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Visual Thinking for Design - 1st Edition - ISBN: 9780123708960, 9780080558417

Visual Thinking for Design

1st Edition

Author: Colin Ware
Paperback ISBN: 9780123708960
eBook ISBN: 9780080558417
Imprint: Morgan Kaufmann
Published Date: 4th April 2008
Page Count: 256
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Visual Thinking brings the science of perception to the art of design. Designers increasingly 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 this book, 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. The book includes hundreds of examples, many in the form of integrated text and full-color diagrams.

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 Space Traversal and Cognitive Costs Conclusion

VISUAL OBJECTS, WORDS, AND MEANING The Inferotemporal Cortex and the What Channel Generalized Views from Patterns Structured Objects Gist and Scene Perception Visual and Verbal Working Memory Thinking in Action: Receiving a Cup of Coffee Elaborations and Implications for Design Novelty Images as Symbols Meaning and Emotion Imagery and Desire Conclusion

VISUAL AND VERBAL NARRATIVE Visual Thinking Versus Language-Based Thinking Comparing and Contrasting the Verbal and Written Modes Linking Words and Images Through Diexis PowerPoint Presentations and Pointing Mirror Neurons: Copycat Cells Visual Narrative: Capturing the Cognitive Thread Cartoons and Narrative Diagrams Conclusion

CREATIVE META SEEING Mental Imagery The Magic of the Scribble Diagrams are Ideas Made Concrete Requirements and Early Design The Creative Design Loop Visual Skill Development Conclusion

THE DANCE OF MEANING Review Implications Design to Support Pattern Finding Optimizing the Cognitive Process Learning and the Economics of Cognition Attention and the Cognitive Thread What’s Next?


No. of pages:
© Morgan Kaufmann 2008
4th April 2008
Morgan Kaufmann
Paperback ISBN:
eBook ISBN:

About the Author

Colin Ware

Colin Ware is the world’s leading authority on the perceptual principles underlying the effective design of information displays. He combines interests in both basic and applied visualization research and he has advanced degrees in both computer science (MMath, Waterloo) and in the psychology of perception (PhD,Toronto). He has published over 160 articles in scientific and technical journals and at leading conferences. Many of these articles relate to the use of color, texture, motion and 3D displays in information visualization. His approach is always to combine theory with practice and his publications range from rigorously scientific contributions to the Journal of Physiology and Vision Research to applications oriented articles in ACM Transactions on Graphics and ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction. Fledermaus, the leading visualization software used in oceanography, originated in software developed by him and his graduate students.

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

Ratings and Reviews