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Master Thesis 2010-2011 Institute of Visual Communication HGK FHNW

Georgios Georgiou Klingentalstrasse 82 4057, Basel +41766179438

Title: Vehicle: Visualizing Information

Basel 06.08.2011

Contents 5 Introduction 6-9 Idea 10-15 State of Art 16-20 First Approaches 21-24 Project Development 25-40 Project Analysis 41-48 The System 49 Bibliography 50-51 Websites

Introduction Automotive industry is one of the world’s most important economic sectors by revenue. Around the world, there are about 806 million cars and light trucks on the road and this number is increasing with more and more people afford a car. Vehicle as a product follows market laws and strategies. That means vehicles are promoted and distributed under company’s strategy. It is said that automobile and other sections devoted to some type of commodity are more “ad platforms” than news sections. Their task is not to critically inform readers about an industry or the social issues that industry address, but to create “a buying mood” for its products. Therefore the kind of information one gets about a vehicle depends on personal interest and research. People are looking for the vehicle of their preference in car magazines, shows about vehicles, advertisements and on the streets. One can be informed about cars basically by reading reviews and charts. Magazines monthly analyzing every little detail concerning vehicles especially cars. Everything could be found about cars in the huge magazines’ database. So one can say that it is really easy to make a choice and find the vehicle of his/her needs. But it’s not. What is really easy to find is a big amount of information about cars, a complex data-analysis and reviews. In other words information is given in numbers, diagrams and charts and pictures of cars (photographic representations, drawings). Means limited and not clear visual information. In short information sources about vehicle are: 1. Car magazines (information given in numbers represented in diagrams, tables and charts. Photographic representations of cars, reviews and comparisons). 2. Manufacturing companies (manuals and data in numbers). 3. Advertising (marketing, promotion, “buying mood”). 4. Associations and organizations (research on the social and economical side of the car product). So most of information is given in numbers and written information though representations except diagrams are missing. A diagram represents precisely numbers and complex data. It is a two-dimensional geometric symbolic representation of information according to some visualization technique. What is not visually perceptible cannot be imitated thus a diagram that represents an abstract idea or numbers often transforms numbers into visual means by using different techniques. Hence the visual information is still abstracted and comparisons depend on the differences of distances, sizes, colors and forms. Is there a need for a new informational system about vehicles? Is the diagrammatic representation giving information in a good level and what kind of information should come in focus?


Idea Despite increasing investments and technological innovation of vehicle industry there are still certain issues of mass production and use of vehicles. The negative effects of the spread use of the car are more connected to environmental issues such as pollution and city traffic. Car has basic characteristics: self-moving, autonomous, automatic, wheeled motor vehicle used for transporting passengers. Car is one of the biggest modern innovations but it still is the major problem of the big cities if consider traffic and environmental problems. Except transportation, car for many people stands as a symbol of status, an idea and an expression. So buying a car on one hand depends on subjective criteria but on the other hand on certain characteristics. These characteristics are the basic functions that a car should have in order to be comparable with other cars and be categorized. From the first car until nowadays cars not much changed. A car still has the same concept. Of course technological innovation brings progress to the car industry by coming closer to the ideal. From the sociological point of view car is celebrated as divine. Automobiles spread across the world, as the “messengers of supernatural.”1 As Roland Barthes wrote about Citroen DS “I think that cars today are almost exact equivalent of the great Gothic cathedrals: I mean the supreme creation of an era, conceived with passion by unknown artists, and consumed in image if not in usage by a whole population which appropriates them as a purely magical object.”2 Lots of artworks are inspired by the automobile. In art car is not perceived as the technical device but it is transformed into a cult object. Images about cars in art show the cultural metamorphoses of the technical into a fetish object. It can be seen as the pure beauty as Futurists declare about car as the beauty of speed. Pop art represents car as a cult object. For many artists car stands as a religion and for others as a sex fetish. So is the automobile not a technical vehicle then? Is the knowledge about cars depends on the technical characteristics or this information stays in a secondary level? My inquiry takes in account those questions as crucial to the further development of visualizing information about cars. My question is what kind of images visualize the functionality of the car. This project’s approach is to create a visual informational system using basic car characteristics. My focus relies on the kind of information should be used and how this specific information could be visualized. There are certain ways of visualizing information. A research through history that will follow in the next

1  Roland Barthes. 2  Roland Barthes, “Der neue Citroën”, in: idem, Mythen des Alltags, Frankfurt a. M. 1964, original version Paris, 1957.


chapter would give us an overview of different informational visualization projects. To quote Ed. Tufte: “We envision information in order to reason about, communicate, document, and preserve that knowledge — activities nearly always carried out on two dimensional paper and computer screen.” Information that is used in the project has been taken from different sources like car magazines, web, car infos, general organizations and governmental websites about vehicles. Intention is to find and collect crucial information and facts to work on. This information is going to be visualized under a systematic way. A visual system suggests and organizes information through a specific visual language. The advantage of visual systems is that information is shaped and formed under a visual context in contrast with the raw material (data and numbers) that has to be memorized and recalled. Numbers and images depend on different thinking processes. But iconic logic is related to the logos of the number, because the visual field is always organized with distances that can be measured3. This is the basic concept of visual informational systems. The majority of visual systems follow the same principle. An example is the visualization Napoleon’s March on Moscow by Charles Joseph Minard (1869). Distances between elements, shapes, positions, lines and quantitative differences between objects and their relation. The challenge of this project is the success of the visualizations in order to create a visual language that transforms written information into a visual system. This project try to escape the strict structure of the diagram and intends a visual way of getting knowledge through images. The method of realizing what the project promises would be an analysis of the possible solutions, research on the topic and the data and image research from different points of view. Finally the results of this research would be applied and systematized in order to suggest and give an alternative helpful key about vehicles to the people.


Gottfried Boehm.


Bar diagrams and charts are the most common informational systems that are used to convey information about vehicles.


Napoleon’s March on Moscow by Charles Joseph Minard (1869).


State of Art This chapter is an overview of the most important categories of information design projects. This overview is a useful reference on the knowledge of information design collected. A small critic and analysis on these projects will take place and this will help to introduce first roughs of my project. Information design is an effective design practice where information is structured and displayed in order to be used from the viewer. A visual representation can express its meaning clearly to the viewer in contrast to the written information. Information design is connected with complex data and diagrammatic representations. Although diagrams are a big part of visualizing information, there are information design projects that go far from diagrammatic representation by suggesting different visualization techniques. A visualization is the translation of perceptions of other senses or of phenomena that are imperceptible altogether into an appropriate arbitrary configuration for a given sense. Examples of translation from one sense into another are a temperature curve, where changes in temperature are rendered visually as changes in the ‘height’ of a line on a two-dimensional plane, a weather map where different colors render different temperature zones, or a score, where pitch is rendered visually in ‘higher’ or ‘lower’ positions on a staff. A temperature curve fits to the concept of the diagram. Is a diagram an image? A diagram is not imitating reality but translates and shapes data into color and form. On the other hand a temperature diagram for example resembling an abstract painting. That’s why many authors describe diagrams and maps like images4. Nelson Goodman opposes to the idea that a painting has to resemble what it refers to or imitate reality. If we consider diagram as a certain technique as well as the medium of visualizing information then the question is what kind of information could be depicted through diagrams and what are the visual interpretations. In short, what kind of information could be visualized through a diagram? Lev Manovich makes a point on the difference between information design and information visualization: “Can we differentiate information visualization from information design? This is more tricky, but here is my way of doing it. Information design starts with the data that already has a clear structure, and its goal is to express this structure visually. For example, the famous London tube map designed in 1931 by Harry Beck uses structured data: tube lines, tube stations, and their locations over London geography. In contrast, the goal of information visualization is to discover the structure of a (typically large) data set. This structure is not known a priori; a visualization is successful if it reveals this structure. A different way to express this is to say that information design works with information, while information visualization works with data. As it always the 4  Goodman, Nelson: ‘Languagues of Art. An approach to a theory of symbols’, Hackett Publishing Company Inc., Indianapolis/Cambridge 1976.


A weather map of Ohio for the years 1971-2000.

Temperature curves and analysis.


case with the actual cultural practice, it is easy to find examples that do not fit such distinction – but a majority do. Therefore, I think that this distinction can be useful in allowing us to understand the practices of information visualization and information design as partially overlapping but ultimately different in terms of their functions.” Fact is that both techniques use mostly flat surface as paper and screen. As E.D. Tufte mentions: “The world is complex, dynamic, multidimensional; the paper is static, flat. How are we to represent the rich visual world of experience and measurement on mere flatland?”5. Edward R. Tuftes’ book “Envisioning Information” is a study on information design projects and strategies. Below a summary of the different categories in regard to Edward R. Tufte follows. 1. Escaping flatland Flatland refers to the material viewpoint of conveying information. “All communication between the readers of an image and the makers of an image must now take place on a two-dimensional surface.” It is essential task, we read in the first chapter, to escape this flatland. Since the 15th-century Italian Renaissance, when Florentine architects perfected the necessary geometry, conventional perspective drawing has enriched representations of physical objects. In everyday life other methods have evolved to represent our three-dimension reality on paper. There are few well-documented techniques of this method. The periodic table of chemical elements is one of them. 2. Micro/macro Micro/macro designs organize the complexity of data through multiple and hierarchical layering. These designs are used for landscape panoramas and topographic views. 3. Layering/separation Layering and separation is a good technique for reducing the noise and satisfy visually the viewer. The effect of layering and separation is described by Josef Albers as 1+1=3 or more. This methods’ success depends on clear hierarchical position and separation of the elements of the images. 4. Small multiples Small multiples (a term popularized by Edward Tufte in his 1990 book Envisioning Information) are a series of small similar pictures, making a point through repetition. For a wide range of problems in data presentation, small multiples are the best



Edward R. Tufte: “Envisioning Information”. Graphics Press. Cheshire, Connecticut 1990.

design solution. A small multiple that shows movement in time: The classic “The Horse in Motion” by E. Muybridge6. 5. Color and information Color is a very important element on images that convey information. Color itself could stand as a sign. Color is used to group, differentiate and highlight information. “To paint well is simply this: to put the right color in the right place.” Paul Klee.

1. Escaping flatland. Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleyev is credited with devising the arrangement of all known elements into the Periodic Table. Elements had been grouped in two ways previously – either by their atomic weight (hierarchy) or by common properties such as metals or gases (category). Mendeleyev’s discovery was that these two methods could be combined in one table.

2. Micro/macro

6  “Sallie Gardner,” owned by Leland Stanford; running at a 1:40 gait over the Palo Alto track, 19th June 1878..


3. Layering/separation.

4. Small multiples.

5. Color and information.



First Approaches This chapter is an analysis of the first approaches to a visual informational system. It is necessary to give an overview of the first ideas in order to show the process, the problems and the decisions that bring this project to the final steps. A big part of the knowledge has depicted becomes from these first approaches. 1. form follows function This first idea for visualizing information comes from the basic principle of the modern architecture and industrial design that “form follows function.”7 Form follows function is the starting point for a design process on this first approach to visualize information about cars. The basic concept of this first approach is that we are very familiar with the image of the car and that the form of the car reveals its function. An example on this thesis is e.g. the design of a fast car to enhance its records has to follow aerodynamics and physic laws. So this effects its form. The visual information that we get by the image of the car is limited but it is possible to categorize cars by its image. In order to prove this theory I started an image based research on car image. In addition it was a question what kind of information could be visualized on these images. Could the technical characteristics of the car visualized using the image of the car? In the beginning car could be categorized by its image on the basic car categories (passenger car, roadster, mvp, off road, pick up). Using the basic shapes (circle, triangle, square) it was possible to make visible that each of the basic shapes fit to a car category. For example the circle was the basic form of the passenger car, the triangle could represent a roadster and the square could fit well to an off road. At this point the project succeed in this first question but how was possible to visualize the more abstract characteristics like speed, co2 emissions, engine, power? Is it possible to visualize such these abstract concepts using the image of the car or it was necessary to find another informational system? Using the image of the car to inform about its function started to be dysfunctional when at a point was not clear what was the role of aesthetics in information about cars. The complexity of this form of communication (the use of image of the car) is that between others, the car is the medium of aesthetics. Technical characteristics and aesthetics are independent and incomparable. Aesthetics can declare many things such as status, prestige, attraction and also reveal technical characteristics. Because the information we get through aesthetics is so multidimensional, it is not the most clear way to use aesthetics in order to inform for just one of them in this specific case. 7  The authorship of the phrase ascribed to the American architect Louis Sullivan who coined the phrase, in 1896, in his article «The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered».


1. Form follows function. Car recognition using basic shapes.

1. Form follows function. mini passenger cars form combinations.


1. Form follows function. different categories form combinations.


2. abstracted image of the car In the second approach the shape of the car is abstracted to the maximum. With the use of shapes as symbols for each of the car characteristics, the image of the car is absent but the relation to it is obvious. The shapes that are used as parts of the system are triangles. Triangle is selected as the shape that points a direction as well as for the flexibility to change size and angles. The lower parts of the system we see two circles one on the right and one on the left. Circles here symbolize and resemble wheels. As symbols they are used to inform about the category of each car. Like the first approach this system fails to communicate with the observer due to its high level of abstraction. By escaping the image of the car as well as the aesthetics, abstraction brings the visualization to another level of observation. The information representation has not a clear depiction and relies between the diagrammatic and iconic representation. Hence as a diagram should be more precise to the level of information and as icon has to be more visual connected to the image of the original.

2. Abstracted image of the car.


3. break apart The third approach of these series breaks the car apart in zones in order to signify specific characteristics. For example the front part of the car is the zone of power and speed. The symbol that is used is the triangle and it represents the increasing speed and power by increasing its size. The wheels have a double signification as the category and as the engine size. The former is perceived through the shape of the wheel and the latter by the size. The important element that added in this approach is the key for understanding the symbols.









consumption city

consumption highway

3. break apart car in zones.


Project Development In the final stage of the project development the approach is to find a fruitful way to visualize the most important car characteristics. Pollution/co2 emissions, fuel consumption and (top)speed (the power and the size of the engine). The material and data have collected and organized in a table. The data are organized in car categories (passenger car, roadster, mvp, off road, pickup). For each category the minimum and the maximum car – due to engine size – selected. Each car got information in numbers about co2 emissions, fuel consumption and engine size and power. This table is the first organized information for my project. This table of data uses a visual abstracted and strict structure of information. Except this data set there is no other information, written or visual. This project’s intention is to find an alternative way to visualize the information given in numbers. In order to investigate and compare all the possible ways conveying this information a first diagram formed. The diagram in this case stands as a sketch, a collection of data. One of the most common diagrams is a bar diagram8. This bar diagram consists of three different elements: co2, fuel consumption and speed. All the elements are represented in the same way using a bar line. The only differentiation is in the color and of course in the length of the line. Using different colors it is easy to group and give a kind of identity for each of these elements. Color also adds readability to the diagram if not new information. There is no other differentiation except the color. The important element here that is added is the written description for each line. A line – bar could represent anything that has a given information in numbers. The only differentiation depends on the name that is given to it. So if for example in this diagram the red color was for vegetable consumption and each line for a different country then the meaning of this diagram would be definitely changed. The advantage/disadvantage of using this way to convey information is the neutrality or the absence of the visual context. According to Michael Friendly and Daniel J. Denis, between 1800 and 1850, “In statistical graphics, all of the modern forms of data display were invented: bar and pie charts, histograms, line graphs and time-series plots, contour plots, and so forth.” Do all these different visualization techniques have something in common? They all use spatial variables (position, size, shape, and more recently curvature of lines and movement) to represent key differences in the data and reveal most 8  A bar chart or bar graph is a chart with rectangular bars with lengths proportional to the values that they represent. The bars can be plotted vertically or horizontally. Bar charts are used for plotting discrete (or ‘discontinuous’) data which have discrete values and is not continuous. Some examples of discontinuous data include ‘shoe size’ or ‘eye color’, for which you would use a bar chart. In contrast, some examples of continuous data would be ‘height’ or ‘weight’. A bar chart is very useful if you are trying to record certain information whether it is continuous or not continuous data. Bar charts also look a lot like a histogram. They are often mistaken for each other.









PASSENGER CAR smart for 2 RR phantom

88 377

3.3 14

599 6700

50 453

ROADSTER daihatsu copen bugatti veron

140 596

6 24

1300 8000

68 1000

MVP opel agila ford transit

120 190

5.8 6.6

1000 2000

65 136

OFF ROAD suzuki jimny hummer h3

171 346

8.5 17.5

1300 3700

85 239

5.3 18

1300 6200

86 403

PICK UP fiat strada 146 gmc sierra denali 499

Data collection.




RR phantom

av. passenger

daihatsu copen

bugatti veyron

av. roadster

opel agila

ford transit

av. mvp

suzuki jimny

hummer h3

av. off road

fiat strada

gmc sierra denali

av. pickup




The first bar diagram displays the data collected.


important patterns and relations. Through diagram we can organize complex data on a two-dimensional surface and this is the most efficient way to do it. In our days we can visualize much more complex and larger sets of data than it was possible previously because of the innovation in software technology. Is this change the concept of the diagram? The use of computer science of course makes it easier to work with data but the basic idea of the diagram or mapping some properties of the data into a visual representation is still the same from when we still used the pencil. The basic principle of the diagrammatic visualization technique is reduction. Data visualization uses graphical primitives such as points, strait lines, curves, and simple geometric shapes to stand in for objects and relations between them regardless of whether these are people, their social relations, stock prices, income of nations, unemployment statistics, or anything else. Through this technique new structures and patterns are revealing. Although sometimes those structures give information in a very impressive and interesting way, the most of the subject’s characteristics are hiding behind this extreme schematization. Through this reduction of the world that we find nowadays in graph type programs is meant to gain new power from what is extracted from it. This reduction technique was spread used in science of the 19th century. Physics, chemistry, biology, linguistics, psychology and sociology propose that both natural and social world should be understood in terms of simple elements (molecules, atoms, phonemes, just noticeable sensory differences, etc.) and the rules of their interaction9. The structure of scientific visualizations is different than other visualizations because it is used a given space. For example a stimulation of the brain or a geovisualization. Therefore in a given structure the most important element to give new information is color. The basic idea that I follow in my thesis project is to reveal the subject’s characteristics. One way to do this is to find a more iconic representation and structure. In short to reveal those characteristics through images. Having all the organization rules of a visualization of a complex data set it is also important to create a clear structure in order to display information in an understandable way. In my view information visualization is more effective when the visual content give the most percentage of the information should be conveyed. It is also decisive the level of abstraction and reduction that is used in order to find the ideal visualization for the subject. As it is mentioned before the diagram is a primary and the most abstracted approach to bring information under a structure. This project is going far from a given structure to reveal a new structure and a process of image production.



Lev Manovich.

Project analysis In order to follow the guides for a more iconic approach on visualizing vehicle’s characteristics I started an image research on each characteristic. A research through the meaning, its representation -when it was possible to find one- and research on the idea of the automobile (the interpretation of the meaning connected to the vehicle). Speed Speed is the energy, the result of the power of a vehicle. When we think about speed we actually understand it in terms of space and time. The ratio of changing position in time. Thus the basic concept of the vehicle is the ability to transfer passengers, speed is the value that enhance this concept. From the first cars until now speed and power is one of the characteristics that influence somebody’s opinion on buying a car. An example is car races where the power and the technology are celebrated. How speed is represented? The development of photography gave the artists a new instrument and form of expression. There are several pictures from the early 19th century where speed is represented. The most famous one is the picture taken from the French photographer and painter Jacques Henri Lartigue, Grand Prix de l’ AAF (1912). Another impressive picture representing speed is taken by the German graphic designer, photographer and painter Anton Stankowski in title 1/100 sec bei 70 km/h (1930). Typical Stankowski designs attempt to illustrate processes or behaviours rather than objects. Such experiments resulted in the use of fractal-like structures long before their popularisation by Benoît Mandelbrot in 1975. By the title of the picture we have a clear info about it. We get information about the technical characteristics of the picture taken (1/100 sec) as well as the speed (70 km/h) of the vehicle from where the photographer took the picture. In my view this is a very important information and the picture has another value, a scientific work of art. Observing closer this picture we perceive speed in an analytical way. On the foreground we see an almost static picture of the right side of a car that is the point of view of the photographer. In front of it there is a road that ends to the horizon. Now the interesting part that is connected to speed is the changes on the perspective. On the left side of the picture a process is visualized. A process that maybe not visible or perceivable with human eye. Near the horizon (in a big distance) the background is almost static, we can almost perceive the leafs from the trees. While getting closer to the car the background is getting more and more blurry. This is an important observation in order to understand and rate moving and therefore speed. On the right side we see a white blurry shadow that I guess is a car that just passed with a higher speed. To conclude that blurring ratio is the visual effect that represents speed I started my own image research using photography. I tried out several experiments.



First by taking pictures of moving vehicles from a static point eg. pedestrian. By manipulating the aperture speed of the camera I created a database of pictures represented speed using blurring effect. Through this experiment (pictures of moving vehicles from a static point) I observed that in the pictures the background was static and only the vehicles were blurring. Also when aperture speed increasing the blurring effect increasing too. The second experiment was pictures taken from inside a moving vehicle. Here using the same aperture speed of the camera I tried to take pictures with different moving speed of the vehicle. In these pictures speed is represented like in Anton Stankowski’s 1/100 bei 70 km/h picture. In addition I used a grid as a static point inside the vehicle to flatten the images. The result of these images with the use of the grid is that background is no more perceivable and the measurement of the changes of speed depends on a two-dimensional plane. Also the level of abstraction here is higher and the semiotics of these pictures are reduced. This is something desirable in order to avoid any misunderstanding meanings conveyed through these images. For example it is not this project’s approach to show any specific cars or places. Furthermore speed is represented through other media such as painting and time based media. A first approach to represent speed in a systematic way that it is measurable and by using the results of the image research is using space in a linear way. Lines are translated to speed values with a certain direction to the right. The line width translated space into a scale. This linearity on the one hand helps to create an environment where there is a zero point and an ending point but on the other hand visually bring the observer back to the abstraction of the diagram and the reduction of the world. Another issue is also the number of the lines and the color code should be used. In order to generate a compact sign, spatial variables should be very carefully handled. In a two-dimension plane space is one of the most important elements. All the connections between the elements and the parts of the composition are perceived through these changes of their distance. Hence, it is used the same size for each sign. Also in order to avoid other spatial issues the signs are formed in a circular shape. By using the circle the linearity issue solved as a circle has not linear structure. The color code uses all the colors of the visible spectrum. This decision has taken for the shake of a vibrating visual effect. All colors have the same proportions when there is no information about the top speed of a vehicle. The proportions of the colors change to inform about the changes of the speed. For example when red color used more, the top speed of the represented vehicle is increasing.


pictures taken from inside a moving vehicle.

pictures taken from a static point (pedestrian).

use of the grid.

speed linear representation.

speed circular system.


top speed.


Fuel consumption Color and form are essential elements on the speed representation to this system. Both elements are used with flexibility in order to get the information needed. For example the information enhanced due the change of proportion of the colors and the shape change (using blurring) to give the impression of a higher speed. In this logic another characteristic represented and enhance the already two different data sets (speed, top speed). Fuel consumption is also given in numbers with the minimum value 3.3 l/100km for a Smart for two passenger car and the maximum value 24 l/100km for a Bugatti Veyron roadster car10. Fuel is what moves the vehicle. It is also a criterion for buying a car if we consider economy, not only the cost of the fuel but also the taxes for the different vehicles depend on fuel consumption. As fuel is so important aspect of moving the idea is to envision its effects on speed’s representation. When fuel consumption is increasing, the colors of the speed desaturate. Thus the color is essential for the visual effect of speed, desaturation affects it in a negative way. The negative effect is denoted here in order to visualize a possible connection for speed and fuel. Intention is to visualize a positive and a negative in regard to the vehicle. The positive is speed and the negative is the fuel consumption. A positive example could be a vehicle that is fast enough for the fuel that consumes. Car industry research through technology new ways of decreasing fuel consumption and find alternative fuels. An example is the hybrids and electric cars. In this informational system there is no separation between different types of fuel but it is meant to represent every fuel type. The information is given just for the number of fuel consumption. A conclusion on this approach on visualizing fuel consumption is the flexibility of using elements and forms. As it mentioned before the basic elements of a twodimensional visualization are the spatial variables and color. Speed, top speed and fuel consumption are visualized through the same form by using different combinations. Hence, distances and spatial variables are not important on conveying new information. The differentiation between these signs depends on colors and visual effects. Thus a more iconic approach on visualizing information is developing.



fuel consumption.


Co2 The last element on this visual informational system is a very important vehicle’s characteristic in regard to the environment. The reduction of co2 emissions produced by vehicles is a big challenge for the car industry and technology in order to promote their products. Co2 emissions, like the fuel type and consumption, is a criterion for the taxes should be paid for a vehicle and therefore it is a criterion that defines the vehicle type. For example cars with low co2 emissions are defined as “green cars”. Although this definition is not so precise about the numerical values of the co2 emissions produced it is used in our everyday life and bring the topic in the center of the car technology. Climate Change, often referred to as Global Warming, is considered to be one of the greatest environmental threats facing the World today. When petrol, diesel or certain alternative fuels are burnt for energy in an engine the main by-products are water and Carbon Dioxide (CO2). CO2, although not directly harmful to human health, is the most significant of the greenhouse gases contributing to Climate Change11. A careful observation of the world around us would give visible traces of this phenomenon. A panoramic view of a big city during the day will show us the smog, a cloud over the city. Other visible examples are effects that caused by the greenhouse gases like the dirt and the color alterations on the buildings facades. Much closer to our eyes we observe directly the co2 emissions when we see an old type car. Nevertheless this phenomenon has visual effects, visualizations are not always depend on vision. A visualization is the translation of perceptions of other senses or of phenomena that are imperceptible altogether into an appropriate arbitrary configuration for a given sense. Of course pollution is perceptible with the other of our senses too. We smell the polluted air and we feel it on our skin. We describe pollution as the alteration process that happens to an environment. Pollution is the introduction of contaminants into a natural environment that causes instability, disorder, harm or discomfort to the ecosystem i.e. physical systems or living organisms12. There are many different techniques to measure air pollution most of them are designed especially for scientific research. Some of the techniques use the collected data to analyze and come up with a data set of numbers. Other techniques use models through visualizations of the data collected. One example is the Measurement of Air Pollution from Satellites (MAPS)13. These scientific 11 12  “Pollution - Definition from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary”. 28.07.2011. 13  The MAPS instrument measures the distribution of carbon monoxide in the Earth’s lower atmosphere (3 to 10 kilometers above the surface), from latitude 57 degrees North to latitude 57 degrees South.The MAPS measurements provide scientists with the only near-global database of atmospheric carbon monoxide levels. These unique measurements help scientists understand how well the atmosphere can cleanse itself of pollutants such as carbon monoxide. In addition, the MAPS


representations use models. Models have a given structure and spatial variables such as a map. Therefore the elements that are used to enhance and give new information are color, transparency, textures and other visual parameters. If we could put this specific scientific representation under a group that E. Tufte suggests in his book “Envisioning Information” that group would be the Small Multiples. My approaches to visualize and create a structure and a measurement scale for co2 produced by vehicles follow processes of material alterations. My focus is to analyze the definition of the pollution and give an iconic representation to the data and numbers. Inspired from a lot of images from sources like web and tv, newspapers and photographs as well as to my own experience I started experimental processes using materials such as plastic, paper and ink. Such materials have a specific quality and iconic values. Through alterations it is a challenge to control the steps of the material modifications. But this is an aspect of experiment’s success at the end. This way I created models that represent “reality” such as a scientific model in a laboratory. A micrographic view of the pollution as a phenomenon. As Hans-Jörg Rheinberger writes: “Experimental systems create spaces of representation for things that otherwise cannot be grasped as scientific objects. A biochemical representation in particular creates an extracellular space for processes assumed to run in the cell under regular conditions. The laboratory language speaks of model reaction here. Models of what? Models of what is going on “out there in nature”. Thus, “in vitro systems” would be models for “in vivo situations”. But what goes on “within the cell”? The only way to know it is to have a model for it.”14 Hence, in science model is very important for scientists and researchers to depict the topic of the research through a visual language, a process of materialized interpretation. “What, then, do scientists do practically when engaged in the production of epistemic things? They continuously subvert the opposition between representation in the traditional sense of the word and reality, between model and nature. They treat their scientific objects not as representations of something behind, but as epistemic things within their system. Thus, they treat representation not as something from another order, not as the condition of the possibility of knowing things, but as the condition of the possibility of things becoming epistemic things.”15 measurements help scientists better understand both how far pollutants are transported from their source areas and the size of the sources. 28.07.2011. 14  Hans-Jörg Rheinberger, “Experimental Systems-Graphematic Spaces”, p. 297. Edited By Timothy Lenoir, Inscribing Science: Scientific Texts and the Materiality of Communication, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998. 15  Hans-Jörg Rheinberger, “Experimental Systems-Graphematic Spaces”, p. 297. Edited By Timothy Lenoir, Inscribing Science: Scientific Texts and the Materiality of Communication, Stanford: Stanford


In contrast to the scientific representations, model in art plays a different role. In “Iconic Difference” Gottfried Boehm deems to demonstrate that image is not constituted by ‘iconic identity’. In a first sense, it refers to the opposition between the ‘material support’ and the ‘meaning’ or ‘sense’. In a second sense, it refers to the difference between the representation and its model in the real world (in terms of signs: the referent, in terms of mimesis: the original). Thus, he talks about the ‘imaginary’ in the image as of a ‘difference with the real’. He also points the difference between a single spot or trace on a painting and the whole image. To quote Gottfried Boehm “A single color spot in paintings by Césanne, Monet, Seurat and others does not ‘mean’ anything. It generates meaning by ‘cooperation with other spots in a lateral way.’16 Therefore representations in art are not in a strict relation to the model but to the image as an entity. In contrast to scientific representations images in art depict knowledge about things and not only the existence of things or their numerical values. Hence, things are represented through another perspective, through the eye of the artist. But model in art has more than one meaning. Examples of past centuries where art and science converge, scientific images belong to art as well. An example is the drawings of Leonardo da Vinci that give us lots of information about muscles and intestines, without us having to proceed to vivisection. The double meaning of model in art is that of an analogous representation eg. representation of the model of an atom and representation that are based in visual resemblance eg. representation of a Concorde. Finally the model could represent the absent reality like in the former example or could be a visible object of study like in the latter example. My approach on representing and systematize co2 emissions relies in between both art and scientific representations in relation to design. As the subject of study is scientific based on measurements to finally collect a set of data given in numbers, the model is as in an analogous representation. But on the other hand there is a visual resemblance based on the effects of the subject of study (pollution). As a result of the combination between those two different representational techniques is a sign generation. The visual information depicted through the signs is as much abstracted as in a measurement system but also iconic by resembling a material process. The processes of material manipulation photographed step by step and collected under a series of images. Therefore, the precision on numbers depends on the differences on size, color, texture and shape. For example a series of material alterations is burning plastic. This example has an iconic value of the process that alters in a free way the consistence of the University Press, 1998. 16  Boehm, 1994, p. 22.


material. Here the steps of the process generated by the time of applying fire on the plastic. Each step is one second of burning the plastic. Under the same logic another series of images generated by dropping ink into water. Each time plus one drop of ink. The same way follows the image series of applying heat on a thermo-paper. Another approach is the use of black plastic. This process depends on the size of the plastic and the randomness of the material changes through the steps. Conclusion Every one of these processes has a different iconic value due to the different materials, the textures and the alterations when another element is applied. As all processes are equally describing and representing the subject of interest, the decision to select the appropriate one depends on aesthetical criteria as well as to the measurement system transparency. Another criterion is also the combination with the other elements of the system (speed, top speed, fuel consumption) in order to create a visually compact signage system. Finally due to these criteria the process that selected to apply to the system is the water-ink process.


co2 - burning plastic process.


co2 - random shapes and system due to the size.


co2 - thermo paper process.


co2 - ink in water process.


The system The final signs are generated of image combinations from the different processes in order to visualize information such as numeric values of co2, fuel consumption and speed-top speed. The bar diagram plays an important role to this stage of the project development as a sketch, a map of information. As it was the first stage of visualizing information for the final system, the bar diagram is the primary structure of data that this system uses. Car is a mass product. In fact many different vehicles have produced through the history of vehicle and therefore it is necessary to make a selection in order to give a preview of the functionality of the visual system. As mass production of cars is a debated topic, I selected the signs for the minimum and the maximum cars from each car category due to the engine size as examples for this visual system. In addition to the visual information, there is a title (signifier) with the name and model of the vehicle along with a text of the basic characteristics for each vehicle given in numbers. Putting the signs next to each other comparisons become perceivable. The common visual language puts the signs under the same system. All of the signs use a common structure. Through this structure differences perceived due to the changes of color, texture and visual effects. The technique and development and the structure of this system could fit under the “small multiples” category. “At the heart of quantitative reasoning is a single question: Compared to what? Small multiple designs, multivariate and data bountiful, answer directly by visually enforcing comparisons of changes, of the differences among objects, of the scope of alternatives. For a wide range of problems in data presentation, small multiples are the best design solution. ” This system is flexible on combining its elements. Using this flexibility it attempts to visualize vehicle also from the utopic side of view by combining data that are not true. For example an utopic vehicle may have the maximum known speed for a wheeled motor and the lower fuel consumption. Or a dystopia for this concept is a vehicle with the highest co2 emissions and the minimum speed. Due to the fact that the signs have certain iconic values utopic concepts are strengthened through this visual language. Therefore, except the basic application of this system that is to visualize information (of existed data), it goes further on visualization by finding new imaginary concepts. The power of visualizing these concepts and not just express it verbally or through writing is that of visual understanding. This adds to the knowledge not only of the consumer but also of the researcher.


In conclusion this visual system attempts to inform the consumer about the basic car characteristics through a visual language. Intention of the project is to suggest an alternative way of getting information due to the fact that informational systems about cars are limited. As this informational system has certain aspects which prove its functionality therefore could be applicable in different ways using different media. The final signs do not have any spatial relations with each other. Therefore, they could be also applied as individual signs with only limitation a brief explanation of the visual language that is used. For more dynamic view of the signs it is necessary to put them in a raw (and in smaller sizes) to have an overview of changes and comparisons. As the main interest of the project is to find an appropriate visualization on the specific topic of vehicles informational systems, it passed through different questions. After collecting all the necessary information and data that would be used to the visualization and after researching on the already existed informational systems about cars the question arises as to what is the need of an alternative informational system. An answer to this question is that the existed informational systems are very limited in visual information and the techniques that are used are very common in statistics. A more intensive and explanatory information system needed in order to convey different level of information. This project attempts to discuss the differences between visualization techniques. It brings into discussion the elements and the primitives of each technique in order to come to the point of a visualization technique that contains and uses the results and the processes of more than just one technique. Although in the field of visualization someone can find clear categories, it still is a topic for discussion. One point is the level of abstraction of the visual content. It is also crucial point the kind of data that are used for a visualization as well as what the final application will be. From the diagram to the icon, visualizations enhance information and/or transform it into visual means. Visualization is scientific, is educational and communicates concentrated information. It is matter of time and understanding. Where verbal communication fails to convey information in such speed, visual informational systems succeed. In our time information visualization is more connected to the development of software because it is very common to use it in order to organize large sets of data. Therefore it sometimes equated with the use of interactive computerdriven visual representations and interfaces. But despite the tool that is used for the visualizations the question is what images we get as final result. Except the organization of information through visual means it is important for the observer not only the structure but also the meaning of the symbols and the signs. Therefore a successful visualization of information depends on the combination of structure and image. My project focuses on both aspects. Although the data set consists of four as-


pects, the complexity of information is high. The absence of interaction gives the opportunity to set a common format and layout and experiment with transformations to more than one medium. Finally it depends to the further application how the information will be set. It could be printed and digitalized, animated, use interaction and different combinations between the signs.







Bibliography Martin Kemp. Seen/Unseen: Art, science and intuition from Leonardo to the Hubble telescope. Oxford University Press: Oxford 2006. Edward R. Tufte. Envisioning Information. Graphics Press, Cheshire, Connecticut 1990. Roland Barthes. Der neue Citroën, in: idem, Mythen des Alltags, Frankfurt a. M. 1964. Original version Paris, 1957. Inscribing Science: Scientific Texts and the Materiality of Communication. Edited by Timothy Lenoir. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998. Otl Aicher. Kritik am Auto. Ernst & Sohn Verlag, 1996. Car Fetish. I drive therefore I am. Editor Tinguely Museum, Basel. Kehrer Heidelberg Berlin, 2011. Charles Sanders Peirce. What is a Sign? 1894. Michael Lynch. Discipline and the Material Form of Images: An Analysis of Scientific Visibility. Social Studies of Science, Vol. 15, No. 1. (Feb., 1985), pp.37-66. Michel Foucault. This Is Not a Pipe. Edited and Translated by James Harkness. University of California Press, Berkley and Los Angeles, 1983. El Lissitzky. About Two Squares. Verlag “Skythen”
Berlin, 1922.


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vehicle: visualizing information  

MA thesis | giorgos georgiou

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