Indexical Visualization

The starting point of this project, a collaboration with Orkan Telhan. Published
2015 In Ubiquitous Computing, Complexity and Culture, edited by Ulrik Ekman, Jay David Bolter, Lily Diaz, Morten Søndergaard, and Maria Engberg, 288–303. New York: Routledge

Indexical Visualization – the data-less information display

Read the chapter

Contemporary cultures of ubiquitous computing have given rise to new way of interacting with digital information through embodied, ambient, contextual, performative means. Yet the way we visualize information still largely follows the logic of flat media. Data visualizations typically rely on symbolic languages found in charts, maps or conceptual diagrams. Information graphics also frequently use abstractions of concrete objects, such as illustrations and assembly diagrams. In Charles Sanders Peirce’s semiology, those two modes of representation would be referred to as symbolic and iconic signs. Information representations that transcend the established language of the flat display are rare and not always successful. We argue that the challenges of communicating embodied and ambient information call for utilizing a third category of signs from Peirce’s semiology: the index — a sign that is linked to its object through a causal connection. In this chapter, we elaborate on the role of indexical signs in visualization and argue that indexical visualization deserves a vital place in today’s computational design, visual communication and rhetoric. Here, we present a series of examples to discuss the properties of indexicality and theorize it as a new design strategy that can inform the design process of today’s material-based computation and synthetic biological design, which rely on the material organization of the sign and the conditions that encapsulate its meaning within its physical embodiment.