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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Performance of impressionist visualizations on measures of recognition and trend identification Kozik, Pavel


Experimental aesthetics, one of the oldest branches of research psychology, empirically examines what elements of an image associate with beauty and preference. Drawing on this research the current paper hypothesizes that by applying the painterly techniques of impressionist era artists a modern applied problem of information visualization may be addressed, namely how to create effective and aesthetically pleasing depictions of data. To do so a series of weather maps obtained from the International Panel of Climate Change were rendered into four data visualization styles: industry standard glyphs, and three impressionism inspired styles titled interpretational complexity, indication and detail, and visual complexity. Two separate experiments were then conducted, each aimed at testing a key feature of effective data visualization, image recognition and the ability to communicate data trends. The first experiment found visual complexity visualizations to be comparable to glyphs on a new-old recognition task, and better than the styles interpretational complexity, and indication and detail. The second experiment found that visual complexity visualizations were more effective than glyphs at depicting and communicating data trends to the viewer. Incidental eye tracking data during both experiments suggests that impressionist visualizations were more engaging and aesthetically pleasing than glyphs as evident by a higher fixation count and greater pupil dilation. Individually experiments 1 and 2 demonstrate that the painterly techniques of visual complexity may be applied to create highly recognizable and communicative data visualizations. Collectively the two experiments support the broader hypothesis that by modelling the knowledge and expertise of artists we may create aesthetically pleasing and functional depictions of data. Following these results the thesis concludes with a discussion of future research and potential limitations, and how the present results relate to aesthetics research more broadly.

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