Exploratory Visual Analysis in Large High-Resolution Display Environments

July 2nd, 2014

Categories: MS / PhD Thesis


Date: Wednesday, July 2, 2014
Time: 2:00 PM


As society continues to generate escalating quantities of data, there is an increasing demand for perceptual and cognitive aids to help us make sense of the available troves of digital information. Visualization represents one of the most effective ways for exploring large datasets by leveraging our visual-perceptual capacities. Unfortunately, the scalability of visualizations has been limited by the prevailing display technology. Conventional desktop and laptop displays provide too few pixels to visualize today’s datasets, forcing users to contextually switch between different views in order to see alternate projections of the information space. This limitation has been known to reduce user performance and potentially hinder exploration by inducing a ‘tunnel vision’ phenomenon where the analysis is focused on and limited to isolated subsets of the information space. However, thanks to advances in display technology, it is becoming increasingly feasible and affordable to surpass the limitations of conventional displays by building and acquiring Large High-resolution Displays. These displays are rapidly proliferating, providing researchers and scientists with more scalable platforms for the visual analysis and exploration of large and complex datasets.

This dissertation investigates the impact of adopting large high-resolution displays on user strategy and insight acquisition during exploratory visual analysis. We first present a theoretical account of the cognitive costs involved in visual exploration, and highlight the implicit role of the visualization interface in modulating these costs. We then empirically investigate the effects of increasing the physical size and resolution of the display through observational and experimental studies. Our findings indicate improvement in scientific reasoning and discovery when users have access to physically larger displays with more pixels. This effect manifests in a significant increase in the number of observations reported during visual exploration as well as the acquisition of higher-level, more integrative insights. We relate these findings to the theory of scientific reasoning through dual search, and propose design patterns for constructing coordinated, multi-view-based interfaces for large high-resolution displays.