Hullman, J., Adar, E., & Shah, P. (2011). Benefitting InfoVis with Visual Difficulties. Visualization and Computer Graphics, IEEE Transactions on, 17(12), 2213–2222.
Purpose of the Research:
To provide a counterpoint to efficiency-based design theory with guidelines that describe how visual difficulties can be introduced to benefit comprehension and recall.
This is an essay-style paper. The method uses is to synthesize empirical results from cross-disciplinary research on visual information representations.
The dominant visual design and evaluation guidelines are based on the cognitive efficiency model, which refraining from using distracting visual elements, irrelevant information, leveraging labeling, and graphical formats that reduce cognitive processing by the users. However, empirical studies from various sub-fields of psychology and education support that desirable visual difficulties may induce active processing and engagement of the users thus enhance deep reflection and long term recall. Visualization effectiveness is better characterized as a trade-off between efficient processing and desirable visual difficulties to stimulate learning.
One analogy to the authors’ argument I can think of is watching movies vs. reading books. Just like one folk mentioned in class about the Harry Potter movies vs. books, watching movie is effortless, the users do not need to actively construct the details in their minds. However, according to the logic of the authors’ argument, reading books make the readers work, think, and thus more engaged in learning. Leaving space for the users to think and reflect is one thing, another thing is that it maybe okay to add some distracting or seemingly irrelevant information to just attract the users’ interests so they could be more engaged. A large part of this paper is actually talking about engagement, rather than visual difficulties, but the authors use the contradictory and eye-catching phrase “visual difficulties” in the title. This paper reminds us that we have almost passed the stage of designing only for efficiency, supporting for reflection and learning need to be taken into consideration.