The "Physics of Diagrams": Revealing the scientific basis of graphical representation design

Sarah Pissierssens, Jan Claes, Geert Poels
arXiv:1903.05941 (working paper), 2019 pdf


Abstract. Data is omnipresent in the modern, digital world and a significant number of people need to make sense of data as part of their everyday social and professional life. Therefore, together with the rise of data, the design of graphical representations has gained importance and attention. Yet, although a large body of procedural knowledge about effective visualization exists, the quality of representations is often reported to be poor, proposedly because these guidelines are scattered, unstructured and sometimes perceived as contradictive. Therefore, this paper describes a literature research addressing these problems. The research resulted in the collection and structuring of 81 guidelines and 34 underlying propositions, as well as in the derivation of 7 foundational principles about graphical representation design, called the "Physics of Diagrams", which are illustrated with concrete, practical examples throughout the paper.