Visual Arrangements of Bar Charts Influence Comparisons in Viewer Takeaways

Cindy Xiong, Vidya Setlur, Benjamin Bach, Kylie Lin, Eunyee Koh, Steven Franconeri

View presentation: 2021-10-29T14:15:00Z GMT-0600 Change your timezone on the schedule page
Exemplar figure, described by caption below
Visualization designers can manipulate how data values are arranged in a chart to afford particular comparisons, which helps a viewer intuitively compare values and quickly generate key takeaways. In the vertical arrangement, viewers tend to zoom in onto one group and compare values within that group. In the overlaid arrangement, viewers tend to notice interactions between bar pairs. In the adjacent arrangement, viewers tend to group and compare spatially separated bar sets as two units. In the stacked arrangement, viewers tend to identify one stacked bar and compare the two members within it.
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Well-designed data visualizations can lead to more powerful and intuitive processing by a viewer. To help a viewer intuitively compare values to quickly generate key takeaways, visualization designers can manipulate how data values are arranged in a chart to afford particular comparisons. Using simple bar charts as a case study, we empirically tested the comparison affordances of four common arrangements: vertically juxtaposed, horizontally juxtaposed, overlaid, and stacked. We asked participants to type out what patterns they perceived in a chart and we coded their takeaways into types of comparisons. In a second study, we asked data visualization design experts to predict which arrangement they would use to afford each type of comparison and found both alignments and mismatches with our findings. These results provide concrete guidelines for how both human designers and automatic chart recommendation systems can make visualizations that help viewers extract the ``right'' takeaway.