Thoughts on “Research Challenges in Geovisualization”

MacEachren and Kraak (2001) compile the various research challenges and main themes underscoring the field of geovisualization. Geovisualization is discussed vis-a-vis representation, computer integration, interfaces, and cognitive/usability issues. From the number of issues presented, it is clear that geovisualization is a field with plenty of room for further research and development, particularly as geospatial data becomes increasingly complex and computational techniques become more powerful.

This article does an excellent job of highlighting the many different functions that geovisualization can serve and the dynamic role that it has in shaping knowledge production. While we may consider data visualization to primarily be for representing finished results, this article makes it clear that geovisualization can be an effective tool for visual data exploration, education, and knowledge discovery. It is less clear where the line is drawn between data visualization and data analysis. If geovisualization is increasingly being used in the early steps of the research process (ie. before any conclusions about the data are formed), is there significant overlap between this exploration stage and the more rigorous analytical stage? Is data exploration a form of analysis? Both visualization and analysis have a critical role to play in the process of knowledge discovery and seem to be increasingly intertwined.

One of the concluding points from this article that really stuck with me was the call for geovisualization to focus on a human-centered approach. Such a recommendation rejects the view that one visualization strategy will be interpreted and used in the same way across populations. As technological developments allow geovisualizations to become increasingly diverse and complex, I believe that retaining a humanistic focus will be key. If geovisualizations are trending towards becoming more widely used as an interactive tool for knowledge discovery (rather than simply communicating overall findings), then it is critical for those developing the visualizations to have a clear understanding of how they will be used and interpreted. This call to develop humanistic approaches is something that should be applied across the whole field of GISciences. With increasing focus on new data types and innovative technologies, it is easy to forget that there are very real people behind this data and these technologies.

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