Computer Sciences Professor Ben Shneiderman of the University of Maryland was always drawn to the appealing aesthetic of treemaps. Used as an information visualization technique, treemapping is a method used in computer science for displaying hierarchical data by using nested rectangles.
“Although I conceived treemaps for purely functional purposes (understanding the allocation of space on a hard drive), I was always aware that there were appealing aesthetic aspects to treemaps. Maybe my experiences with OP-ART movements of the 60s & 70s gave me the idea that a treemap might become a work of art….
I believe that some topics yield data that have more vitality and interest for viewers: maybe sports data, political elections, Hollywood films, popular music, nature, pets, health, science, etc. For example, would the carbon emissions of countries around the world produce a treemap that could be laid out by the slice-and-dice or squarified algorithms and then colored in a way that would engage the eye and mind? Would the batting averages of all the players for the Washington Nationals (or New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox) interest sports fans?
Some data might be personal such as weight loss-gain or personal income-expenditures, while others might be corporate such as number of employees per division or profit/loss over 10 years.
Colored rectangular regions have been a popular theme in 20th century art, most notably in the work of Piet Mondrian, whose work was often suggested to have close affinity with treemaps. Not all his designs are treemaps, but many are. His choice of colors, aspect ratios, and layout are distinctive, so simulating them with a treemap is not as trivial as you might think. Gene Davis’ large horizontal paintings with vertical stripes of many colors were more easily generated with treemap layouts. The rectangles in Josef Albers “Homage to the Square” or Mark Rothko’s imposing paintings are not treemaps, but generating treemap variants triggered further artistic explorations. Other modern artists such as Kenneth Noland, Barnett Newman, and Hans Hofmann gave further provocations to the images in this collection. ” – Ben Shneiderman
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