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Week 15: The Flavor Connection
12-05-2014, 01:08 AM
Post: #1
Week 15: The Flavor Connection
I am critiquing an infographic from Scientific American's website. The interactive page can be found here:

Here's a screenshot.

This visualization depicts the relationship between various recipe ingredients based on the chemical compounds dictating their flavors.

Each ingredient is encoded as a blue circle, whose area indicates the number of recipes (among a database of over 56,000) the ingredient is found in. A label is drawn for each ingredient with sufficient area, or sufficient room for display. The blue circles are categorized horizontally into different food groups, and the food groups sorted by group name. The vertical position of the blue circles encodes the number of other foods with which the indicated ingredient shares "flavors", or chemical compounds contributing to it's flavor.

A line (edge) is used to encode two foods have common flavors, with the thickness of the line encoding the number of flavors in common. Red lines encode a relationship between ingredients from different food groups, and a grey line encodes relationship between ingredients in the same food group.

The visualization is also interactive. On the left hand side of the visualization is a filter of sorts, which lets the user select a row, effectively selecting all ingredients who have relationships with the number of other foods indicated by the selected row. Selecting the 10 row removes all foods other than those who have relationships with 10 other foods. Rows with orange numbers indicate that there are foods in that row, while grey indicates there are no foods with that number of relationships.

Finally, there is also an axis on the right side, indicating the number of recipes each ingredient was found in, among the database of over 56,000 recipes. This axis is only populated when a filter row is selected, as the total number of ingredients would not fit all at once on the axis.

I find this visualization to be quite visually appealing, though a little busy. The color scheme is appealing, as well as the spatial layout. I also like the axes on the left and the right that give more precise data about the current selection.

However, this is about where the good part ends. I think that this visualization struggles to achieve any tasks. It certainly isn't useful as an analysis tool - the difference in line weights indicating number of shared compounds, as well as the area of each blue circle, are so difficult to distinguish that no actual data can be discerned.

Also, it's not particularly useful as an exploration tool. There is no way to filter by food group, so you can't easily tell if certain food groups pair well with other food groups (based on the number of foods between the groups that have relationships).

Finally, it isn't even useful as a means for presenting results, as one might expect the purpose of the visualization to be, seeing as how it is created for a periodical with a general audience in mind. For example, there is no way to easily locate your favorite foods, and see what flavors they have in common with others. Further, most of the foods lie within the bottom few rows, so a majority of the foods are occluded when no row is selected (and even when any of the bottom few rows are selected).

Perhaps the worst thing about the graphic is that it doesn't really accomplish any objective. It doesn't suit any of the tasks mentioned above, and it doesn't tell any sort of story or have a take away message. After playing around with it for a few minutes, I didn't come away having noticed any interesting trends or pairings.

In summary, I felt it was a fairly appealing graphic that really struggles to achieve a purpose.
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Messages In This Thread
Week 15: The Flavor Connection - mcarter - 12-05-2014 01:08 AM
RE: Week 15: The Flavor Connection - hehe - 12-06-2014, 06:01 PM
RE: Week 15: The Flavor Connection - citou - 12-07-2014, 06:24 PM

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