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Lost in Transition

The effects of animation on the understanding of transitions in narrative visualization  — 

My Master's thesis treated the usefulness of animated transitions for storytelling with data. The research was conducted in collaboration with Dr. Nicole Jardine and Dr. Steven Franconeri from the Visual Thinking Lab at Northwestern University.

The research on data visualization has traditionally focused on maximizing the throughput of information through the reader’s visual system. This is useful for researchers who need to explore large amounts of data but it is very strenuous. Narrative visualization, on the other hand, is a new approach to visualization that uses storytelling techniques to reduce the mental burden of the reader.

Charts as a story

One of these techniques is to guide the reader by organizing multiple charts in a sequential, narrative order. While this type of presentation splits information processing into manageable chunks, the reader now needs to understand how the individual charts are related. In practice, animated transitions are often used for this. But existing research indicates that animation might not be an effective way to present abstract relationships.

Do animated transitions help?

This thesis aims to find out if animated transitions have a positive impact on the readers understanding of narrative visualization. Based on a review of the literature on transition understanding and animation, we introduce the concept of characters to narrative visualization. We propose that readers understand transitions by comparing how characters and their setting changes between two charts. The strengths of animation were evaluated based on how they would serve this process. This has led to the formulation of several hypotheses.


An experiment presented 8 transitions, half of them animated, to 56 participants to test these hypotheses. The results indicate that animated transitions do not lead to higher overall understanding. They thus confirm existing research on the use of animation within thecontext of narrative visualization.

Preliminary work