I spent some time the last couple of days looking for definitions of the items I had listed as “disciplines” in version 1 of my concept map. Specifically, I was looking into data visualization, information visualization, scientific visualization, information graphics and information design. There seems to be a whole lot of overlap and/or fuzzy boundaries amongst these terms. So, I revised the concept map to just include bucket of things that I like to think of as disciplines.
I also, added another bucket – styles. This was Tom Crawford’s idea and I think it makes sense. I also went through the VizThink Conference Content diagram and pulled out the things that felt more like applications to me. They’re represented in an applications bucket at the top right of the concept map. I really think the list of items in the applications bucket is virtually limitless though so I don’t think it’s realistic to try to capture everything that visual thinking could be applied to.
On the bottom right side of the map is where the Tools and Methods bucket goes. There’s a ton of those and I thought the best place to start would be the Periodic Table of Visualization Methods from Visual Literacy. It’s a good start but somehow I can’t believe that it’s comprehensive.
Another thought occurred to me in considering the disciplines. I think there are varying levels of “disciplineness.” For example, information graphics and graphic design just feel like much more established disciplines than say graphic recording or graphic facilitation. I think there’s perhaps a spectrum in the disciplines ranging from nascent and emerging to established. It seems like disciplines might be born from methods. Think about mind mapping. It started out in the 60s, started by Tony Busan (I think), but it has become common and pervasive enough that it’s emerging as a discipline.
That begs the question, how do you know when something has evolved from just a method or tool into a discipline? My working hypothesis on this is that when a method becomes pervasive enough that people actually make a living doing just that thing, maybe it has evolved into a discipline. There’s probably flaws with that rule of thumb and it’s a bit fuzzy, but for now I’m somewhat satisfied with it.
It’s also come to my attention that some people are going to resist the idea of categorizing like I’m attempting to do. They don’t want to feel like they’re pigeon-holed into a particular box. I can understand this to a degree, but the idea is to categorize the concepts, not the people who do them them. It’s perfectly fine for a person to perform multiple disciplines have multiple styles and use various methods. I could easily see someone being a practitioner of the cartooning discipline as well as the information graphics discipline, for example.
I think in order for visual thinking to become more accepted in the business community it needs to be more concrete and better defined. It’s human nature to recognize patterns and to classify and categorize and it helps us learn. And, as with so many things, the learning process that one goes through in an exercise like this is more valuable than the end result itself.