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The Jordan Aha! Test for Visualizations

by Sharon Jordan on Wed, 24 Mar, 2010

It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words.  Such is the justification and hope for visualizations.  Examples of enlightening visualizations are structural models of molecules like the carbon-60 Bucky Ball used in OSTI’s recent YouTube video.  The model shows a carbon atom at each intersection of molecular bonds. 

Another example of an enlightening visualization is Charles Joseph Minard’s famous graph showing the decreasing size of Napoleon’s army as it marches to Moscow and back with the size of the army equal to the width of the line.

Visualizations are often beautiful, but to be useful they must also convey a message.   At OSTI, we have adopted what has come to be called the Jordan Aha! Test as a metric of success for visualizations.  The concept is that a visualization is useful if the observer is informed by it so that she can exclaim “Aha!” 

Our experience at OSTI suggests that crafting a visualization that passes the Jordan Aha! Test is often surprisingly challenging.

Sharon Jordan

OSTI

Related OSTI Products: OSTI Youtube Channel
Other Related Topics: videos, visualizations, youtube

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Sharon Jordan
Former OSTI Assistant Director, Program Integration