The effect of visual and interactive representations on human performance and preference with scalar data fields

Han L. Han, Miguel A. Nacenta

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

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2D scalar data fields are often represented as heatmaps because color can help viewers perceive structure without having to interpret individual digits. Although heatmaps and color mapping have received much research attention, there are alternative representations that have been generally overlooked and might overcome heatmap problems. For example, color perception is subject to context-based perceptual bias and high error, which can be addressed through representations that use digits to enable more accurate value reading. We designed a series of three experiments that compare five techniques: a regular table of digits (Digits), a state-of-the-art heatmap (Color), a heatmap with an interactive tooltip showing the value under the cursor (Tooltip), a heatmap with the digits overlapped over it (DigitsColor), and FatFonts. Data analysis from the three experiments, which test locating values, finding extrema, and clustering tasks, show that overlapping digits on color (DigitsColor) offers a substantial increase in accuracy (between 10 and 60 percent points of improvement over the plain heatmap (Color), depending on the task) at the cost of extra time when locating extrema or forming clusters, but none when locating values. The interactive tooltip offered a poor speed-accuracy tradeoff, but participants preferred it to the plain heatmap (color) or digits-only (Digits) representations. We conclude that hybrid color-digit representations of scalar data fields could be highly beneficial for uses where spatial resolution and speed are not the main concern.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of Graphics Interface 2020
EditorsFanny Chevalier, Alec Jacobson
PublisherCanadian Human-Computer Communications Society / Société canadienne du dialogue humain-machine
Pages225 - 235
ISBN (Electronic)9780994786852
Publication statusPublished - 28 May 2020
EventGraphics Interface 2020, GI 2020 - Toronto, Virtual, Online, Canada
Duration: 28 May 202029 May 2020

Publication series

NameProceedings - Graphics Interface
ISSN (Print)0713-5424


ConferenceGraphics Interface 2020, GI 2020
Abbreviated titleGI 2020
CityToronto, Virtual, Online
Internet address


  • Human-centered computing-Visualization-Visualization design and evaluation methods
  • Human-centered computing-Visualization-Visualization techniques-Treemaps


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