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The Synsemic Approach to the Design of Information Visualization

Учебный год
Обучение ведется на английском языке
Курс по выбору
Когда читается:
1-й курс, 3, 4 модуль


Ромеи Леонардо

Course Syllabus


The aim of this course is to guide students through a theoretical and methodological perspective that will enable them to conceptualize and sketch visual artifacts to communicate effectively information. This perspective, recently introduced but based on consolidated theories and analysis, is defined as “synsemia” and it sees the domain of words, graphics, and images as an integrated system of expression. The course brings a theoretical paradigm to the ground and provides design principles and analytical tools that can be, and have been extensively, applied in multiple kinds of visual artifacts and information visualization projects.
Learning Objectives

Learning Objectives

  • Illustrate different theories and methodologies that converge in a similar perspective on information visualization.
  • Show how the domains of words, graphics, and images can be considered in a unified way.
  • Present key examples from the history of images, graphics and writings.
  • Provide design principles and analytical tools for information categorization and visualization.
  • Place information visualization in a wider context, as part of the cultural eco-system.
  • Describe information visualization as heuristic and investigative tools.
Expected Learning Outcomes

Expected Learning Outcomes

  • Be able to elaborate individually a conceptual process for information visualization based on the perspectives provided
  • Be able to categorize a corpus of information in order to find a key to visualize and represent it
  • Be able to integrate autonomously analytical tools to investigate the domain of images, graphics and writings in an unified perspective
  • Be able to use critically and autonomously design principles in the planning and development of their projects
  • Be able to understand how the notions acquired can be used in different areas and disciplines
  • Be able to integrate different theories and methodologies to elaborate a method that is appropriate for a certain project
Course Contents

Course Contents

  • The relationship between content and expression in the visualization of information
    Content and expression choices should be considered as a whole, as they are strictly related, and they influence each other. For instance, if we consider newspaper design, the different genres of articles and the number of sections of the newspaper, determine the number and characteristics of the visual categories to use in the newspaper visual design.
  • Texts and visual artifacts in the culture as an eco-system
    Written texts and visual artifacts, once published, influence the culture as an eco-system and create links with other texts in the media environment. The culture, as a brain, remembers and forgets, and it does it through texts.
  • Visual Variables and notational systems
    The notion of the visual variables it’s one of the most powerful tools to transform information in visualizations.
  • Information Visualization in everyday use
    Every day we interact with visual artifacts without paying too much attention to them. From their analysis, we can learn strategies that can be applied to information visualization projects.
  • Graphics as heuristic tools
    Graphics are not only a way to express a certain contents or notions but are tools to investigate and discover new contents
  • The domain of images and the notion of “gramma
    “I will use the Greek gramma, a word that means picture, written letter, and piece of writing. The verb graphein preserves a memory of a time when the divisions we are so used to did not exist” (Elkins, 1999).
  • A key moment in the history of writing and reading: from the manuscripts to incunabula
    The invention of the printing press by Gutenberg, for technical reasons, introduced a sharp distinction between words and images. This distinction is still operating even when the technology has evolved.
  • Cognitive types, categorization, and illustration
    The process of interpretation shows the relevance of a specific culture in describing the same phenomenon. Perception and cultural categorization are linked.
  • Linear and nonlinear systems of expressions, the alphabet prejudice
    The alphabetical system of expressions, starting with Aristotle, have been considered as the best way to express thoughts. Some analysis show that there is always a nonlinear characteristic in writing and that the integration with other systems of expression can be more effective in a lot of contexts.
  • The synsemic perspective. From visual syntax to synsemia
    “Synsemia means the deliberate and conscious disposition of elements of writing in the space in order to communicate in a reasonably unambiguous way and in a regular manner, through the space articulation and the other visual variables.” (Perondi, Romei 2010)
  • The power of Visual Metaphors
    Visual Metaphors from the Middle Ages to the present time have been used as a powerful strategy to synthesize complex notions.
  • Accessibility, readability, legibility, understanding
    Information visualization artifacts need to be carefully designed to increase the global level of their comprehension: font choices, sizes, but most of all clear, meaningful and consistent hierarchy and organization of contents.
  • From the medieval manuscripts to the digital media
    Digital media can be considered and used as tools to go beyond the separation between words, graphics, and images. Information and data visualization go in that direction, but their distinction with the “main” written article is questionable.
  • Graphics and images in science
    “In the scientific realm, the production of texts often draws heavily upon images, be they schematics or photographs, diagrams or figures. They are an integral part of the discourse, can be considered innate aspects of all written text, and can also be a powerful part of the research process: graphics and schematics, for example, are often employed during the investigation and verification of scientific research.” (Falcinelli et al. 2015)
  • Interpretation, meaning, and visualization
    The visualization of information is strictly related to the process of its interpretation and with the interpretive key chosen.
Assessment Elements

Assessment Elements

  • non-blocking Attendance
  • non-blocking Participation to debates and other class work and activities
  • non-blocking Projects and assignments
    The exam is conducted orally in this form: presentation of the final project by each student in front of other students and of the course Instructor; the presentation is followed by a thorough discussion with the Instructor that includes topics of the course; other students of the course attend as a public of other presentations and can be involved in the discussion. The exam is conducted on the Zoom platform (https://zoom.us/). The student must be connected according to the schedule for all the period of the exam (including other students' presentations). The student's computer must meet the following requirements: having a working camera and microphone and Zoom software installed. To participate in their exam, the student is obliged: to put on the avatar of her/his photo, to appear on the exam according to the schedule, during his/her exam turn on the camera and the microphone. During their exams, students are not allowed to turn off the camera, use notes and hints except their visual presentations. During other students' exams/presentations, the other students are requested to be online and participate to the meeting with the microphone de-activated; they could be requested to take part and, in this case, they would need to turn on the camera and the microphone A short-term communication violation during the exam is considered to be a communication violation of less than a minute. A long-term communication violation during the exam is considered to be a violation of a minute or more. If there is a long-term communication violation, the student cannot continue to participate in the exam.
Interim Assessment

Interim Assessment

  • Interim assessment (4 module)
    0.2 * Attendance + 0.2 * Participation to debates and other class work and activities + 0.6 * Projects and assignments


Recommended Core Bibliography

  • Berger, S. (2017). The Art of Philosophy : Visual Thinking in Europe From the Late Renaissance to the Early Enlightenment. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=1431843
  • George Lakoff, & Mark Johnson. (1980). Metaphors We Live By. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsbas&AN=edsbas.F721BF48
  • Giulia Bonora, Rossella D’Ugo, Giampiero Dalai, Daniele De Rosa, Adelaide Imperato, Berta Martini, & Luciano Perondi. (2017). The Project “Interactive Topography of Dante’s Inferno”. Transfer of Knowledge and Design of Didactic Tools. Proceedings, (9), 875. https://doi.org/10.3390/proceedings1090875

Recommended Additional Bibliography

  • Harris, R. (2001). Rethinking Writing. London: Continuum. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&site=eds-live&db=edsebk&AN=226897