More art than science: the sources and effects of stylistic variation in visualization for planning and design (Lewis 2012)

John Lewis published a paper in Environment and Planning B that I would like to draw your attention to. He addresses the important impact of "entourage" elements, e.g. atmospheric effects such as sky color and light, and human figures on the perception of urban design visualizations. An argument which resonates with my own anecdotal experiences designing architectural visualizations a long time ago and developers asking for "happy people" and "expensive cars" in their visualizations. More scientifically, Lewis quotes Luymes (2001: 200) who suggested that visualizations are “rhetorical products” that are “constructed with an audience in mind, with a specific intention, and from within a framework of personal or agency values." Do you agree and if so, what are possible solutions to make visualizations more objective? In my thesis (Schroth 2007), I proposed more interactive visualization, an argument that Lewis also presents. However, Lewis points out that more advanced interactive technology is not sufficient but the viewers themselves have to be more critical and develop appropriate visual competence. For example, it would be most helpful if standards such as Sheppard's (2001) code of ethics would be disseminate beyond academia and be applied by the viewers of urban visualizations.

In the following, please read the abstract from the journal page:

Visioning exercises using computer-based environmental visualization hold significant promise for communicating information and engaging communities in the development and review of planning proposals. The field of visualization research and practice has achieved significant advances in computer technology to the point where it is now possible to represent alternative planning and engineering scenarios with a high degree of photographic realism, data-driven accuracy, and spatial and temporal interactivity. Despite the noteworthy benefits and developments in the field of environmental visualization technology comparatively little research has investigated how visualizations are used in urban planning practice. In particular, research is needed that examines how visualization presentation is affected by the social context of planning practice and the independent judgment of the preparer, which may in turn influence plan evaluation and decision making. In this paper I discuss the significance of visualization for urban planning and design and present the results from a study where students and representatives of a citizen-led planning committee evaluated four visualization presentation styles according to perceived realism, credibility and preference for the visualized environmental plans.

For the full paper:

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