Capta by Juxtaposition: a Rich-Prospect Approach to the Visualization of Interpretation Project


In her seminal essay, Humanities Approaches to Graphical Display, Johanna Drucker points out that visualization design for the humanities has still not properly accommodated the nature of humanities scholarship. Given, as she says, that all data is actually capta, current approaches to data visualization are misleading in that they suggest more certainty and stability than is actually the case. Her proposal is, therefore, to revise the format of the framework of the visualization so that, for example, the x and y axis on a cartesian grid are no longer divided into uniform increments. In our project, we take up Drucker’s challenge by adopting a rich prospect approach, where the visualization consists of panels of displays, each of which provides a different insight based on a selected perspective on the capta. As a case study, we show how diagrams of the design process can accommodate a broader range of theoretical perspectives than is typically made visible, using only subtle differences in the image. Each choice is placed in a panel, and the panels are then gathered together for the purposes of comparison, analysis, and discussion.

Although there are dozens of design process models (Dubberly 2005), we are not interested in visual comparisons at that level: instead we chose one model as our starting point, and focus on the ambiguity of its being built from capta rather than data. The perspectives we show are: (1) the conventional six-stage model associated with “design thinking”; (2) the same model modified to suggest that earlier iterations are less successful than later iterations; (3) that the designer should not be invisible as the agent driving the process; (4) that the process is a collaborative one that involves an entire team rather than an individual; (5) that, despite the framing as design thinking, not all design projects are intended to produce a commodity; (6) that different iterations of the design cycle may privilege different choices among the 5 human factors; (7) that there are potential users of the design; (8) that the same process can be used for participatory design, where the potential users are present when design decisions are being made; and (9) that other priorities than the human could be placed at the centre of the process (these might include other creatures, various flora, and different aspects of the natural environment).

By giving comparable visual form to a number of different perspectives, priorities, or approaches to design we are both responding to Drucker’s call and also suggesting that design process models can have multiple interpretations. In some cases, what we are showing is already implicit in the diagram but we are making it explicit; in other cases we are representing choice among closely-related yet distinct alternative models of the design process. In these visualizations ambiguity is present not at the granularity of the individual panel, but rather in the interplay, overlap and, sometimes, mutual exclusion that exists between the interpretive perspectives made visible in the various panels.

Presented at The Canadian Society for Digital Humanities/ Société canadienne des humanités numériques (CSDH/SCHN) annual conference at the 2020 Congress of the Social Sciences and Humanities.

Drucker, J. (2011). “Humanities Approaches to Graphical Display.” Digital Humanities Quarterly 5:1.

Dubberly, Hugh. (2004). How Do You Design: A Compendium of Models. San Francisco: Dubberly Design Office.

Dunne, A., & Raby, F. (2013). Speculative Everything: Design, Fiction, and Social Dreaming.

IDEO. (2017, 07 05). Design Thinking. Retrieved from IDEO: / thinking.

Gibbons, S. (2016). Design Thinking 101. Retrieved from NN/g Nielsen Norman Group: https://

Where it’s been published/presented

Radzikowska, M., & Ruecker, S. (2020, June 1). “Capta by Juxtaposition: A Rich-Prospect Approach to the Visualization of Information.” [Presentation]. The Canadian Society for Digital Humanities/ Société canadienne des humanités numériques (CSDH/SCHN) annual conference at the 2020 Congress of the Social Sciences and Humanities (moved online due to COVID19).

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