March 2015 Theme: Snapshot of Current Trends in Visualization
Guest Editors' Introduction: Theresa-Marie Rhyne and Min Chen

For this issue of Computing Now, we gathered a set of articles that exemplifies the latest developments in computer-generated visualization. In this “big data” era, more and more people appreciate the importance of visualization in observing, interpreting, and analyzing data, as well as in communicating and disseminating the discovered findings and insights to other stakeholders ranging from close colleagues to the public. At the same time, the field of visualization is growing at a notable pace, with increasing numbers of scientists and practitioners, real world applications, and technology providers.

The field is at the crossroad of computer science, several underpinning disciplines (including mathematics, cognitive sciences, software engineering, and visual communication), and numerous application fields (physical sciences, biomedical sciences, social sciences, arts and humanities, engineering, business and commerce, governance, media, education, and so on). It’s a breathtaking time to become a visualization scientist or practitioner.

Some of the articles featured in this issue of Computing Now demonstrate successful efforts to devise novel technologies to solve some of the most challenging big data problems. Others represent in-depth reflections on the functions of visualization. All five articles represent the best visualization research from 2014.

The Articles

The first three articles were published in IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics (TVCG) and received the best paper awards during the IEEE VIS 2014 conference in Paris.

Narges Mahyar and Melanie Tory’s “Supporting Communication and Coordination in Collaborative Sensemaking” received the Best Visual Analytics paper award. The article addresses a scientific question about the value of computational support in collaborative sense-making activities, reporting on an empirical study of a technique called Linked Common Work (LCW), in which similar findings are automatically discovered, linked, and visually shared among a user group. This work’s findings confirm that LCW can enable analysts to communicate and coordinate more effectively and potentially improve their analytic outcomes significantly.

In the Best Information Visualization paper, “Multivariate Network Exploration and Presentation: From Detail to Overview via Selections and Aggregations,” Stef van den Elzen and Jarke J. van Wijk propose a novel approach for exploring and analyzing large multivariate networks. Diverging from the conventional wisdom of “overview first and details on demand,” their approach to visualization proceeds from detail to overview via selections and aggregations, providing users with support for creating high-level infographic-style overviews of network data. This work will likely stimulate new scientific discourse on procedural ordering of overview and details in visualization, while offering a new methodology for handling large network datasets.

In the Best Scientific Visualization paper, “Visualization of Brain Microstructure through Spherical Harmonics Illumination of High Fidelity Spatio-Angular Fields,” Sujal Bista and his colleagues demonstrate visualization technology’s readiness to apply to new application domains. The medical imaging community is rapidly adopting diffusion kurtosis imaging (DKI) technology, a technique based on the non-gaussian diffusion of water in biologic systems. In response to the need to visualize DKI data, this article presents an innovative solution for depicting subtle changes in high-fidelity DKI data using specially designed virtual lights, called spherical harmonics lighting functions. The authors examine case studies in visualizing DKI data featuring traumatic brain injuries and cancer.

We also recommend two thought-provoking articles from IEEE Computer Graphics and Applications (CG&A). Both present scholarly discourses from the visualization community, which reach well beyond the field of visualization.

Andrew J. Hanson’s “Putting Science First: Distinguishing Visualizations from Pretty Pictures” asks a nontrivial question — how to determine whether a visualization is a valid pictorial representation of the truth or just an appealing image derived from an invalid process. He suggests two principles to answer this question — namely, Einstein’s Razor (simplicity and elegance without misleading features) and Karl Popper’s Falsifiability (recognizability of incorrectness), while advocating the value of conducting empirical studies and connecting with the principles of cognitive science.

CG&A magazine established the Dissertation Impact department in 2014, and its inaugural article featured the winner of the Visualization Pioneers Group’s 2013 Best Dissertation Competition. ( The winner, Alex Endert, received his PhD in 2012 and has recently joined Georgia Tech. His “Semantic Interaction for Visual Analytics Toward Coupling Cognition and Computation” summarizes his PhD dissertation’s main thesis: in visual analytics, cognition (of users) and computation (of analytical models) are coupled to enable a co-reasoning process. Endert argues that a new paradigm for user interaction is needed to truly couple these two processes via visualization. Semantic interaction aids in communicating insights and hypotheses visually, thus enhancing complex data analysis.

Industry Perspective Video
Miguel Encarnação highlights the challenges and opportunities for visual analytics and information visualization in the area of learning analytics.

Video transcript:  English (pdf)  |   Spanish (pdf)

Industry Perspective

For this Snapshot of Current Trends in Visualization, we include a video from L. Miguel Encarnação. In addition to being the editor in chief of IEEE Computer Graphics and Applications, he is the Chief Innovation Officer at ACT, the developer and administrator of the ACT college-entrance exam, as well as various other college and career-readiness assessments. Encarnação highlights challenges and opportunities for visual analytics and information visualization in the area of learning analytics. Visualization offers indispensable support in data-driven decision-making and visual communication for analytics experts in educational institutions as well as individual laypeople. This video offers a timely perspective on emerging personal visual analytics systems, an up-and-coming visualization application arena for big data.

The Road Ahead

These articles originally appeared in two IEEE Computer Society publications. We encourage you to follow further developments in visualization through IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics and CG&A, in particular. We hope you enjoy reading the articles and viewing the video in this selective snapshot of current visualization trends.


T.-M. Rhyne and M. Chen, “Snapshot of Current Trends in Visualization,” Computing Now, vol. 8, no. 3, March 2015, IEEE Computer Society [online];

Guest Editors

Theresa-Marie Rhyne is an independent visualization consultant. She is an advisory panel member for Computer magazine, the Visualization Viewpoints editor for IEEE Computer Graphics and Applications, and a Computing Now advisory board member. Contact her at

Min Chen is a professor of scientific visualization in the Oxford e-Research Centre at the University of Oxford, UK. He is a former associate editor in chief of IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics (2011–2014). Contact him at


Spanish    |    Chinese

Translations by Osvaldo Perez and Tiejun Huang


Listen to the Guest Editor’s Intro.