Metabolic Pathways and Visualization Pathways

Metabolic pathway diagrams show series of linked chemical reactions occurring within cells (Wikipedia). These diagrams started more than a half-century ago, such as this example from 1967 in the Smithsonian:


These diagrams have been continuously expanded over decades as new research identifies new reactions and new connections. A 2017 version at Roche is a massive interactive poster documenting thousands of compounds and reactions:


These are extremely interesting visualizations that document the knowledge of a research community showing the connection and flows of chemical reactions.

Could the equivalent exist in data visualization and analytics? The field is growing rapidly and there are many techniques. Like biology, as the visual analytics field grows, it becomes more difficult to keep track of all the evolving techniques. Surely, a similar diagram of data and the many ways it can flow through analytics into visualizations (and other perceptualizations) and interactions – should be feasible and useful for the community. Here’s an attempt to sketch out a bit of it related to data that expresses structures such as hierarchies, graphs or sequences; and corresponding visualization approaches:


It’s bit trickier than biochemical processes as there are many-to-many relationships potentially making it overloaded with too many connections, so there’s some editorial or process to determine which pathways to show. And, it’s missing so much, e.g. no interactions, many data analytic techniques, and no visual attributes (color, size, icons, etc). And it’s not obvious how to group visualization layouts, e.g. by mark type, by coordinate system, or maybe by the primary structure that they represent?

Perhaps someone else has already created something going down this path already? If not, is something like this valuable? Let me know.

About richardbrath

Richard is a long time visualization designer and researcher. Professionally, I am one of the partners of Uncharted Software Inc. I have recently completed a PhD in data visualization at LSBU. The opinions on this blog are related to my personal interests in data visualization, particularly around research interests related to my PhD work- this blog is about exploratory aspects of data visualization not proven principles.
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