Decoding a Complex Visualization in a Science Museum-An Empirical Study

Joyce Ma, Kwan Liu Ma, Jennifer Frazier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


This study describes a detailed analysis of museum visitors' decoding process as they used a visualization designed to support exploration of a large, complex dataset. Quantitative and qualitative analyses revealed that it took, on average, 43 seconds for visitors to decode enough of the visualization to see patterns and relationships in the underlying data represented, and 54 seconds to arrive at their first correct data interpretation. Furthermore, visitors decoded throughout and not only upon initial use of the visualization. The study analyzed think-Aloud data to identify issues visitors had mapping the visual representations to their intended referents, examine why they occurred, and consider if and how these decoding issues were resolved. The paper also describes how multiple visual encodings both helped and hindered decoding and concludes with implications on the design and adaptation of visualizations for informal science learning venues.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number8805458
Pages (from-to)472-481
Number of pages10
JournalIEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2020


  • decoding
  • informal science learning
  • interactive exhibit
  • Museums
  • public data visualization
  • visual encoding

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Software
  • Signal Processing
  • Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition
  • Computer Graphics and Computer-Aided Design


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