Image or Information? Examining the Nature and Impact of Visualization Perceptual Classification

by   Anjana Arunkumar, et al.

How do people internalize visualizations: as images or information? In this study, we investigate the nature of internalization for visualizations (i.e., how the mind encodes visualizations in memory) and how memory encoding affects its retrieval. This exploratory work examines the influence of various design elements on a user's perception of a chart. Specifically, which design elements lead to perceptions of visualization as an image or as information? Understanding how design elements contribute to viewers perceiving a visualization more as an image or information will help designers decide which elements to include to achieve their communication goals. For this study, we annotated 500 visualizations and analyzed the responses of 250 online participants, who rated the visualizations on a bilinear scale as image or information. We then conducted an in-person study (n = 101) using a free recall task to examine how the image/information ratings and design elements impact memory. The results revealed several interesting findings: Image-rated visualizations were perceived as more aesthetically appealing, enjoyable, and pleasing. Information-rated visualizations were perceived as less difficult to understand and more aesthetically likable and nice, though participants expressed higher positive sentiment when viewing image-rated visualizations and felt less guided to a conclusion. We also found different patterns among participants that were older. Importantly, we show that visualizations internalized as images are less effective in conveying trends and messages, though they elicit a more positive emotional judgment, while informative visualizations exhibit annotation focused recall and elicit a more positive design judgment. We discuss the implications of this dissociation between aesthetic pleasure and perceived ease of use in visualization design.


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