Author Archives: pcoppin

About pcoppin

Peter Coppin is an Assistant Professor of Design at OCAD University. He is a core Program Faculty member in the Master of Design (MDes) in Inclusive Design program where he runs the first and second year Inclusive Design Laboratory courses and serves as Principal Advisor for a number of graduate student Major Research Projects (these are the culminating focus of the program’s final year). During his PhD, Coppin developed a perceptual-cognitive model for understanding how graphics afford actions, a theme that cuts across inclusive design, human-computer interface design, visual art-design, and learning technology research. Previously Coppin developed ‘remote experiences’ by creating systems that delivered data from remote rovers operating in extreme environments to science teams and the general public. He developed this work as Principal Investigator and Director of the NASA funded EventScope Project at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). At CMU Coppin also directed the BigSignal Project, one of the first telescience interfaces for educational audiences. Prior to BigSignal, Coppin was a nationally and internationally exhibiting electronic media artist and designer, operating under the group alias ‘Centre for Metahuman Exploration,’ that he was a founding member of in the late 90s. In this capacity, Coppin developed telerobotic works and interactive television shows that were exhibited in venues such as the Ars Electronica Festival in Linz, Austria; MIR: Art in Space in Bolzono, Italy; and the SIGGRAPH Touchware Exhibition in Orlando, Florida. Coppin also directed research and development projects for EventScope’s commercial spin-off, resulting in patented remote experience technologies to solve problems for various NASA and university customers. Occasionally Coppin taught human centered art and technology project classes such as ‘Telepresence Art and Applications,’ listed within departments and institutes at Carnegie Mellon such as the Human-Computer Interaction Institute, the School of Art, the Entertainment Technology Center and the Robotics Institute.

New project: An Embodied Cognition Approach to Meeting the Challenge of ‘Inclusive InfoVis’

Researchers working in the interrelated fields of interactive information visualization and visual analytics often state that “the eye and the visual cortex of the brain form a massively parallel processor that provides the highest-bandwidth channel into human cognitive centers” (Ware, 2004). This popular view has been reflected in many design decisions. For example, visualizations are prominently featured in the New York Times (e.g., Carter, 2012), contemporary artwork (e.g., Viégas and Wattenberg, 2007), and popular media (e.g., Vizter on TV, 2013). Tools such as Many Eyes (Eyes and Hoag, 2009) and Cognos (Khalid et al., 2010) are intended to help non-technical audiences create visualizations by accessing their own personal datasets.

However, many digital media consumers do not access graphics using vision. For example, vision-impaired screen reader users may use digital media such as text-to-speech audio or braille. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines ( were developed to make digital media accessible to this 20% of the target market. According to these guidelines, a visual graphic is considered ‘accessible’ if it has been ‘translated’ into a text description that can be read to an audience via screen reader technology. This approach to accessibility seems to ignore the objectives of those who create the visualizations. If text descriptions can adequately convey a visualizer’s intent, then why create a visualization in the first place?

This project will explore what is lost and gained when a visual is described via text, how what is lost may be delivered through another sensory mode (such as sound), and how individual differences shape perception of these media. Together, the results will extend and apply theoretical principles, helping to develop display techniques that use non-visual sensory modes, and thereby engendering a more inclusive approach to presenting this kind of information.


Barsalou, L. W. (2009). Simulation, situated conceptualization, and prediction. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 364(1521):1281.

Burton, J. and Coppin, P. (2012). Understanding and predicting the affordances of visual logics. In 3rd International Workshop on Euler Diagrams, page 47.

Carter, S. (2012). Four ways to slice Obama’s 2013 budget proposal. Online.

Coppin, P. W. (2012) Research summary: Affordances of realistic pictures, outline drawings, diagrams, and text: Toward a science of visual information design. Social Science Research Network Working Paper Series.

Coppin, P. W. (2011). Reconciling competing accounts of picture perception from art theory and perceptual psychology via the dual route hypothesis. European Perspectives on Cognitive Science, 6170.

Coppin, P. W. (expected in December 2013). Perceptual-cognitive properties of realistic pictures, outline drawings,diagrams, and sentences: toward a science of information design. PhD thesis, University of Toronto.

Eyes, I. M. and Hoag, T. (2009). Many eyes. Many Eyes.

Khalid, R., Cloves, I., and Yip, S. (2010). Introduction to IBM cognos 8 business intelligence. In Proceedings of the 2010 Conference of the Center for Advanced Studies on Collaborative Research, page 351. IBM Corp.

Viégas, F. B. and Wattenberg, M. (2007). Artistic data visualization: Beyond visual analytics. In Online Communities and Social Computing, pages 182–191. Springer.

Ware, C. (2004). Information visualization: perception for design. Elsevier.

Update from flow visualization project

Here is a preview of the cover for our forthcoming scrapbook that presents the many visuals we created in Summer 2013. Author list will be posted shortly (author lists are tricky)! Special thanks to Research Assistant John Harvey (MDes Student, Digital Futures Initiative, OCADU and core member of our team during the summer effort) for taking the lead on putting this scrapbook together!


Congrats to Advisees Mark, Spirit, and Lucian!

We recently graduated the first cohort of students from the OCADU Inclusive Design MDes program. I had the privilege of serving as Co-Principal Advisor on final Major Research Projects developed by the following MDes students:

  • Mark Sherman (co-advised with Jutta Treviranus),
  • Spirit Synott (co-advised with Geoffery Shay), and
  • Lucian Timofte (co-advised with Jutta Treviranus).
I will post their final abstracts soon!

Diagrammatic Cognition Panel Presentation: CogSci, 2013, Berlin

Peter Coppin was an invited presenter for this workshop that was organized as part of the annual meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, held this year at the Humbold University in Berlin. The workshop was designed to integrate a wide variety of cognitive science perspectives on the roles diagrams play in cognition, addressing various ways in which people design and use diagrams to spatialize thought and make it public, to work through ideas and clarify thinking, to reduce working memory load, to communicate ideas to others, to promote collaborative work by providing an external representation that can be pointed to and animated by gestures and collectively revised.

Presentation Information

Type: Panel
Date: Jul 31, 2013
Status: Invited
Event Title: Diagrammatic Cognition: Design and Discovery
Event Location: Berlin, German
Organizing Body: The Cognitive Science Society