Impressions from EuroVis ’17

I recently returned from EuroVis ’17 in Barcelona, Spain. The conference was held at the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC) which is close to Camp Nou, the home stadium for Barcelona’s famous soccer team, in the suburbs outside the city center. It is a pleasant and relatively quiet area of the city compared to the bustling La Rambla, Gothic quarter, and beachfront. It was my first time ever in Barcelona, and I had heard so many great things about the city, so I was eager to visit.

EuroVis is similar in scope to IEEE VIS, the but the three main research areas of information visualization, scientific visualization, and visual analytics are woven together into one program as opposed to the three conferences you see at VIS.  The conference is much smaller than VIS — this year just over 300 people attended. Typically, at any time of the meeting, there are about three sessions occurring in parallel. Beyond regular papers, EuroVis hosts the STAR (State-of-the-Art Reports) presentations as well. Think of them as in-depth surveys of specific subareas of visualization. These reports now appear as papers in the journal Computer Graphics Forum, as do the full research papers in EuroVis.

The conference received 170 paper submissions this year and 46 (27%) were accepted for presentation. Of the traditional five visualization paper types, “Algorithm” led with 74 submissions, followed by “Design study”-52, “Evaluation”-20, “Theory”-13, and “System”-11.  The Algorithm and Design Study areas also had the highest acceptance percentages at 32% and 27%, respectively.

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In addition to full papers, EuroVis takes short paper (four pages of content plus a page of references) submissions, typically for work that is newer and still developing. This year the conference received 64 short paper submissions and accepted 30. Each of these papers is published as an archived conference paper and it receives a 15-minute talk slot at the conference, so researchers definitely should consider this track in the future. The conference also accepted 35 posters for presentation during the week.

If I had to think of one word to describe the conference this year, it would be “Hot”. No, by that I don’t mean that the papers were dynamic and sizzling, although there were many good presentations. I’m simply referring to the temperature!  Every day the high temperature was close to 90º F, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky the whole week.  Typically, the most valuable commodity at our conferences is good wireless service. Instead, this year it was air conditioning and shade. But hey, I’ll take that anytime over clouds and rain. Just think of it as good practice for VIS this fall in Phoenix.

The conference began with a timely and fascinating keynote talk by Fernanda Viégas and Martin Wattenberg of Google. They discussed many ways that machine learning and visualization are connecting and benefiting each other. Martin and Fernanda showed a number of examples, both from their work and others, of how visualization can help people better understand what is going on (beyond the black box, so to speak) in machine learning. Their talk was complemented by Helwig Hauser‘s closing capstone that examined how visualization is moving onto larger and larger data sets. Up front, he pondered what problems our community has “solved” in the last 25 years. While it may be difficult to think of many, he rightfully also asked when is a problem really ever “solved”? Developing “sufficient” solutions to a bevy of problems simply may be good enough and may be an indicator of good progress. He provided many examples where visualization has done just that.

I saw many nice presentations at the conference and was trying to come up with a theme or two that emerged, but I had a tough time doing so. Perhaps one broad theme I observed was many papers dealing with the HCI aspects of visualization. Topics ranging from evaluation to interaction to storytelling all seemed to have a strong presence this year. Another nice set of papers concerned text and document visualization as well.

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EuroVis traditionally hosts a nice conference dinner on Thursday evening.This year it was at a restaurant on Montjuic, a mountain (actually more of a hill) on the southwest side of the city. The restaurant’s deck afforded a beautiful view down onto the city. The conference organizers also graciously sponsored a guided tour of the famous Sagrada Familia basilica in downtown Barcelona on Wednesday evening. The church is simply stunning both inside and out, and has become an iconic landmark for the city.

One of my favorite aspects of EuroVis is that the conference provides lunch for attendees there at the conference site. Not having to trudge offsite to a restaurant simply gives more time to sit and talk with fellow attendees, old friends, and new acquaintances. The smaller size of EuroVis compared to VIS also makes it easier to find colleagues. All these things combine to provide a little more relaxed lunchtime. I think my lunch conversations were my favorite aspect of the conference this year. It was great hearing what so many friends are working on currently.

In a lucky coincidence, my home university, Georgia Tech, participates in a cooperative study-abroad program with UPC that hosted EuroVis.  Our faculty spend the summer there and teach our courses to our own students who also travel there for the term. My fellow Interactive Computing faculty member and good friend Mark Guzdial was literally teaching classes in the same buildings in which EuroVis was occurring. He even was able to drop in and hear my presentation at the conference. IC PhD student Barbara Ericson is teaching the undergraduate infovis class there this summer too. She asked me about giving a guest lecture while there, but I figured that I’d take a break from the teaching.  :^)

If you haven’t submitted a paper to or attended EuroVis yet, I strongly encourage you to do so. I hadn’t attended until about five years ago, but now I try to make it back as often as I can. The paper quality is excellent and it’s usually hosted at a beautiful European city. Next year’s conference is in Brno, the second largest city in the Czech Republic. (With VIS ’18 in Berlin, apparently they didn’t take my suggestion that EuroVis should be in New Orleans, LA.) Just be on the watch out for dragons that look like alligators.

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Author: John Stasko

A professor and data visualization researcher in the School of Interactive Computing at Georgia Tech.

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