Pondering the Concept of Abstraction in (Illustrative) Visualization

Ivan Viola*, Tobias Isenberg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


We explore the concept of abstraction as it is used in visualization, with the ultimate goal of understanding and formally defining it. Researchers so far have used the concept of abstraction largely by intuition without a precise meaning. This lack of specificity left questions on the characteristics of abstraction, its variants, its control, or its ultimate potential for visualization and, in particular, illustrative visualization mostly unanswered. In this paper we thus provide a first formalization of the abstraction concept and discuss how this formalization affects the application of abstraction in a variety of visualization scenarios. Based on this discussion, we derive a number of open questions still waiting to be answered, thus formulating a research agenda for the use of abstraction for the visual representation and exploration of data. This paper, therefore, is intended to provide a contribution to the discussion of the theoretical foundations of our field, rather than attempting to provide a completed and final theory.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number8025425
Pages (from-to)2573-2588
Number of pages16
JournalIEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Abstraction
  • abstraction space
  • axes of abstraction
  • illustrative visualization
  • spatial data
  • stylization
  • visual abstraction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Software
  • Signal Processing
  • Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition
  • Computer Graphics and Computer-Aided Design


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