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Visual Abstraction

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Foundations of Data Visualization


In this chapter, we revisit the concept of abstraction as it is used in visualization and put it on a solid formal footing. While the term “abstraction” is utilized in many scientific disciplines, arts, as well as everyday life, visualization inherits the notion of data abstraction or class abstraction from computer science, topological abstraction from mathematics, and visual abstraction from arts. All these notions have a lot in common, yet there is a major discrepancy in the terminology and basic understanding about visual abstraction in the context of visualization. We thus root the notion of abstraction in the philosophy of science, clarify the basic terminology, and provide crisp definitions of visual abstraction as a process. Furthermore, we clarify how it relates to similar terms often used interchangeably in the field of visualization. Visual abstraction is characterized by a conceptual space where this process exists, by the purpose it should serve, and by the perceptual and cognitive qualities of the beholder. These characteristics can be used to control the process of visual abstraction to produce effective and informative visual representations.

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The authors would like to thank Jos Roerdink, Helwig Hauser, Stefan Bruckner, Hans-Christian Hege, and Torsten Möller for fruitful discussion that helped shaping the chapter. Thanks to Peter Mindek for illustrating the abstraction space in Fig. 2.1. This work was funded through the ILLUSTRARE grant by both the Austrian Science Fund (FWF; I 2953-N31) and the French National Research Agency (ANR; ANR-16-CE91-0011-01).

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Viola, I., Chen, M., Isenberg, T. (2020). Visual Abstraction. In: Chen, M., Hauser, H., Rheingans, P., Scheuermann, G. (eds) Foundations of Data Visualization. Springer, Cham.

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