Tube Map Visualization: Evaluation of a Novel Knowledge
Visualization Application for the Transfer of Knowledge in Long-Term Projects
Remo Aslak Burkhard
(University of St.Gallen, Switzerland
(vasp datatecture GmbH, Switzerland
Abstract: This article introduces two theoretical concepts for
the emerging field Knowledge Visualization and discusses a new visualization
application that was used to communicate a long-term project to various
stakeholders in an organization. First, we introduce a theoretical framework
and a model for Knowledge Visualization. The framework and the model identify
and relate the key-aspects for successful Knowledge Visualization applications.
Next, we present an evaluation of an implemented Knowledge Visualization
application: The Tube Map Visualization. A quality development process
had to be established in an education centre for health care professions.
Traditional project plans, flyers, and mails did not manage to get the
attention, did present overview and detail insufficiently, and did not
motivate the employees for actions. Because Visual Metaphors are effective
for Knowledge Communication we developed a customized Knowledge Map based
on the tube system metaphor. The Tube Map Visualization illustrates the
whole project, where each tube line represents a target group and each
station a milestone. The visualization was printed as a poster and displayed
at prominent locations in the organization. The findings of an evaluation
indicate that the Tube Map Visualization is a powerful metaphor to communicate
a complex project to different target groups and to build up a mutual story.
The employees considered it useful because it provides overview and detailed
information in one image and because it initiates discussion. The Tube
Map Visualization is therefore helpful to complement traditional project
plans of (1) long-term projects where (2) different stakeholders
are involved. The theoretical framework, the model, and the findings have
implications for researchers in the fields of Knowledge Management, Knowledge
Visualization, Information Visualization, and Communication Sciences.
Keywords: knowledge visualization, information visualization,
visual metaphor, storytelling, knowledge communication, project management
This article introduces two theoretical concepts for the emerging field
Knowledge Visualization and discusses a new visualization application that
was used to communicate a long-term project to various stakeholders in
an organization. First, we introduce a theoretical framework and a model
for Knowledge Visualization. The framework and the model identify and relate
the key-aspects for successful Knowledge Visualization applications. Next,
we present an evaluation of an implemented Knowledge Visualization application:
The Tube Map Visualization.
Visual representations can be used for Knowledge Management processes,
i.e., for the identification, transfer, creation, and application of knowledge.
Knowledge Visualization is a new field of research which examines our innate
potential to effectively process visual representations in knowledge intense
tasks. Knowledge Visualization integrates results from different fields,
such as Information Visualization [Bertin, 1974;
Card et al., 1999; Chen, 1999;
Ware, 2000], Cognitive Art [Horn,
1998], Communication Sciences [Fiske, 1982],
Information Architecture [Wurman, 1996], and Knowledge
Management [Alavi and Leidner, 2001]. Knowledge Visualization
examines the use of visual representations to improve the transfer and
creation of knowledge between at least two people [Burkhard,
2004; Burkhard, 2005; Eppler
and Burkhard, 2005]. Knowledge Visualization thus designates all graphic
means that can be used to construct and convey complex insights. Beyond
the mere transport of facts, Knowledge Visualization aims to transfer insights,
experiences, attitudes, values, expectations, perspectives, opinions, and
predictions. And this in a way that enables someone else to re-construct,
remember, and apply this knowledge correctly. According to Eppler and [Burkhard
2005] six formats can be distinguished in Knowledge Visualization:
Heuristic Sketches, Conceptual Diagrams, Visual Metaphors, Knowledge Animations,
Knowledge Maps, Domain Structures.
This article uses the format Knowledge Map and integrates the potential
of Visual Metaphors for the communication of knowledge. Knowledge Maps
use cartographic conventions to reference relevant knowledge. A Knowledge
Map consists of two parts: a ground layer which represents the context
for the mapping, and the individual elements that are mapped within this
context. Visual Metaphors help to transfer knowledge, but they are rarely
used in organizations: "To convert tacit knowledge into explicit
knowledge means finding a way to express the inexpressible. Unfortunately,
one of the most powerful management tools for doing so is also among the
most frequently overlooked: the store of figurative language and symbolism
that managers can draw from to articulate their intuitions and insights."
[Nonaka, 1991]. [Eppler 2003]
describes six advantages of Visual Metaphors: (1) to motivate people, (2)
to present new perspectives, (3) to increase remembrance, (4) to support
the process of learning, (5) to focus attention and support concentration
of the viewer, (6) to structure and coordinate communication.
This article presents an implemented Knowledge Visualization application
for a long-term project. In this project different stakeholders with different
backgrounds were involved and it was difficult to motivate the employees,
to present overview and detail, and to initiate a Mutual Story. For the
visualization of such projects traditionally Gantt Charts are used, as
seen in Figure 1.
Figure 1: A Gantt Chart representing a three year quality
The strength of Gantt Charts is that they are clear, precise, and well
known. However, people generally consider them as uninspiring, demotivating,
and too detailed. Furthermore, when various persons or groups are involved,
it is difficult to get the big picture on who is collaborating with whom
for which tasks. This was the starting point of our research where we wanted
to develop a new visual format that complements traditional Gantt Charts
and that concentrates on the motivation of employees and tries to initiate
a Mutual Story. After considering various metaphors we finally have chosen
the tube system metaphor. This article discusses in detail the implementation
of the Tube Map Visualization in a real-world context where a quality development
process had to be communicated to employees with different functions and
backgrounds in an education centre for health care professions, and where
traditional project plans did not manage to establish a Mutual Story and
to motivate the employees for the participation.
The customized Tube Map Visualization is promising: The visualization
presents both, overview and detailed information in one visualization,
reduces the complexity, motivates the employees, and provokes discussion.
The evaluation has shown that the Tube Map Visualization is a powerful
metaphor to communicate a complex project to different target groups and
to build up a Mutual Story. Employees liked it because it provides both
overview and detailed information in one image and initiates discussion.
Therefore it can ideally complement traditional project plans. Before we
discuss the theoretical framework and the model we discuss the problems
and needs in today's organizations.
2 Problems and Needs in Organizations
This section discusses omnipresent and predominant problems in organizations
in regard to the transfer of knowledge. Knowledge Visualization faces these
challenges and allows to overcome these problems.
First challenge - Knowledge Transfer: Today, contents are becoming
more complex, abstract, and interrelated. And for the transfer mainly verbal
representations are used.
In organizations there is a need to complement verbal representations
with visual representations. To do so, organizations need guidelines to
face their daily challenges: The war for attention, the limited time and
mental capacity of the audience, and the need to provide the relevant information
in different levels of detail. Today, in organizations only a limited set
of tools are used (e.g., PowerPoint, Excel, business Diagrams, clip arts),
and a lack of visual competence results often in bad use or even misuse
of such visual formats, which can lead to misinformation and/or misinterpretation.
In organizations the ignorance on the various different functions of visual
representations leads to the fact that visualizations are only used in
specific domains, i.e., Advertising, Marketing, Corporate Identity. A variety
of functions are unknown in organizations and therefore not used. Examples
for such functions are the interactive visual exploration of data, the
mapping of information to present both an overview and detail, the use
of Visual Metaphors to transfer and remember complex concepts, or visual
Storytelling to disseminate knowledge.
Second challenge - Interfunctional Communication: Today, the
transfer of knowledge needs to overcome another difficult problem: The
varying needs and backgrounds of the addressed recipients. In general individuals
can only understand something, if it can be connected to something they
already know. But this differs. Therefore knowing and addressing the background
and the context of the individual recipient is decisive. This results in
a complex task for the visual knowledge transfer: On the one hand the visual
formats need to be target group specific, which will result in different
formats and different amounts of information depicted; on the other hand
these contents that are presented to the different stakeholders should
not be contradictory.
Third challenge - Information Overload: Today, we are surrounded
by information, but still have a limited capacity (and time) for absorbing
new information. In its worst scenario it can lead to an information paralysis
where people cannot pickup relevant information anymore. This so called
information overload is a predominant problem in organizations. On the
one hand we can perceive an increasing quantity of information; on the
other hand we can indicate a decreasing quality of the information provided.
As a consequence it is hard for recipients to identify the relevant information.
The needs, in regard to information overload, are to catch the attention,
to offer strategies to better filtering and exploring potentially relevant
information, and to improve the information quality systematically. To
do so, it is important to prevent misunderstanding, misinterpretation,
and misuse of information.
This section introduced three challenges that we have to face when we
exploit our innate abilities to process visualizations. Next we discuss
these innate abilities to process visualizations.
3 Related Work: Exploiting our Innate Abilities to Communicate Knowledge
Knowledge Visualization combines approaches from Information Visualization,
Didactic techniques, Visual Cognition, and Visual Communication Research,
as well as more practical approaches, such as Business Diagramming, Visual
Programming Languages, Graphic Design, or Interaction Design. The three
main related fields are introduced next:
3.1 Information Visualization
Information Visualization is a rapidly advancing field of study and
is described by [Card et al., 1999; Chen,
1999; Spence, 2000; Ware, 2000].
As stated earlier, [Card et al. 1999] define it,
as " the use of computer-supported, interactive, visual representations
of abstract data to amplify cognition". Since the 1990ies,
new visualization methods allow to explore data by offering different
methods. Examples of such applications are Tree Maps [Johnson
and Shneiderman, 1991; Shneiderman, 1992], Cone
Trees [Robertson and Mackinlay, 1991] and Hyperbolic
3D [Munzner, 1998]. Information Visualization builds
on theories in Information Design, Computer Graphics, Human-Computer Interaction,
and Cognitive Science. These new applications allow the user to interactively
explore abstract data with visual methods. Ideally in the sequence discussed
by Shneiderman's Visual Information Seeking Mantra [[Shneidermann 1996]: "overview
first, zoom in and filter, then show details on demand" Information
Visualization applications allow users to visually explore data in real-time,
to discover patterns (e.g., trends, clusters, gaps, or outliers) concerning
individual items or groups of items with the overall goal to derive new
insights. Information Visualization applications have three main characteristics:
They are interactive (i.e., they use direct manipulation user interface
techniques to apply operations such as filtering), dynamic (i.e.,
the visualization is rendered in real-time), and they embed details
in context (i.e., they use focus and context techniques such as distortion
or dynamic zooming).
3.2 Visual Communication Studies
Different isolated research fields contribute valuable results for the
visual communication of knowledge: Visualizing Information in Print [Bertin,
1974; Tufte, 1990; Tufte, 1997],
Cognitive Art, Hypermedia Design [Horn, 1998], Information
Architecture [Wurman, 1996], Graphics Design, Interface
Design, Interaction Design and Human-Computer Interaction. From a theoretical
perspective there are different contributions that help to improve the
transfer of knowledge, particularly Communication Sciences [Fiske,
1982], the Psychology of Learning [Mandl and Levin,
1989; Weidenmann, 1989], and Cognitive Psychology
[Farah, 2000]. These contributions show how visual
representations affect our social cognition processes both positively (improving
understanding) and negatively (manipulating perception and interpretation).
3.3 Visual Cognition and Perception
A majority of our brain's activity deals with processing and analyzing
visual images. To understand perception, it is important to remember that
our brain does not differ greatly from that of our ancestors, the troglodytes.
At that time, perception helped for basic functions, for example for hunting
(motion detection), seeking food (color detection), or applying tools (object-shape
To comprehend Visual Perception, the Gestalt Principles [Koffka,
1935; Ellis, 1938] are helpful to understand
how we perceive groups of objects or parts of objects, by identifying various
perceptual phenomena. The Gestalt Principles provide descriptive insights
into form and pattern perception. But unfortunately they do not offer explanations
of these phenomena. To understand how or why we perceive form and pattern,
we need to consider explanatory theories of perception. But before we come
to these theories we introduce how visual information is being processed
[Gregory, 1998; Farah, 2000;
Ware, 2000; Goldstein, 2001].
Visual information processing can be divided into two stages: In the
first stage, information is parallelly processed in the eye and the primary
visual cortex, where individual neurons in specific areas (called V1, V2,
V3, V4, MT) are specialized to identify particular features (e.g., orientation,
color, texture, contour and/or motion). At this early stage information
processing proceeds pre-attentively and very rapidly. In the second stage,
information processing is divided into two functionally independent complementary
subsystems, "two cortical visual systems" in the terminology
of [Ungerleider and Mishkin 1982]: One visual subsystem
is more important for object identification (~what) and the other for spatial
These findings however do not explain yet how we visually perceive form,
which is being investigated by Visual Perception Research [Ware,
2000; Goldstein, 2001], where two complementary
theoretical approaches exist: bottom-up (Direct Perception) and
top-down (Constructive Perception) theories: Direct Perception (bottom-up)
believes that all the information we need to perceive is in the sensory
input we receive. Three main bottom-up approaches can be differentiated:
(1) The Template-Matching Theory states that we have highly detailed
templates of patterns stored in our mind, (2) the Prototype-Matching
Theory believes in classes of prototypes with the most typical features
of a pattern, (3) and the Feature-Matching Theory suggests that
we match features (i.e., line orientation) of a pattern to features stored
in memory. Constructive Perception (top-down) [Bruner,
1957; Gregory, 1980; Rock,
1983] in contrast believes that an individual's perception is based
on the combination of sensory information with prior knowledge and previous
Above, we introduced some theoretical backgrounds of Visual Image Processing
and Visual Perception. This background is helpful to understand when we
want to exploit our innate abilities to process visual representations.
But it also becomes evident that there are few applications of these findings
for practitioners. What is important is to bridge the gap from theory to
practice by clarifying the functions of visualizations that are relevant
for knowledge-intense tasks. In short, visual representations help (1)
to address emotions, (2) to illustrate relation, (3) to discover trends,
patterns, or outliers, (4) to get and keep the attention of recipients,
(5) to support remembrance and recall, (6) to present both overview and
detail, (7) to facilitate learning, (8) to coordinate individuals, (9)
to motivate people and establish a Mutual Story, and/or (10) to energize
people to initiate action by illustrating options to act.
Several studies prove the power of visualizations with regard to these
functions. Some examples: (1) [Miller 1956] reports
that a human's input channel capacity is greater when visual abilities
are used. (2) Our brain has a strong ability to identify patterns, which
is examined in Gestalt Psychology [Koffka, 1935;
Ellis, 1938]. (3) Visual Imagery [Kosslyn,
1980; Shepard and Cooper, 1982] suggests that
visual recall is better than verbal recall.
(Yet, it is not clear how images are stored and recalled, but it is
clear that humans have a natural ability to use images). (4) Visual representations
are superior to verbal-sequential representations in various cognitive
tasks [Larkin and Simon, 1987; Glenberg
and Langston, 1992; Bauer and Johnson-Laird, 1993;
Novick, 2001]. (5) Instructional Psychology and Media
Didactics investigate the learning outcome in knowledge acquisition from
text and pictures [Mandl and Levin, 1989], and [Weidenmann
1989] explores aspects of illustrations in the learning process.
This section introduced a theoretical background on our visual channel.
With the aim to improve the understanding on how our innate abilities to
process visual representations can be exploited to create and share insights.
We then introduced a function type perspective. However, this is only one
perspective that needs to be considered. Three additional perspectives
are discussed in the next section.
4 Knowledge Visualization Framework
For an effective transfer of knowledge through visualizations four perspectives
(Figure 2) should be considered, which are based on
four relevant questions:
- Why should knowledge be visualized? (aim)
- What type of knowledge needs to be visualized? (content)
- Who is being addressed? (recipient)
- What is the best method to visualize this knowledge? (medium)
These questions lead to the Knowledge Visualization Framework, which
is grounded in previous frameworks [Burkhard, 2004;
Eppler and Burkhard, 2005] and can be seen in Figure
Figure 2: The Knowledge Visualization Framework
The Knowledge Visualization Framework consists of four perspectives
that need to be considered when creating visual representations that aim
to transfer and create knowledge: A Function Type Perspective answers why
a visualization should be used, a Knowledge Type Perspective clarifies
the nature of the content, a Recipient Type Perspective points to the different
backgrounds of the recipient/audience, and finally the Visualization Type
Perspective structures the main visualization types according to their
4.1 The Function Type Perspective
The Function Type Perspective distinguishes six functions of visual
representations that can be exploited. These have social, emotional, and
cognitive benefits and can be summarized in the CARMEN-Acronym [Eppler
and Burkhard, 2005]:
- Coordination. Visual representations help to coordinate individuals
in the communication process (e.g., Knowledge Maps, Visual Tools for Collaboration,
- Attention. Visual representations allow to get the attention
by addressing emotions (e.g., Advertising), to keep the attention (e.g.,
Sketching on a flipchart) by identifying patterns, outliers, and trends
(e.g., Information Visualization).
- Recall. Visual representations improve memorability, remembrance,
and recall, because we think in images (e.g., Visual Metaphor, Storytelling,
- Motivation. Visual representations inspire, motivate, energize,
and activate viewers (e.g., Knowledge Maps, Mutual Stories, Instructive
- Elaboration. Visual representations foster the elaboration of
knowledge in teams (e.g., discussing scenarios of a new product by the
use of Heuristic Sketches or a Physical Model).
- New Insights. Visual representations support the creation of
new insights by embedding details in context and illustrating relationships
between objects (e.g., Information Visualization) or lead to A-ha effects
(e.g., Visual Metaphors).
4.2 The Knowledge Type Perspective
The Knowledge Type Perspective aims to identify the type of knowledge
that needs to be transferred. Such different types of knowledge are investigated
in the field of Knowledge Management. For our framework, five types of
knowledge are distinguished: Declarative Knowledge (Know-what, e.g., facts),
Procedural Knowledge (Know-how, e.g., processes), Experimental Knowledge
(Know-why, e.g., causes), Orientational Knowledge (Know-where, e.g., knowledge
sources), Individual Knowledge (Know-who, e.g., experts). Today, no classification
exists that links visualization types to knowledge types.
4.3 The Recipient Type Perspective
The Recipient Type Perspective aims to identify the target group and
the context of the recipient which can be an individual, a team, a whole
organization, or a network of persons. Knowing the context and the cognitive
background of the recipient/audience is essential for finding the right
visualization method for the transfer of knowledge. Except from Human Computer
Interaction researchers (HCI) who focus on task analysis and ethnographic
user studies, academic researchers in Information Design and Information
Visualization do not focus on the Recipient Type Perspective.
4.4 Visualization Type Perspective
The Visualization Type Perspective structures the visualization methods
into seven main groups: Sketches, Diagrams, Images, Maps, Objects, Interactive
Visualizations, and Stories. These seven types are grounded and derived
from the seven visualization methods architects use to transfer and create
knowledge [Burkhard, 2004]. Examples can be further
found in [Eppler and Burkhard, 2005]. Each visualization
type has particular strengths and weaknesses that are discussed next:
Sketches represent the main idea, are atmospheric, and help to
quickly visualize an idea. Sketches are used to assist the group reflection
and communication process by making knowledge explicit and debatable.
For the transfer and creation of knowledge, Sketches have five strengths:
(1) Sketches represent the main idea and key features of a preliminary
study and support reasoning and arguing. (2) They are atmospheric, versatile,
and universally accessible. (3) They are fast to create, and help to quickly
visualize an idea. (4) They keep the attention (e.g., the use of a pen
on a flipchart attracts the attention towards the communicator). (5) Sketches
allow room for own interpretations and foster the creativity in groups.
Diagrams by contrast are abstract, schematic representations
used to explore structural relationships among parts. [Garland
1979] defines a Diagram as a "visual language sign having the
primary purpose of denoting function and/or relationship". The
type of knowledge that is conveyed by Diagrams is analytic; Diagrams are
therefore structured and systematic.
For the transfer and creation of knowledge, Diagrams help to make abstract
concepts accessible, help to reduce complexity, to amplify cognition, to
explain causal relationships, to structure information, and to discuss
relationships. Apart from established Diagrams new types of Diagrams are
currently being developed for the transfer and creation of knowledge in
teams. This is done again by architects and urban planners. Why? When it
comes to complex factors, such as social, cultural, or economic factors
in urban planning, the conventional business Diagrams are not suitable
to create new insights in teams and to transfer such insights. Therefore
architects and urban planners were forced to develop new types of Diagrams
that allow to illustrate higher complexities or to represent more parameters
in a single Diagram. Today, almost every leading architecture or urban
planning office 1 in the world has developed
its own visual diagramming language for knowledge-intense processes.
Maps follow cartographic conventions to reference knowledge.
A Map generally consists of two elements: A ground layer represents the
context (e.g., a network of experts, a project, a city) and individual
elements (e.g., experts, project milestones, roads). In the context of
Knowledge Management, Maps are called Knowledge Maps.
Examples: Asymptote Architecture (www.asymptote-architecture.com),
Morphosis (www.morphosis.net), MVRDV
The Office for Metropolitan Architecture OMA with its research department
AMO (www.oma.nl), Eisenman Architects,
or the UN Studio (www.unstudio.com).
They illustrate both overview and detail, and interrelationships among
these details. Thus Knowledge Maps are graphic directories of knowledge-sources,
-assets, -structures, or -processes. However, Knowledge Maps can also be
fictitious and address visions, or Stories, for example to establish a
mutual context in an organization.
For the transfer and creation of knowledge, Maps help to present the
overview and the details, to structure information, to motivate and activate
employees, to establish a common Story, and to ease access to information.
Images are impressive, expressive, or represent reality. Images
address emotions and they are inspiring, appealing, motivating, and energizing.
Therefore, they are widely used as a key instrument in Advertising. Images
can be grasped and recalled in less than a second and sometimes be remembered
for decades (i.e., key-images of the war in Vietnam or Iraq). The same
effects can be used for the transfer of business related knowledge, e.g.,
by using Visual Metaphors. Visual Metaphors support remembrance, lead to
A-ha effects, support reasoning, and communication. They are instant, rapid
and highly instructive, and facilitate learning.
For the transfer of knowledge, Images help to get the attention (e.g.,
Advertising), inspire recipients (e.g., art), address emotions (e.g., Advertising),
improve recall (i.e., signs, Visual Metaphors), or initiate discussion
(e.g., satirical comic).
Objects exploit the third dimension and allow experiencing materials.
Objects in space are helpful for example for information points, knowledge
fairs, or exhibitions to complement physical and digital visualizations
and to show the content from different points of view.
For the transfer of knowledge, Objects help to attract recipients, support
learning through constant presence, or allow to integrate digital interfaces.
Interactive Visualizations allow to access, explore, and make
sense of different types of information. This is the domain of Interaction
Design and Information Visualization applications. An elaborated example
of such an Information Visualization application is described in [Brodbeck
and Girardin 2003]. Another application, the Infoticle application
[Vande Moere et al., 2004], uses data-driven particles
(Infoticles) to explore large time-varying datasets with reoccurring
data objects that alter in time in an immersive environment. Animating
these Infoticles leads to an animation that allows to see the behaviour
of individual data entries or the global context of the whole dataset.
For the transfer of knowledge, interactive visualizations help to fascinate
people, enable interactive collaboration across time and space, allow to
represent and explore complex data, or to create new insights.
Stories, the last visualization type, are imaginary (i.e., not
physical) visualizations that are efficient in transferring and disseminating
knowledge across time and space. The use of Stories, called Storytelling,
allows to transport an illustrative mental image by the use of spoken or
written language and can be used in organizational practice [Loebbert,
To transfer knowledge, imaginary visualizations complement the other
six visual formats and are valuable to establish a shared vision, a Mutual
Story, to motivate and activate individuals.
All together this section introduced the four relevant perspectives
that need to be considered when one is concerned in successful visual knowledge
transfer: A Function Type Perspective answers why a visualization
should be used, a Knowledge Type Perspective clarifies the nature
of the content, a Recipient Type Perspective points to the different
backgrounds of the recipient/audience, and finally the Visualization
Type Perspective differs seven main visualization types according to
their individual characteristics. Next we discuss a model that identifies
and relates the necessary elements which must be considered for a successful
transfer of knowledge.
5 Knowledge Visualization Model
Choosing the right visual format demands skills and experience. But,
a general model for Knowledge Visualization helps to assist practitioners
and to mediate among researchers from different fields. Such a model identifies
and relates the features that contribute most to a successful behavior
when visual representations are used to transfer and create knowledge.
Such a model is needed for three reasons: First, Communication Sciences
models [Lasswell, 1948; Shannon
and Weaver, 1949; Newcomb, 1953; Gerbner,
1956; Jakobson, 1960] are too general with regard
to the use of visual representations. Second, Visualization Scientists
do not offer a holistic model for the transfer and creation of knowledge
with visual representations. Third, the model complements the Knowledge
Visualization Framework and together can achieve the goals of Knowledge
Visualization discussed above. We call this missing model the Knowledge
Visualization Model. It is described next.
5.1 The Knowledge Visualization Model
The Knowledge Visualization Model (Figure 3) is
divided into three parts: a sender, a medium, and a recipient. These three
parts are all interlinked in an interaction and communication loop and
discussed in [Burkhard 2005].
The model describes inter- and intrapersonal iterative processes: The
process starts with a sender who wants to transfer some of his knowledge
(knowledge) to a recipient (A). His mental model of this knowledge (mental
model sender) is being externalized into various explicit and complementary
visual representations (B), which can be divided into three sub-processes
(1,2,3) following a temporal sequence: First, the sender needs to get the
attention (1) of the recipient, for instance by using a provocative image.
Second, the sender needs to illustrate the context (2), provide overview
(2), and present options to act (2). Only then the sender can point to
selected details (3), which ideally happens in a dynamic dialog with the
recipient (D), who re-constructs (C) similar knowledge (Knowledge') based
on these complementary visualizations an own mental image (mental model
recipient). But due to different assumptions, believes, or backgrounds
inferences and misinterpretations can occur (E), which may lead to a failure
of the knowledge re-construction. Then, the sender iteratively refines
or adds further visual representations (F), until the knowledge transfer
process is successful.
Figure 3: The Knowledge Visualization Model with a sender,
a recipient and complementary visualizations as a medium.
The model introduces the salient features that need to be considered
when complementary visual representations are used to transfer or create
knowledge. Next we discuss guidelines for using the framework.
When applying the model several guidelines may be considered. They are
discussed in this section.
First, a designer needs to understand and assess the quality of the
information and check whether the information is complete, reliable, and
relevant for the recipient who is being addressed. Then he should concentrate
on the social, cultural, and educational background of the recipient and
know his personal or functional needs. Then the designer should address
the context and present both overview and detail on the information, and
ideally options to act - options for how the knowledge can be applied.
By doing so the visualization should be compressed to the core messages
or contents and be consistent. Consistent in regard to the logic, the way
to interact with it (e.g., in interactive applications), and to the use
of visual elements. Elements such as color, shape, size, symbols, or fonts
should be similar for similar types of data in all visualizations. By doing
so it is important to prevent potential misinterpretation, misuse, or misunderstanding:
In ambiguous situations text should help to clarify the message and decorations
or the unnecessary use of elements such as clip-arts or strong colors should
be avoided because they may distract the audience. In motivational tasks
visual representations should be designed to cause thinking, and to encourage
users to elaborate own knowledge. To do so, imaginary visual representations
help to disseminate and establish a shared vision.
After discussing the general guidelines the model is applied in one
Knowledge Visualization application.
6 Tube Map Visualization: A Visual Metaphor for Interfunctional Communication
In an education center for health care professions a complex quality
development process has to be communicated to different target groups.
Understanding and motivation among all employees are important to achieve
the quality certification. The involved employees have different functions
and backgrounds, so their information need diverges: Some employees need
to know details, some suffer from an information overload. This situation
makes it difficult to communicate the appropriate amount of information
and lead to different questions.
- Attention - How can we draw the employees' attention for the
- Overview - How can we present an overview of the project?
- Details - How can we reduce the information overload and still
communicate detailed information?
- Strong Metaphor - How can we create a metaphor for the
- Motivation - How can we build up a Mutual Story and provoke
From our professional experience in visual Knowledge Communication we
believe that successful implementations are tailored to the target users'
experience and to the nature of the information need. The tube system (subway
system) seems to be a promising metaphor: (1) because it implies a dynamic
and complex system where unpredictable occurrences can happen, (2) because
the tube system helps people to reach their targets, (3) because the tube
map is appealing and fascinating for urban people, (4) because it presents
both overview and detail in one image, (5) because it structures the information
and enables to zoom in to details on demand. The tube system has been adapted
to the process: Each tube line represents one target group, each station
represents an individual or collective milestone, as seen in Figure
4 and 5.
The map has been drawn with the software Adobe Illustrator 10 2
and has been refined in several meetings. Initially we were thinking
about computational procedures that generate the tube map. But we decided
to draw the tube map manually because it helped optimising the aesthetic
value which is essential to get the attention. The poster has been made
in three iterative steps. In three meetings the management board has made
corrections and added further information on the full scale printouts.
Full scale printouts have been used so that the managers could easily imagine
the final map. After each meeting we have transferred the corrections to
a meaningful new version of the map. The final poster has been displayed
at prominent locations, similar to Figure 6, which
illustrates another Tube Map Visualization application in another organization
Figure 4: The Tube Map Visualization (1,2 x 2,4 meter) presents
overview and detail on a three year quality development process. Each tube
line represents one target group, each station a project milestone. The
quality certification is the mutual goal of the project. It starts at the
left side (2001) and ends at the right side (2005).
Figure 5: Zoom-In with collective and target-group specific
milestones (stations). Each tube line (target group) stops at the stations
(milestones) where the target groups are involved. The stations are tagged
with descriptions and a date, so that the employees get detailed information
Figure 6: The Tube Map Visualization of another complex project
that had to be communicated to different stakeholders. The Tube Map Visualization
is located next to the elevator and fosters discussions.
Positive feedback from the employees has encouraged us to evaluate the
effectiveness of the Tube Map Visualization. The evaluation and the findings
are discussed in the next section.
7 Evaluation: Methodology and Results
The hypothesis we tested is: The Tube Map Visualization is an effective
method for communicating a complex project to different stakeholders. Several
assumptions have been evaluated:
- Attention - The different stakeholders are attracted to the Tube Map
- Overview - The different stakeholders get an overview on the complex
- Details - The different stakeholders consider the amount of information
as appropriate. Users can zoom in on details depending on their information
- Strong Metaphor - The different stakeholders understand the metaphor
and its adaptation to the project.
- Motivation - The different stakeholders can build up a Mutual Story
based on using the same metaphor.
- Discussion - The different stakeholders discuss regularly on the project
due to the constant presence of the Tube Map Visualization posters.
7.2 Target group
The target group has consisted of all employees whom the Tube Map Visualization
addressed; in total 81 persons. The employees have different educational
backgrounds. Most of them have diplomas in the area of health care professions.
Two months after the Tube Map Visualization had been made public, a
paper based customized questionnaire has been distributed to the 81 employees.
The questionnaire consists of two parts: Questions to the Tube Map Visualization
and general questions (as age, background or education). Comments could
be added to each question. At the end of the questionnaire, it is asked,
what the participants like and dislike the most. The participation has
been voluntary and anonymous. The original questions are asked in German.
For this publication the questions are translated into English, as seen
in Figure 7.
45 out of 81 questionnaires have returned (response rate = 0,56). 62
percent of the population is female, 29 percent male and 9 percent haven't
answered the question to its gender. One person has a university degree.
76 percent have a diploma in the health care sector that is accepted by
the Swiss Red Cross. 23 percent have a higher education similar to a university
degree 3. 76 percent is between 31 and
50 years old. The average time they are employed in the education center
is 6.2 years.
Figure 7 presents the results from the questions concerning the Tube
Attention: Each person has seen and studied the Tube Map Visualization.
Each participant could answer all questions on the questionnaire.
Overview: The visualization helped the employees to get the missing
overview on the project. Several employees have made written comments that
they could grasp the whole project and that the Tube Map Visualization
gives them orientation. The feeling of uncertainty is transferred to interest
and motivation. 78 percent of the participants states that the tube map
gives them overview, (Q1: 51 percent = true, 27 percent = very true).
Details on demand: The employees consider the amount of information
appropriate. However, the comments show that for some users there is too
much, for others not enough information. Question 2 and comments for question
2 show that the employees wish further information. The tube map motivates
people to get further information. The results show that the amount of
data needs special attention and further investigations.
Figure 7: The results of the questionnaire. The numbers in
the bars represent per cent. (n=45).
Strong metaphor: The employees understand the metaphor. Meanwhile
the tube map is a synonym for the quality development process. The results
of the questions 3 and 4 show that presenting milestones as stations and
target groups as tube lines makes sense for the employees. The employees
like the visualization. According to Question 6, 60 percent of the participants
are attracted (38 percent = true) or very attracted (22 percent = very
true) by the Tube Map Visualization. 66 percent say (24 percent = very
true, 22 percent = true) that they immediately think of the tube map, when
they hear the title of the project. (In a meeting ten months after the
questionnaire, feedbacks from employees have considered this effect even
Motivation: The feedback from the interviews with the management
board showed that the Tube Map Visualization has been motivating the employees
to study the project more deeply. 40 percent (Q13: 2 percent = very true,
18 percent = true, 20 percent = partly true) claim that the Tube Map Visualization
motivates them additionally for the project.
Discussion: The location and size of the poster have fostered
discussion - with colleagues and at home. The tube map metaphor has established
a mutual story for the quality development process.
Learning: Even if it hasn't been a task that the employees remember
dates in detail, we are interested whether the employees remember detail.
46 percent of the participants say that they remember milestones (Question
10). However, we haven't verified, if the dates are correct.
Attention: Three employees consider the visualization as too
Overview: The comments of two participants say, that initially
they were confused by the metaphor. But interestingly no-one is distracted
by the linear structure of the tube map due to the mapping of the linear
Details on demand: The right amount of information to be presented
remains the key issue. Few people desire more detailed information to the
Motivation: Further studies with two focus groups have to be
made to give answers how the Tube Map Visualization supports learning.
Discussion: Only 27 percent of the participants states, that
they have discussed on the tube map in their spare time or at home.
Learning: Further studies with two focus groups have to be made
to give answers how the tube map supports learning.
The evaluation proves that the Tube Map Visualization is an effective
tool for interfunctional communication of a complex project and complements
Gantt Charts. However, the static posters are not suitable if major changes
and modifications occur in the future. We consider an interactive map as
an additional tool on the intranet as a useful option to offer detailed
information on selective milestones. The results illustrate, that 42 percent
of the participants states that a similar map should be accessible on the
intranet (Q8: 27 percent = true, 16 percent = very true). We currently
test whether the process of creating a map can be automated by a software.
Face-to-face meetings with the persons involved in the management board
have shown that the Tube Map Visualization is a useful tool to coordinate
the management board and to unify them on the contents. The main disadvantage
is that the printed posters are static and that major changes are difficult
This article introduced a new visualization method and an evaluation
of its implementation in a quality development process in an organization.
Summary: First, we introduced a theoretical framework and a model for
Knowledge Visualization. The framework and the model identify and relate
the key-aspects for successful Knowledge Visualization applications. Next,
we discussed and evaluated a Knowledge Visualization application.
A complex project had to be communicated to employees in an education
centre for health care professions. Traditional visualization did not succeed.
We adapted the metaphor of a tube map to illustrate the project. Each tube
line represented a target group. The stations represented milestones. The
Tube Map Visualization, printed on posters, enabled to get the attention,
to give overview and to motivate the employees to act. An evaluation verified
our hypothesis: It proved that the Tube Map Visualization attracts the
employees, presents overview, and establishes a Mutual Story. The visualization
further fosters discussion and supports understanding. The evaluation made
clear that the Tube Map Visualization is a powerful metaphor for the interfunctional
communication of a complex project. The main weakness is that the printed
posters are static and difficult to update. Individual interviews with
the management board further showed that the process of creating the map
is effective to unify the management board, which as a result improves
the general information and communication quality.
Contributions: This article presented both a theoretical framework and
a model and introduced the Tube Map Visualization application. All together
these contributions highlight the cognitive, social, and emotional benefits
of visualizations for the transfer of knowledge. The main benefits are:
(1) Visual representations help to coordinate individuals and initiate
discussion. (2) They allow to get and keep the attention of individuals.
(3) They improve memorability, remembrance, and recall. (4) They inspire,
motivate, energize, and activate recipients. (5) They lead to further understanding
and deeper insight, as one interacts with them. (6) They can reveal previously
hidden relationships and lead to new insights or A-ha experiences.
Drawbacks: Visualizations can have drawbacks with regard to specific
contexts. One main disadvantage is the time and cost that are needed for
professional visualizations and the difficult maintenance. Another disadvantage
is misinterpretation or manipulation of recipients. Future research will
have to investigate these potential negative effects empirically in authentic
application contexts. Five main drawbacks are discussed in [Eppler
and Burkhard 2005]. (1) They can lead to confusion, (2) they can lead
to an overload or oversimplification, (3) they can lead to misuse or misrepresentation,
(4) the can be used for manipulation, or (5) they can be ambiguous in their
Trends: Knowledge Visualization will evolve with regard to new formats
and new application areas. The potential to combine various formats
(such as Diagrams, Maps, and Visual Metaphors) in a complementary way (as
architects use them) seems obvious. It also seems clear that Knowledge
Visualization will be used in other settings than just the traditional
computer desktop environment. Examples of new application areas for Knowledge
Visualization can be found, for example, in the visual communication of
corporate missions, strategies, value propositions, and business scenarios.
New applications can also be envisioned by combining Knowledge Visualization
with other innovative approaches in Knowledge Management, such as Storytelling.
Storytelling is in fact a closely related Knowledge Management tool, as
it strives for rich, mental imagery [Loebbert, 2003].
We believe that Stories can be combined with Knowledge Visualization formats
to trigger and accelerate the creation and dissemination of knowledge in
In conclusion, we believe that additional time and budget for Knowledge
Visualization should be allocated in future corporate Knowledge Management
initiatives and in future research initiatives on Knowledge Management.
Knowledge Visualization clearly is an idea whose time has come. To put
this idea into practice, however, still requires great efforts.
10 Future Work
In our future studies we will make further evaluations. First, we want
to find out the acceptance of interactive computer based maps. Second,
we want to make comparisons with traditional project plans (i.e. Microsoft
Project) and the Tube Map Visualization. Third, we want to find out more
on the appropriate amount of information on the tube map. Finally, we want
to test, whether the tube map can be created with a computational algorithm.
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