Increasingly, designers need to present information in ways that aid their audience’s thinking process. Fortunately, results from the relatively new science of human visual perception provide valuable guidance. In Visual Thinking for Design, Colin Ware takes what we now know about perception, cognition, and attention and transforms it into concrete advice that designers can directly apply. He demonstrates how designs can be considered as tools for cognition - extensions of the viewer’s brain in much the same way that a hammer is an extension of the user’s hand. Experienced professional designers and students alike will learn how to maximize the power of the information tools they design for the people who use them.

Key Features

Presents visual thinking as a complex process that can be supported in every stage using specific design techniques. Provides practical, task-oriented information for designers and software developers charged with design responsibilities. Includes hundreds of examples, many in the form of integrated text and full-color diagrams. Steeped in the principles of “active vision,” which views graphic designs as cognitive tools.


Designers of all kinds, including professionals and students in information design, industrial design, interaction design, web design, and users of information visualization, who need practical guidance in visual and cognitive science in order to excel at their jobs—or future jobs.

Table of Contents

VISUAL QUERIES The Apparatus and Process of Seeing The Act of Perception Bottom-Up Top-Down Implications for Design Nested Loops Distributed Cognition Conclusion WHAT WE CAN EASILY SEE The Machinery of Low-Level Feature Analysis What Stands Out = What We Can Bias for Visual Search Strategies and Skills Using Multiscale Structure to Design for Search Conclusion STRUCTURING TWO DIMENSIONAL SPACE 2.5D Space The Pattern-Processing Machinery The Binding Problem: Features to Contours The Generalized Contour Texture Regions Interference and Selective Tuning Patterns, Channels, and Attention Intermediate Patterns Pattern Learning Visual Pattern Queries and the Apprehendable Chunk Spatial Layout Horizontal and Vertical Pattern for Design Examples of Pattern Queries with Common Graphical Artifacts Semantic Pattern Mappings COLOR The Color-Processing Machinery Opponent Process Theory Channel Properties Principles for Design Color-Coding Information Emphasis and Highlighting Color Sequences Color on Shaded Surfaces Semantics of Color Conclusion GETTING THE INFORMATION: VISUAL SPACE AND TIME Depth Perception and Cue Theory 2.5D DESIGN Affordances The Where Pathway Artificial Interactive Spaces


No. of pages:
© 2008
Morgan Kaufmann
Print ISBN:
Electronic ISBN:

About the author

Colin Ware

The author takes the "visual" in visualization very seriously. Colin Ware has advanced degrees in both computer science (MMath, Waterloo) and the psychology of perception (Ph.D., Toronto). He has published over a hundred articles in scientific and technical journals and at leading conferences, many of which relate to the use of color, texture, motion, and 3D in information visualization. In addition to his research, Professor Ware also builds useful visualization software systems. He has been involved in developing 3D interactive visualization systems for ocean mapping for over twelve years, and he directed the development of the NestedVision3D system for visualizing very large networks of information. Both of these projects led to commercial spin-offs. Professor. Ware recently moved from the University of New Brunswick in Canada to direct the Data Visualization Research Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire.

Affiliations and Expertise

Data Visualization Research Lab, University of New Hampshire, Durham, USA


“Through a detailed analysis of the mechanics of visual cognition, this book teaches us how to see as designers, by anticipating how others will see our designs. Ware summarizes the thread of inquiry that leads through Goethe, Klee, Arnheim, Gibson and Tufte, sifting it for relevance to the artful science of visualization, and condensing it into one eminently readable volume.” – Fritz Drury, Professor of Illustration, Rhode Island School of Design “All the clanking gears are here: variable resolution image detection, eye movements, environmental information statistics, bottom-up/top-down control structures, working memory, the nexus of meaning, and specialized brain areas and pathways. By the time he’s done, Ware has reconstructed cognitive psychology, perception, information visualization, and design into an integrated modern form. This book is scary good.” - Stuart Card, Senior Research Fellow, and manager of the User Interface Research group at the Palo Alto Research Center "In this fascinating new book, seasoned professionals, educators and students alike will find that Colin Ware has written an incredibly accessible text that translates years of scientific research into concrete design applications. In a clear and effective manner, Ware provides a comprehensive introduction to the interrelationships among the physiological and cognitive components through which humans process and understand the visual world. This scientific perspective for graphic design provides an additional dimension for discussing the reasoning behind design choices while remaining adaptable to the shifting contexts in which these choices occur." -Paul Catanese. Assistant Professor of New Media, San Francisco State University