Indexical Visualization

Indexical Visualization is about visualizing something by looking at the actual thing.  Most of the time we take the event and turn it into numbers (data), then we take those numbers and create a visualization out of them. The idea of indexical visualization is to skip the numbers part all together.

Here is a great indexical visualization to show how fast olympic swimmer Katie Ledecky was in her 800 meter Freestyle race.  But instead of just giving you the final times, the visualization is actually a recreation of the entire race.

Data Stories podcast presented a variety of wonderful uses of this idea within their fabulous interview with Dietmar Offenhuber about his work with indexical visualization. I really love the idea of removing the middle man, the numbers. How can we describe and visualize the information we need without translating to numbers first?

Below is another great indexical visualization of the microbes on an 8 year old’s hands after playing outside. This visualization was made by Tasha Sturm of Cabrillo College.Lastly, I want to call out the Pinterest board with more great examples of indexical visualizations. The tag line/description they use is, “physical embodiment of information, traces, evidence.”

What examples of indexical visualization can you think of? Is there anything that is easier to understand through indexical visualization? Or perhaps some things that are harder to understand if we don’t translate them into numbers first?



About Samantha from SocialMath

Applied Mathematician and writer of
This entry was posted in Art, Communicating Math, Exercise, Nature and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Indexical Visualization

  1. Ray Fischer says:

    The classic example is a model of the solar system. You can use numbers to describe the distances between the planets, but nothing gets the idea across better than building a scale model.

  2. photoscientist says:

    I am not sure if I am worthy to read the content of this knowledge.

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