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Lateral Thinking and Cross-Disciplinary Teams

In many of the discussions about data visualizations I’ve had over the years, there’s often so much focus on what goes into making things happen on the screen that what might being going on inside the head of the person looking at it is all but forgotten. That’s understandable. Programming environments, software libraries, and off-the-shelf charting and visualization tools are relatively straightforward topics for comparison and have a somewhat limited set of answers.

Human perception and cognition can be a little more complex and variable. But, that doesn’t mean those conversations should be avoided. Although questions about specific development environments and tools to create visualizations are certainly important, considering how they might be perceived is even more crucial. Two people looking at the same display can derive very different ideas from it. Figure 7-11 illustrates that a biologist and a physicist can look at the same display of data and yet ask very different but equally relevant questions about it, based on their backgrounds and perspectives.

The differing perspectives of physicists and biologists

Figure 7-11. The differing perspectives of physicists and biologists[120]

 
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