Simplicity, complexity, and duplicity in visualizations

Feb. 25, 2015 from 3:30 to 4:20 p.m. — Physics/Astronomy Auditorium, room A102

Co-Director of the “Big Picture” Visualization Group, Google


What is the right level of detail for a visualization? I’ll discuss tradeoffs between simplicity and complexity in a series of examples, ranging from visualizations that appear on Google’s search page, to tools used only by expert analysts. In some cases, it turns out that adding more detail and interaction can surprise and even deceive users. The tradeoffs between simplicity and complexity lead to interesting—and still unsolved—visualization challenges.


Martin Wattenberg is a computer scientist and artist. He is a co-leader, with Fernanda Viégas, of Google’s “Big Picture” data visualization group. Before joining Google, he and Viégas founded Flowing Media, Inc., a visualization studio focused on media and consumer-oriented projects. Prior to Flowing Media, they led IBM’s Visual Communication Lab, where they created the ground-breaking public visualization platform Many Eyes. From 2005 to 2010, Wattenberg founded and managed IBM’s Visual Communication Lab, exploring new forms of visualization and how they can enable better collaboration. A key project was Many Eyes, an experiment in open, public data visualization and analysis. Wattenberg is known for his visualization-based artwork, which has been exhibited in venues such as the London Institute of Contemporary Arts, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the New York Museum of Modern Art.