Visual Languages Primitives

Visual languages are based on certain common primitive elements for express the intended message, situtation or subject.

As far as I can see, the most used are…

Concepts: Individual visual representation of ideas.

  • Concrete objects: Object with at least a name or title for identification purposes and with the capability of  being resized or moved across the containing layout.
  • Grouped objects: Shown as one, later expanded in the same space or in a new one. This is the base for composable visualizations. 
  • References: Shortcuts to external objects, either respect to object of the same document but in another page or links to files or internet URLs.

Relationships: Connections between ideas, representing a semantic nexus.

  • Communication: Sending/receiving of information.
  • Action: Process execution flow.
  • Structure: Set of well arranged components that  constitute an entity, so that it shows their association and dependencies.

Layout: Acomodation of the visual elements in a predefined way.

  • Centered (such as in mind maps, using radial or hyperbolic trees).
  • Table (rows and columns, also called Tabular)
  • Hierarchical Tree
  • Column based flow (made for vertical expansion, such as UML Sequence Diagrams)
  • Row based flow (made for horizontal expansion, such as Gantt Charts)
  • Free (such as in concept maps), but mantaining a relative distance between nodes for comfortable reading.

Title and Accesories

  • Main title, maybe with a context reference.
  • Notes and visual cues (such as icons and legends, the later is very important for non domain-versed audience)
  • Extra Information (References, summaries and tables)

Visual Languages

Next, an overview of some common practices and techniques for knowledge transfer: Visual Languages.

General Visual Languages of wide spectrum…

Concept Maps: Based on a question (e.g.: “what caused the 2008 financial crisis?”), depicts general knowledge about that topic using concepts and their relationships on a free graph layout.

 Sample Concept Map

Mind Maps: Organizes ideas and knowledge around a central topic on a radial (centered hierarchy) graph layout. They commonly uses various colors, images and curved lines for easy memorization.

Sample Mind Map

Entity-Relationship diagrams: On a business domain, depicts entities and thir relationship from a data modeling perspective.

Sample Entity-Relationship Diagram

Flowcharts: Depicts the logical steps for performing a task, considering processes, decisions, inputs, outputs, storing and their flow.

Sample Flowchart

Unified Modeling Language: A complex language for general modeling, mostly used on computer science related projects. It has various types of diagrams. The most popular are:

  • Use case diagrams: Represents the functional specification of a system. Shows the diverse functions to be executed, the relation with the actors involved and their dependencies.

 Sample UML Use Case Diagram

  • Class diagrams: Structural representation of an artifac in a static object-relational way. It depicts software elements (classes, interfaces, structures, events, etc.) and their relationships (associations, implementation, inheritance, etc.).

 Sample UML Class Diagram

  • Sequence diagrams: Represents the behavior of related components on the execution of a system (or subsystem). It shows the invocations, returns, paralellization, starts and stops of those participants.

Sample UML Sequence Diagram

Visual Languages for Specialized contexts…

Electronic Diagrams: Shows electronic components and their arrange on a circuit or board.

Sample Electronic Diagram

Chemical Diagrams: Shows the structural formula of chemical compounds at molecular level.

Sample Chemical Diagram

 Military Plan: Shows the planification for war movements. It considers direction, timing, type and strength of forces in the theater of operations.

Sample Military Plan

Maybe, for any human knowledge area, there are a visual language developed. Plus consider that many organizations have developed their own visual languages, and they are changing over time and evolve following the development on their industries or even creating new ones (e.g.: nanotech, genetic engineering). Such particular well focused dialects are called Domain Specific Languages.