Richard Resnick
CS563 - Advanced Computer Graphics


A glyph is a graphical object whose attributes are bound to data.


Glyphs have origins deep in history. The first languages were glyph-based, which implies a good deal of relevance and applicability to human perception.

One-dimensional glyphs

Any dataset of one dimension can be mapped to any glyph of one attribute. We can map a single scalar dimension to blue saturation level just as easily as we can map it to glyph size.

There are generally better ways to represent one-dimensional data than glyphs. Since humans don't have problems looking at one dimension of scalar data, we might as well give them the real numbers. The tradeoff is in speed of perception. (Humans process sights massively parallel, while numbers require some measure of cognitive processing.)

Two-dimensional glyphs

Two-dimensional data lends itself to slightly more variation. Specifically, we can:

N-dimensional glyphs

A System

Most visualization pipelines now support glyphs in some form. Ribarksy et al. developed a system, Glyphmaker, which sits on top of SGI's Iris Explorer software.

A poem by Richard Resnick

A glyph is an object whose properties
are determined by a data set;
immutable is the topology
but all else can be varied yet.

So t'was with some surprise to me
that I did once surmise with glee:
I am just a glyph, I say
determined by my DNA.


  1. W. Ribarksy, E. Ayers, J. Eble and S. Mukherjea, "Glyphmaker: Creating Customized Visualizations of Complex Data," Computer, Vol. 27, No. 7, pp. 57-64, Jul. 1994.Web link

  2. W. Sacco, W. Copes, C. Sloyer, and R. Stark. Glyphs - Getting the Picture. Janson Publications, Inc., Providence, 1987.

  3. W. Schroeder, K. Martin, B. Lorensen. The Visualization Toolkit. Prentice Hall PTR, New Jersey, 1996. Web link

Other Web Links

  1. Steve Champeon's Chernoff Faces site, including his interactive page.
  2. The Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg, Florida.

  3. Matt Ward's XmdvTool home page.

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