Histrionic Visualization: The Rise of Theatrical Visual Presentation of Data

Earlier this year, while preparing for a workshop on Telling Stories with Data, I coined the term “Histrionic Visualization”, to account for certain theatrical presentations of information visualizations that I had seen. I wanted to expand on this idea a bit here.

Perhaps the best way to define what I mean by histrionic visualization is to cite some examples. For instance, Al Gore explains climate change data and visualizations in his movie An Inconvenient Truth. Gore combines a linear (sometimes animated) slide deck together with his voice over (and occasional sound effects) to present his data to the audience.

Another example of this idea came about when CNN started using Perceptive Pixel’s touch screen technology to allow on-air journalists the ability to manipulate data on the display using touch and gestures while they were broadcasting. This led to the likes of John King dynamically manipulating election visualizations while on air.

From these examples, hopefully it’s a bit more clear now what I’m talking about when I say “histrionic visualization”. These are embodied presentations of information where the physicality of the presentation itself becomes the defining factor. What new forms of tangible interaction or interfaces could enable further development here?

I think this idea could actually go a lot deeper than the examples I’ve seen too. It seems to me that acting out the presentation of visualizations is an area ripe for study. Does the physicality of the presentation help people learn or crystallize knowledge from the visualization? Are these presentations more engaging? How could you incorporate the audience into the interaction?

Moreover, could this become a new form of art, where talented storytellers weave data and visualization together with acting to engage an audience in the performance? How would the 2010 U.S. census look when presented on stage?