Automatically Arranging Charts with Vistribute

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Supporting analysts in placing visualizations across multiple devices.

UMD iSchool News

Original Story by Tom Horak
Sparks of Innovation: Stories from the HCIL

By Tom Horak (Technische Universität Dresden), Andreas Mathisen (Aarhus University), Clemens N. Klokmose (Aarhus University), Raimund Dachselt (Technische Universität Dresden), and Niklas Elmqvist (University of Maryland)

We nowadays surround ourselves with a multitude of different devices: smartphones and tablets, laptops and desktops, projectors and large displays. However, most of the time, people only work on a single device at a time. This is a missed opportunity, as using multiple devices in parallel can improve efficiency. For instance, journalists refer to multiple documents when writing their stories, doctors compare several X-rays and test results when deciding on a treatment plan, or — as is the case in our work — data analysts look at many different visualizations in order to extract insights from data. In these situations, more screen space is always beneficial. This can be addressed by using, e.g., a large display alongside a laptop in a meeting room, a combination of a smartphone and a tablet in a coffee shop, or simply multiple screens on your desk.

While we have the ingredients for realizing such systems, one challenge remains: the different visualizations must be placed on the devices in a meaningful and useful way. This is especially important for visualizations, as charts often complement each other, e.g., by providing an alternative perspective onto a subset of the data, by allowing comparison across multiple subsets, or by supporting filter conditions. In other words, there are multiple aspects that need to be considered when placing visualizations in any interface.

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