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Knowledge shapes

The shape of knowledge: improving the visual representation of information and knowledge.

Tuesday 4th September 2012, 14.00 – 18.00,
followed by networking, wine and nibbles.

Podium Lecture Theatre, London College of Communication, Elephant & Castle, London. SE1 6SB
[Location information and map (pdf)]

In this ISKO UK meeting, the focus was on the ways in which knowledge and information can be analysed and presented, for example to bring out underlying patterns or to emphasize specific aspects of the information. The meeting also examined some of the organizing principles behind the presentation and different approaches to visualizing data, information and (by extension) knowledge. This event appealed not only to those whose main business is the organization of knowledge, and who wish to disseminate this knowledge as effectively as possible, but also to designers, whose main concern is how design can be used to present knowledge and information in the most attractive and appealing way.


Where they are available, links have been provided under each presenttion as follows:
icon for link to slide presentation slide presentation
icon for link to sound recording sound recording
icon for link to sound recording and slides sound recording with synchronised slide presentation

13:30 Registration
14:00 Welcome and introduction
David Penfold, London College of Communication
14.10 The grammar of graphics? Visual methods for revealing the shape and structure of knowledge and data
Conrad Taylor   link to sound recording and slides
14.50 Mapping software
Martin Dodge, University of Manchester   icon for link to slide presentation   icon for link to sound recording
15.25 Tea and coffee break
16.00 Touch technologies as tools for analysis and structuring of concepts
Marianne Lykke, University of Aalborg, Denmark   icon for link to slide presentation   icon for link to sound recording
16.35 Open data journalism at the Guardian
Lisa Evans, The Guardian   icon for link to slide presentation   icon for link to sound recording
17.10 The comparative effects of textual vs visual presentation of the health impacts of climate change on memory, attitudes and behavioural intentions of the UK general public
Will Stahl-Timmins, University of Exeter   icon for link to slide presentation   icon for link to sound recording
17.45 General questions and conclusion
18.00 Networking, wine and nibbles
19.00 Close

Speakers were as follows:

Martin Dodge

This presentation considered the varying ways that cyberspace has been mapped, particularly in the phase of wide public awareness of the internet in 1990s. It considered the complexity of elements of cyberspace to be mapped in relation to the limits of conventional cartographic approaches, and the challenges of geographically referencing the virtual spaces. There was some consideration of the surprising failure of spatialisation of information structures to provide new map-like modes of online navigation. It will also be interesting to see if the emergence of the so-called ‘new aesthetic’ will overcome some of the these earlier challenges in mapping cyberspace. But perhaps the most pressing challenge for scholars and activists is imagine and enact ways to map the evermore ubiquitous code and hidden spaces of software that condition city spaces and so much of our everyday living.

Martin Dodge’s research focuses on conceptualising the socio-spatial power of digital technologies and virtual geographies, and the theorisation of visual representations, cartographic knowledges and novel methods of geographic visualization. He curated the well-known web-based Atlas of Cyberspaces and has co-authored three books covering aspects of the spatiality of computer technology: Mapping Cyberspace (Routledge 2000), Atlas of Cyberspace (Addison-Wesley 2001) and Code/Space (MIT Press 2011). He’s also co-edited three books, Geographic Visualization (Wiley 2008), Rethinking Maps (Routledge 2009) and The Map Reader (Wiley-Blackwell 2011), all focused on the social and cultural meanings of new kinds of mapping practice. Martin is currently at the Department of Geography, University of Manchester.

Lisa Evans

This talk will be about open data journalism at the Guardian, including the different interpretations of openness and what the Guardian is doing to involve its audience and to allow people to replicate and verify what is being done by the paper.

Lisa Evans is a writer, researcher and programmer at the Guardian working closely with the Guardian Datablog and Guardian Graphics teams. She has been working in this position for approaching two years now, and will be joining the Open Knowledge Foundation in mid October this year.

Marianne Lykke

This presentation looked at the use of touch technologies software such as VUE – Virtual Understanding Environment ( and Notebook ( as tools for analysis and structuring of concepts, eg. in relation to development of taxonomies, thesauri, or classification systems. She compared pros and cons, and compared the touch technology tools to more traditional design tools such as card sorting. Among the advantages are that the participants can all move and organize while they are discussing, working with several screens and conceptual designs, and – not least – the fact that participants can touch and use their fingers instead of a mouse to effect the creative process of analyzing concepts and relationships.

Marianne Lykke is Professor in the Department of Communication and Psychology at the University of Aalborg, Denmark. Her main research areas are communication and informatics, including communication and culture in professional settings.

Conrad Taylor

Many fields of science, medicine, business and human organisation use graphics to explore the structure of data and knowledge, and to communicate to both ‘visually literate’ experts and general audiences. The practice is ancient, but for technical reasons saw a great deal of innovation in the Victorian period and ever since. However, on the whole, these dispersed and siloed efforts have not led to much analytical thinking about what makes various kinds of graphics good or bad at communicating.

Conrad Taylor talked through and illustrated some ideas that have developed since the 1970s, which try to analyse information graphics systematically on a parallel with verbal language, employing semiotic and syntactic analysis. Today, we can extend these approaches to take account of the new technical possibilities afforded by fast computation, dynamic pivoting of the elements in graphic displays, and time-series animations. But whichever dimensions and technologies you choose, a good foundation in visual rhetoric is still worth knowing.

Conrad Taylor has been involved practically in Information Design, cartography and computer graphics for 25+ years. He currently coordinates a discussion list on knowledge, information and data management (KIDMM), and formerly assisted Yuri Engelhardt and Karel van der Waarde in running the InfoDesign-Cafe list. (Many of the ideas in this presentation drew on Yuri’s work.)

Will Stahl-Timmins

The project described investigates the effect of presentation format in understanding information on the impacts of climate change. The general public in the UK has been shown to believe that climate change is A) real and B) caused by humans. However, the UK public remains sceptical that climate change will have a significant impact upon them. This is despite publications that have suggested climate change will have a significant impact on human health, such as the IPCC 2007 ‘impacts of climate change’ report. The data contained in such reports can be complex and non-linear, and the systems relating climate and weather to health may be difficult to understand. The study aims to assess whether visual presentation can be an effective way of displaying such non-linear narratives to a general public audience.

Will Stahl-Timmins is a trained graphic designer whose design education led to an enduring interest in information design, and the use of research methods to inform design practice. His research focus is the visual presentation of data and information. He uses information graphics, interactive media and visual communication to promote understanding. His core research fits within the following themes: Information Graphics; Data visualisation; Evaluation of graphical tools. Will is currently AHEA Associate Research Fellow – Visual Presentation of Environment and Human Health Data and Information European Centre for Environment and Human Health at the University of Exeter Medical School. See


ISKO is a not-for-profit scientific/professional association with the objective of promoting research and communication in the domain of knowledge organization, within the broad field of information science and related disciplines. Founded in 2007, our UK Chapter has been attracting lively and steadily growing audiences to its afternoon meeting series (see slides and recordings at as well as its very successful second biennial conference ( last year.