I was struck by two concepts in the past week that I feel can play a very large role in understanding the structure of a crowd: people watching and abstract impressionism.
Whyte's text, and more clearly Whyte's film, portray people watchers, who are often time within the crowd or just to the edge of the crowd. These people watch the crowd as it flows past them, and occasionally attend to a particular person who is passing. When doing this, people watchers see the crowd as a jumble of color and form that blends together. Only general trends come through this view; all non-significant individual differences (such as different suit colors, hair colors, or heights) average out. People aren't seen, just the crowd.
When attending to a particular person, whether because they are visually conspicuous (such as a radically dressed person with a brightly colored mohawk) or because of some other reason (such as watching a woman in a sea of men), that person is brought to the forefront, thought they may be buried within the crowd, and is seen as clearly distinct from the rest of the people that constitute the crowd.
This is a very powerful way to gain an understanding for the crowd. Because of the view of the crowd as a sea of general physical attributes, and not as individual people, we can see general trends easily, such as a group of people all dressed in red moving together within the crowd. Such an impression is difficult to gain when looking only at individuals within the crowd, since we as humans have limited memory capacity and cannot maintain a representation of each individual within the crowd for comparison to every other individual. This is psychologically similar to the way masters at chess represent the board in their minds: they don't keep each indiviual piece and location in the mind, but rather group pieces and locations, and see the pattern of the board as whole. By viewing the crowd as a single object, or a small group of objects, we can perform this visual analysis much faster and easier.
Attending to a single person allowd us to forget about the crowd, and concentrate on the individual characteristics, such as the type of clothing, hair color, or path through the crowd. However, we do maintain an impression of the crowd that exists around the person of attention. This is key; maintaining an understanding of the context of the person allows us to place the information that we gain from attending to the individual.
Abstract Impressionism (and others)
While at the Museum of Fine Arts this past weekend, I walked through an exhibit of Abstract Impressionist paintings and was surprised by how similar they appeared to some of the visualizations we have done in the class.
Below are some pictures of paintings by Abstract artists (from www.allaboutart.com and artnetweb.com). There are a few things to notice. First, is the lack of concrete forms. Some paintings, like the Rothko, use just large washes of color that interact with each other and within themselves to evoke motion. Others, like Kitchell or Kandinsky, work with the interplay of the colors with each other, keeping each patch of color mostly uniform. The colors blend together to a point that we almost don't see the colors as individuals; the interaction as a whole portrays the motion of the painting.
Paul Klee distinguishes the objects in his painting more obviously, but they are small (at least in this size image) and very active, as well as very similar to each other, so motion of groups of them as a whole is seen, instead of individual objects.
(forgot artist's name)
So what can we learn from these images? Color is important. It can be used to either bring disparate objects together, such as the similar shadings of individaul objects in the Klee or in the image of villagers (I forget the artist name). Or, it can be used to distinguish objects as in the Kandinsky, where each color is distinct from it's neighbors. However we must be careful in choosing our colors: the must work together to produce a pleasing visual sensation, but must differ enought when used to show differences in data so that these differences pop out.
Also, we can distinguish very minute changes in overall color, as in the Rothko. We can use this fact to show how similar data evolve slowly over time or space (or other measure). This way, similar data is kept together as a group, since it is of similar color, but we can still see how it interacts with itself or changes over whichever axes we choose.
Armed with these observations, I created this interface for the Visualization of different groups that inhabit the same virtual or physical space. The data represented are the members of three groups in the lab: News in the Future, Things That Think, and Digital Life. Initially I thought about how the sponsors of these three groups interacted in the common space of the Lab during Demo week. The members of the different groups tended to interact mostly with other members of that group, although all three groups were present and spread throughout the space.
Were these groups to inhabit the same virtual space (which they do to a certain extent based on their interaction with students and professors at the lab), they would likely form the same kind of patterns (or so I assume). Here are each of the three groups separately displayed within the space. Active participants are more saturated, less active participants are less saturated. These should be active graphics--the people aren't just standing in one place, but are moving around to a certain extent.
Here the groups are layered on top of one another. Notice how the groups in the back get lost.
To allow all of the groups to be seen, transparency is used. Now the image begins to look like a piece of abstract art. Patterns emerge from the interaction of colors and saturation. This is difficult to see in static form, but when this visualization is used to portray dynamic data, motion patterns emerge as well.
To allow the person watcher (whomever is looking at the screen display) to attend to particular people, lenses are used to bring those people to the forefront, so that they pop out of the crowd of color and motion.
The lens can of course reveal more specific data about the people under the lens. Or, perhaps more interestingly, it can be attached to a particular person such that it follows that person around as they move within the space, revealing specific information about the people the attached person is interacting with directly.
The interface is intended to provide an eye level view of the crowd, since this is how people usually inteact with crowds in the real world. There should also be a capability to manuver within the crowd, to become part of it, so the interface would allow for the user to delve into the virtual crowd and move about within the mass of people.
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