Your visual system evolved and develops to process the scenes, faces, and objects of the natural world. You then adapt that system to process the artificial world of graphs, maps, and data visualizations. This adaptation can lead alternatively to fast and powerful – or deeply slow and inefficient – visual processing. I’ll use interactive visual tasks to demonstrate the powerful capacity limits that arise when we extract structure and meaning from these artificial displays, which I will argue must occur via a slow serial language-like representation. Understanding these constraints leads to guidelines for display design and instruction techniques, across information dashboards, slide presentations, and STEM Education.
Steven Franconeri is a Professor of Psychology at Northwestern (Weinberg College), with courtesy appointments in Marketing (Kellogg School of Business) and Design (McCormick School of Engineering), and he serves as Director of the Northwestern Cognitive Science Program. His research is on visual thinking, visual communication, decision making, and the psychology of data visualization. Franconeri directs the Visual Thinking Laboratory, where a team of researchers explore how leveraging the visual system – the largest single system in your brain – can help people think, remember, and communicate more efficiently. The laboratory’s basic research questions are inspired by real-world problems, providing perspective for new and existing theories, while producing results that translate directly to science, education, design, and business.