Struggles and strategies in understanding information visualizations

This image shows a bar chart of the struggles encountered by participants in our user study across 20 different visualizations that they were working to understand. The most struggles were encountered when trying to get the gist of a visualization or trying to comprehend its visual encoding.
Struggles identified in the sensemaking of information visualizations in this research. The titles with colored V# indicate that the corresponding visualization is interactive. Length of a bar represents frequency of the struggle. The smallest bar represents one occurrence and the largest represents 11 occurrences.
While the visualization community is increasingly aware that people often find visualizations difficult to understand, there is less information about what we need to do to create comprehensible visualizations. To help visualization creators and designers improve their visualizations, we need to better understand what kind of support people are looking for in their sensemaking process. Empirical studies are needed to tease apart the details of what makes the process of understanding difficult for visualization viewers. We conducted a qualitative study with 14 participants, observing them as they described how they were trying to make sense of 20 information visualizations. We identified the challenges participants faced throughout their sensemaking process and the strategies they employed to help themselves in overcoming the challenges. Our findings show how details and nuances within visualizations can impact comprehensibility and offer research suggestions to help us move toward more understandable visualizations.
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Maryam Rezaie
Sheelagh Carpendale
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Struggles and strategies in understanding information visualizations

Maryam Rezaie, Melanie Tory, and Sheelagh Carpendale. IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics—PacificVis/TVCG. 2024. DOI: 10.1109/TVCG.2024.3388560

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