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Designing the Part-Whole Self

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posted on 01.08.2020, 06:00 by Dario Rodighiero

According to the mathematical theory of communication, the circulation of information is given by a double translation that corresponds to two phases of encoding and decoding (Shannon 1948). With respect to data visualization, encoding translates data into graphic elements and decoding takes place during the interpretation given by the reader.

Considering the self as the basic element of Claude Shannon’s theory implies a serious reflection about the design process employed to create visualizations. How to present individuals? What is the best way to present a community? Are minorities properly represented in visual artifacts? What is the relationship between the individual and his/her community? All these questions belong to the ethical sphere of design.

When we adopt, in particular, network visualizations to represent small and large communities using the relational paradigm, these questions can be addressed more precisely. Social relations (edges) connect individuals (nodes) through well-known libraries such as d3.js, giving a graphic form to a whole community on laptop screens, smartphones, and tablets. Network visualizations represent communities by individuals, as a visual re-appropriation of the Aristotelian part-whole theory.

Yet design is a personal practice (Drucker 2014) that charges the designer with specific questions and brings to practical actions. How to draw nodes to present individuals? Which metrics can fairly space out individuals? How to manage the comparison between nodes and visual centrality? And how to give visibility to minorities?

This proposal is based on my Ph.D. dissertation (Rodighiero 2018) and my postdoctoral studies (Moon and Rodighiero 2020) that focus on the design as an ethical process to display communities and their members by making use of network visualizations, with a keen interest in both self and collective representation.

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