Publication: Useful Junk? The Effects of Visual Embellishment on Comprehension and Memorability of Charts

Guidelines for designing information charts often state that the presentation should reduce ‗chart junk' - visual embellishments that are not essential to understanding the data. In contrast, some popular chart designers wrap the presented data in detailed and elaborate imagery, raising the questions of whether this imagery is really as detrimental to understanding as has been proposed, and whether the visual embellishment may have other benefits. To investigate these issues, we conducted an experiment that compared embellished charts with plain ones, and measured both interpretation accuracy and long-term recall. We found that people's accuracy in describing the embellished charts was no worse than for plain charts, and that their recall after a two-to-three-week gap was significantly better. Although we are cautious about recommending that all charts be produced in this style, our results question some of the premises of the minimalist approach to chart design.

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Participants

Scott Bateman
University of Prince Edward Island
Regan Mandryk
University of Saskatchewan
Carl Gutwin
University of Saskatchewan
Aaron Genest
University of Saskatchewan
David McDine Christopher Brooks
University of Saskatchewan

Citation

Bateman, S., Mandryk, R.L., Gutwin, C., Genest, A.M., McDine, D., Brooks, C. 2010. Useful Junk? The Effects of Visual Embellishment on Comprehension and Memorability of Charts. In ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI 2010), Atlanta, GA, USA. 2573-2582. Best paper award. DOI=10.1145/1753326.1753716.

BibTeX

@inproceedings {173-pap0297-bateman,
author= {Scott Bateman and Regan Mandryk and Carl Gutwin and Aaron Genest and David McDine and Christopher Brooks},
title= {Useful Junk? The Effects of Visual Embellishment on Comprehension and Memorability of Charts},
booktitle= {ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI 2010)},
year= {2010},
address= {Atlanta, GA, USA},
pages= {2573-2582},
note= {Best paper award}
}