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Perspective Dependent Data Visualizations

Perspective Dependent Data Visualizations

Based on a case study about the Raoul Hausmann collection in collaboration with the Berlinische Galerie, this thesis is a examination and discussion about the use, display and possibilities of perspective and perspective-dependence in data visualizations, with special focus on the visualization of cultural collections and challenges in the visualization of cultural heritage data. Cultural collections, like the Raoul Hausmann collection, usually are big collections of thousands or millions of individual artifacts. Nevertheless, each artifact on its own can be individually interesting or meaningful, can provide a unique set of metadata and can be seen in relation to all the other elements of the collection. Therefore, looking at cultural collections, it’s oftentimes not only interesting to get an overview about the whole collection, but also to see the individual context and how individual elements and their attributes relate to other elements of the collection. To focus on individuality of each unique element of a cultural collection I propose the use of multiple, flexible perspectives. In an attempt to create perspective-dependent visualizations I want to explore what the term perspective can mean in context of data visualizations and if or how a multitude of flexible perspectives can enrich the exploration of a collection. Result is an interactive prototype about the Raoul Hausmann collection.


In times of big data and a continuing digitization in all areas of life and science, data visualizations are getting more and more important. Many museums or galleries are digitizing their cultural collections and are looking for methods for a meaningful and topic sensitive representation of their collections online. To represent a dataset as extensive as possible, many data visualizations are based on providing an overview by using methods like aggregation, grouping, filtering and categorization. But static overviews oftentimes can’t do justice to the complexity of a dataset. How should we deal with data and relations between data elements that can’t be described by static visualization, because their interpretation is flexible, depending on the point of view? This thesis is based on the assumption that for some types of data, including cultural heritage data, individual elements and attributes and their relations to each other can be more important than an overview about the whole data. To focus on individuality and flexible interpretations, this thesis suggests the combination of multiple, perspective-dependent visualizations. Based on humanistic and information design approaches, the conscious and unconscious use of perspective in data visualization and the meaning of the term perspective itself will be explored. The foundation for this exploration builds a case study, the development of a digital collection interface for the Raoul Hausmann (a German/Austrian Dadaist) collection, in cooperation with the Berlinische Galerie, Berlin’s museum of modern art, photography and architecture.
By working with real data in the case study and by doing a co-creation workshop with employees of the Berlinische Galerie, general challenges in the visualization of cultural heritage data, like the visualization of temporality or the visualization of relations, will be analyzed, finally leading to the need of multiperspectival visualizations. On the basis of the prototyping process and prior theoretical research, the result of this thesis is a discussion about the need, the use and meaning of perspective views in data visualizations and the development of a prototype that attempts to deal with difficulties in the visualization of cultural collections by consciously creating perspective-dependent visualizations.

The first part of the thesis provides an introduction about the research topic and the used methodology. Afterwards follows an introduction into the Raoul Hausmann dataset, the Berlinische Galerie and the cooperation process, including a co-creation workshop and its results. Based on the workshop results and with the the research on perspective in mind, theoretical foundations are built, accompanied by an iterative prototyping-process. Finally, the thesis ends with a prototype of the case-study and a final conclusion and outlook. While it is beyond the scope of this thesis, to give definite answers for difficulties in the visualization of cultural collections, I hope to contribute to future research and novel design concepts by providing new insights, resulting from the promotion of conscious integration of perspective-dependent data visualizations.


The methodological approach followed in this thesis is mainly of qualitative nature. It is composed of a combination of detailed review of related work and literature, cooperation with experts from the Berlinische Galerie, including an execution of a co-creation workshop, as well as iterative, experimental prototyping in form of a case study. To realize the research, I conducted a case study with real data to be able to work under realistic conditions with evaluable results. After identifying appropriate qualities for potential case study subjects, the digitized Raoul Hausmann Collection, provided by the Berlinische Galerie, was selected for the development of an exemplary prototype. In cooperation and with help of the Berlinische Galerie, background knowledge about the collection was acquired. A co-creation workshop with employees of the Berlinische Galerie (experts about the dataset) and other interdisciplinary participants (partly familiar, partly unfamiliar with the Raoul Hausmann collection) was conducted to gain new insights about the data from various perspectives. The workshop discussions have been audio-recorded, transcribed and the most important discussion points have been summarized and ordered. These workshop results dealt as a framework for the later design process, and helped to define potential problems, difficulties and interesting/important parts of the data. Based on the workshop results and the general research interest, a theoretical foundation was formed, by analyzing related projects and research in various scientific fields, including mainly information visualization, human-computer-interaction, digital humanities. Simultaneously, during an iterative prototyping process and as a result of feedback meetings with the Berlinische Galerie, individual aspects were explored separately, by creating a variety of rough sketches or interactive visualizations, leading to new insights. Finally, as a synthesis of the theoretical foundations, insights and feedback from the cooperation with the Berlinische Galerie and findings from the rough prototyping, a final prototype was created, based on the prior research and design process.

Selection of the dataset

To be able to examine visualization possibilities for individual relations between artifacts or attributes it was significant, that the dataset is diverse, containing detailed meta data, attributes and high resolution images. It should be available in digital form, preprocessed, exportable for further digital use. Furthermore, the dataset and imagery should not contain material that would lead to copyright issues in the case of a digital publication of the visualization project.

There are a lot of already digitized datasets of cultural collections online that could satisfy the criteria. Nevertheless, for the development of the master thesis, I decided to try to contact a nearby cultural institution with the aim of a collaboration. Personal previous projects have shown that continuous cooperation and communication with experts can, not only be helpful, but sometimes indispensable for a reasonable design. The curators and experts still have other insights than a designer. Difficulties and important aspects can be productively analyzed and problems can be avoided at an early stage of the concept phase. At the same time, many institutions are interested in new approaches for digital presentations of their collections. After establishing contact with the Berlinische Galerie, with help of the Urban Complexity Lab of the FH Potsdam, a collaboration with the Berlinische Galerie has been arranged for this master thesis. Discussing general ideas and presenting the main objectives of the thesis with responsible employees of the Berlinische Galerie, the Raoul Hausmann part-estate and its digitized meta-data was finally selected as the basis for the case study.

Berlinische Galerie and their Dada collection

The Berlinische Galerie, Berlin‘s museum of modern art, photography and architecture, is a German state museum situated in the German capital Berlin. It was founded in 1975 and offers 4,600 square meters of exhibition space. The museum incorporates Berlin art and furthermore collects personal material of the artists’ lives. Dating from 1870 to present, the museums exhibits a big variety of Berlin art, amongst other things, containing fine arts, paintings, graphics, sculptures, multimedia installations, photography, architecture and artists’ archives. One of the highlights of the museum is the Dada Berlin collection, containing the estates of Hannah Höch and Raoul Hausmann(Berlinische Galerie, n.d.-b).

“The archive holdings on the Berlin Dada movement, comprising the estates of Hanna Höch and Raoul Hausmann, provide a wealth of material that is unique world-wide.”(Berlinische Galerie, n.d.-a, para 2)

In 1933 Hausmann had to leave Berlin and left behind many documents, letters, photographs and art, building the foundation of the collection. The Dada collection of the Berlinische Galerie is mainly based on two legacies, the estate of Hannah Höch and the partial estate of Raoul Hausmann that stayed at the residence of his first wife Elfriede Hausmann-Schaeffer and his daughter Vera Hausmann. Living together with Raoul Hausmann between 1915 and 1922, Hannah Höch collected much of Haussmann’s art and documents during this time, now part of the Hannah Höch estate. The estate of Hannah Höch was acquired by the Berlinische Galerie in 1979, one year after her death and the partial estate of Raoul Hausmann was acquired by the Berlinische Galerie in 1992, after the household clearance of his then 80 year old daughter Vera. In the same year, in 1992, the Hausmann archive, a collection of unordered, chaotic and incoherent notes, documents, text, letters etc. that provides autobiographical material about his personal and professional life, was inventoried, leading to scholarly publications. (Züchner & Berlinische Galerie, 1998, pp. 9-10)

In 2013 the Berlinische Galerie participated in a digitization aid program by the Federal State of Berlin for archive, museum and library projects and was selected for model project funding. In the course of this program, the Berlinische Galerie started the project MUDISA, that included the implementation of eMuseumPlus (a database software and online interface for digitalized collection materials) and the digitization of five selected areas of the museum, among them, the DADA Berlin collection with works and documents of Raoul Hausmann and Hannah Höch. Using high-performance scanners and repro-photography, objects were digitized. At the same time already existing object information, meta-data, transcriptions and comments from printed scholarly publications were transferred to the MuseumPlus database.(Berlinische Galerie, n.d.-c).

The Data

The data was provided by the Berlinische Galerie in form of various csv-data-sheets and associated images. The data-sheets include a list of all objects (created before 1933) of the Hausmann part-estate as well as some objects of the Hannah Höch estate in possession of the Berlinische Galerie. In addition to the object data, a data-sheet of persons associated with the objects, was provided, containing names, dates of birth and death, gender and a link to the “GND” of the German National Library (Integrated Authority File for the organization and cataloging of people, corporations, etc.). In total the collection contains, on the one hand, artistic works of Hausmann like drawings, paintings, photographs, photomontages, writings and on the other hand, evidence of his personal life, including personal documents, notes, letters or correspondence with other artists, friends, institutions and other contemporaries, as well as other things relating to Hausmann’s life. All in all, the dataset is composed of around 2000 artifacts and over 4500 high-resolution images. Each object is provided with a variety of meta data and most of the objects are linked with an image of the object or a collection of images for multi part objects.

Aside from some meta data that is only of importance for the museum itself, the provided meta data consists of the following information:

-object ids -the artist or author of an object and involved persons -title (and subtitle) -dating -genre and sub-genre -(authored) keywords -measurements of the object -material of the object and technique for the creation of the object -the number of pages/parts of an object -captions on the object -description of motifs -(commented) transcriptions of texts (for some of the objects)


Co-Creation Workshop: Overall the project has benefited in many ways from the collaboration and the continuous communication with the Berlinische Galerie. One of the milestones in collaboration was a joint workshop, building the groundwork for the further design process. Based on “Exploring the Promises and Potentials of Visual Archive Interfaces” by Chen, Dörk and Dade-Robertson (2014), small group of participants has been invited to create collages in a co-creation process with pictures and other material of the Hausmann Collection. Intention of the workshop was to gain new insights about the collection. The participants were specifically selected to build a diverse group of people with a variety of backgrounds in the culture or design field. All in all, the group consisted of eight persons. One half of the group was composed of employees of the Berlinische Galerie and the other half consisted of participants not associated with the museum. Some of the participants had very good, expert knowledge about the collection, some of them only basic knowledge about the general topic and some participants came to the workshop without any previous knowledge at all. The group contained participants with background in information and communications design, UI and UX design, data visualization, cultural work, online communication, marketing and digital strategy, archival storage, science of art and science of history. Throughout the workshop snacks, fruits and drinks were provided to the participants for an open and relaxed working atmosphere. The whole process, insights and discussions were photographically documented and audio recordings and notes were created for further analysis. Some participants even took their own pictures and created notes themselves for personal interest without instruction, as well as for me to be able to follow their thoughts.

Altogether the workshop was conducted with a variety of objectives. Main goal of the collages was not primarily the creation of concrete design and interaction ideas, but more importantly the whole workshop process as a starting point for discussion and for ideas evolving from these discussions. Considering the research about perspective-dependent data visualizations, another important aspect was, to get to know the collections from different point of views (expert and novice perspectives) and to get familiar with the collection. What is special or unique about the Hausmann collection? What attributes, information or relations are relevant or interesting? Are there any hidden connections and relations inside the data? How do the participants with diverse knowledge and background perceive the collection and the artifacts, are there differences between those groups? What aspects in a visualization and the further conception would be important, to stay true to the uniqueness and the general underlying “spirit” of the Hausmann collection?

All in all, the workshop provided very helpful results and implications for the following research process. First of all, and most importantly it could help, to solidify the research approach of this thesis. The initial assumption that oftentimes it is not possible to meaningfully display all elements of a dataset in relation to each other inside a single, static visualization, was confirmed. This leads to the affirmation that the visualization of a multitude of flexible perspectives could enhance the design of cultural collections, at least concerning our specific case study.

“It became clear to me, that you can’t just glue fixed, clustered connections to the paperboard, but that those diverse relations need to be flexibly movable, so that relations can be revealed individually again.”(Participant))

Besides the validation of the research interests, the workshop also helped to concentrate on specific important qualities of the dataset and to focus the research. Looking at the discussion points, especially time/historical context and the representation of relations seemed to be of importance for the dataset. Other discussion points, like the question about a playful or an educational approach or discussions about cultural sensitive visualizations, seemed to be more dataset independent, leading to discussions that don’t only concern the Hausmann collection, but the visualization and communication of cultural collections in general.


How is perspective defined in our language? The Oxford Dictionary provides various definitions of perspective. (Perspective, n.d.) With the objective of an open-minded research, this thesis is based on two different understandings of the term:

Graphical/visual perspective: “The art of representing three-dimensional objects on a two-dimensional surface so as to give the right impression of their height, width, depth, and position in relation to each other.”(Perspective, n.d., para 2)

“The appearance of viewed objects with regard to their relative position, distance from the viewer, etc.”(Perspective, n.d., para 3)

A conceptual/ figurative perspective: “A particular attitude towards or way of regarding something; a point of view.”(Perspective, n.d., para 6)

“True understanding of the relative importance of things; a sense of proportion.“(Perspective, n.d., para 7)


To explore possibilities and usefulness of a considerate use of perspective in data visualizations beyond theoretical research, the whole research process was accompanied by iterative prototyping. Foundation for this prototyping was the data of the Hausmann collection, the workshop and face-to-face discussions and e-mail contact with domain experts of the Berlinische Galerie. During the prototyping, the feedback and support provided by employees of the museum, proofed to be very valuable. The support for example could clarify anomalies in the data or was helpful to explain, how the data was generated and how it was influenced by their database software. Additionally, the feedback helped to identify interesting features of the dataset, as well as useful or unnecessary features of a potential prototype.
An early timeline visualization for example revealed, that some artifacts are dated with surprisingly long, time intervals of uncertainty, exceeding multiple decades. Since the life of Hausmann is well documented and since the collection in total only represents a time span of a few decades, this level of uncertainty stood out noticeable. Presenting this visualization to the employees of the Berlinische Galerie, it came out that the data I used was automatically generated by their database software, adding a specific number of years before and after the date in case of uncertain descriptions. Therefore, the dataset included two automatically generated, additional columns of data (earliest and latest possible date), that at least for the Hausmann collection, weren’t filled out intentionally by an expert. This led to the suggesting of the Berlinische Galerie, to ignore those two data-columns and to concentrate just on one data column, providing only the data entered by the experts. This also turned out to be useful for the Berlinische Galerie, since they became aware that this kind of data is included in their datasets. Afterwards they mentioned that this might lead to a reevaluation of these kind of automated processes in their software.

As a method to focus on the initial research questions I defined concept- and design-related objectives, that I wanted to achieve with the final prototype. Since the theoretical research and the prototyping were synchronous processes, cause by design iterations and new input from the theoretical research and conception, these objectives had to stay flexible and therefore experienced slight changes during the whole research process.

Besides the focus on specific properties of the Hausmann data, like the visualization of time and relations, the objectives leading to the final prototype are:

-include a variety of different perspectives on the data -focus on individuality by flexibly visualizing relations and data properties dependent on selections -promote exploration and serendipity -allow temporal traceability -don’t ignore uncertainties in the data -(if possible, make the “spirit” of the collection visible in the interface design)

Conclusion and further work

Cultural collections provide a multitude of interesting insights. The entirety of a collection, as well as each individual element of a collection is valuable and can be described by unique features. Nevertheless, many visualizations are based on the representation of a static overview. While providing an overview definitively can be useful to see bigger patterns inside a collection, overviews oftentimes are not able to give insights about individual relations between artifacts. Based on the assumption that many common visualization types can’t represent the complexity and the uniqueness of individual artifacts of cultural collections, I proposed a conscious use of multiple perspectives, calling it perspective-dependent data visualizations.

To explore the need and usefulness of perspectives in data visualizations, I worked on a case study, using the data of the Raoul Hausmann collection, provided by the Berlinische Galerie. By conducting a co-creation workshop and by analyzing difficulties in the visualization of cultural collections, including the visualization of time and relations, my initial assumption was confirmed: compared to static visualizations, the use of flexible and individual perspectives on data might be able to enrich a cultural collection interface. Accompanied by research on the concept of perspective itself and methods to provide perspective, I finally developed a prototype. Result is the visualization of a cultural collection that intends to put focus on individuality of each element, by providing a variety of perspectives on the data. While many aspects of the prototype are the result of the collaboration with the Berlinische Galerie, the value and usability of the final prototype still needs to be tested by experts as well as other user groups. The prototype of the Raoul Hausmann collection is planned to be presented online to an audience soon. Subsequently, user testing will be conducted. Do users prefer a specific view or the combination of views? Do users appreciate the addition of visualizations like attribute-& content-based visualizations that only display data from an individual, selection-dependent point of view? In addition to user testing, other functionalities of the prototype could be envisioned in the future. While in the attribute-& content-based visualization all existing meta-data already is included, it would be interesting to look at some of the attributes separately in additional visualizations. For example, the geographic location of artifacts within a new map view , could add another dimension of locality. For the content-based visualization, besides the display of the quantitatively and qualitatively derived keywords, other methods, like color analysis could be included as well. The current collection prototype already includes a lot of correspondences or collaborations with other artists. Since the artists Raoul Hausmann, Hannah Höch and other Dadaists influenced each other in such a strong way and since the Berlinische Galerie is also in possession of more material like the Hannah Höch estate, it would be interesting to see, how the different collections compare to each other. A linkage or combination therefore might lead to additional findings.

While the term perspective itself is ambiguous, allowing various interpretations, nevertheless, with this research I hope to contribute to conscious consideration of perspective-dependent views in future design projects.


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