the course of the novel. Though you might not get the same sense of her as you would if you read the book; this is more like a character sketch. They say a picture is worth a thousand words.

I was trying to figure out how to present this data other than using the link to the Many Eyes tree above and was inspired by Meaghan’s post with the images and texts. I couldn’t do that, but I wanted to try something similar.

For any of you suffering under the mistaken impression that I can freehand this, I should mention that I traced over the actress Romola Garai’s silhouette. As she played Gwendolen in the BBC miniseries adapted from Daniel Deronda, it seemed appropriate. (All work was done in Adobe Photoshop CS5.1, which I do not own, but which the Transcriptions lab at UCSB does.)

I think I will call this my ludic interpretation. Next to the Many Eyes Word Tree, it seems rather less informative, yet having gone through the process of visualizing it, I feel as though I have learned more than I would have simply by looking at the word tree.

As a personal project and a way to learn about a text and formulate views of characters, this was a great exercise. But how do I make it useful for anyone other than myself? I benefited from the process; the end result is interesting, but the true value lies in enacting. So how can we make visualizations that are as useful to our viewers as they are to us?