Visual Abstraction



I have contributed to a chapter in the book entitled »Foundations of Data Visualization«, edited by Min Chen, Helwig Hauser, Penny Rheingans, and Gerik Scheuermann, and published by Springer.

Chapter Abstract:

In this chapter we revisit the concept of abstraction as it is used in visualization and put it on a solid formal footing. While the term abstraction is utilized in many scientific disciplines, arts, as well as everyday life, visualization inherits the notion of data abstraction or class abstraction from computer science, topological abstraction from mathematics, and visual abstraction from arts. All these notions have a lot in common, yet there is a major discrepancy in the terminology and basic understanding about visual abstraction in the context of visualization. We thus root the notion of abstraction in the philosophy of science, clarify the basic terminology, and provide crisp definitions of visual abstraction as a process. Furthermore, we clarify how it relates to similar terms often used interchangeably in the field of visualization. Visual abstraction is characterized by a conceptual space where this process exists, by the purpose it should serve, and by the perceptual and cognitive qualities of the beholder. These characteristics can be used to control the process of visual abstraction to produce effective and informative visual representations.

Chapter download:  (8.2 MB)


This chapter is continuation and update of our discussion on visual abstraction that we had previously published in TVCG. Also see our other work on abstraction:

Main References:

Ivan Viola, Min Chen, and Tobias Isenberg (2020) Visual Abstraction. In Min Chen, Helwig Hauser, Penny Rheingans, and Gerik Scheuermann (ed.): Foundations of Data Visualization, pages 15–37. Springer, Berlin/Heidelberg, 2020.

BibTeX entry:

@INCOLLECTION{Viola:2020:VA, author = {Ivan Viola and Min Chen and Tobias Isenberg}, title = {Visual Abstraction}, booktitle = {Foundations of Data Visualization}, editor = {Min Chen and Helwig Hauser and Penny Rheingans and Gerik Scheuermann}, year = {2020}, chapter = {2}, pages = {15--37}, publisher = {Springer}, address = {Berlin/Heidelberg}, doi = {10.1007/978-3-030-34444-3_2}, doi_url = {}, oa_hal_url = {}, preprint = {}, url = {}, pdf = {}, }


This work was supported through the Illustrare project, funded by ANR in France and FWF in Austria.