Chapter 19. Animation for Visualization: Opportunities and Drawbacks

Danyel Fisher

DOES ANIMATION HELP build richer, more vivid, and more understandable visualizations, or simply confuse things?

The use of Java, Flash, Silverlight, and JavaScript on the Web has made it easier to distribute animated, interactive visualizations. Many visualizers are beginning to think about how to make their visualizations more compelling with animation. There are many good guides on how to make static visualizations more effective, and many applications support interactivity well. But animated visualization is still a new area; there is little consensus on what makes for a good animation.

The intuition behind animation seems clear enough: if a two-dimensional image is good, then a moving image should be better. Movement is familiar: we are accustomed to both moving through the real world and seeing things in it move smoothly. All around us, items move, grow, and change color in ways that we understand deeply and richly.

In a visualization, animation might help a viewer work through the logic behind an idea by showing the intermediate steps and transitions, or show how data collected over time changes. A moving image might offer a fresh perspective, or invite users to look deeper into the data presented. An animation might also smooth the change between two views, even if there is no temporal component to the data.

As an example, let's take a look at Jonathan Harris and Sep Kamvar's We Feel Fine animated ...

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