Graphical Histories for Visualization: Supporting Analysis, Communication, and Evaluation


Interactive history tools, ranging from basic undo and redo to branching timelines of user actions, facilitate iterative forms of interaction. In this paper, we investigate the design of history mechanisms for information visualization. We present a design space analysis of both architectural and interface issues, identifying design decisions and associated trade-offs.

Based on this analysis, we contribute a design study of graphical history tools for Tableau, a database visualization system. These tools record and visualize interaction histories, support data analysis and communication of findings, and contribute novel mechanisms for presenting, managing, and exporting histories. Furthermore, we have analyzed aggregated collections of history sessions to
evaluate Tableau usage. We describe additional tools for analyzing users’ history logs and how they have been applied to study usage patterns in Tableau.

When investigating data with visualizations, users regularly traverse the space of views in an iterative fashion:

  • Exploratory analysis may result in a number of hypotheses, leading to multiple rounds of question-answering.
  • Analysts can generate unexpected questions that may be investigated immediately or revisited later.
  • After conducting analysis, users may need to review, summarize, and communicate their findings, often in the form of reports or presentations.

In this paper, we explore the design of graphical history tools to support visual analysis. We first present the results of a design space analysis, enumerating design decisions for the software architecture and graphical interface of history systems. Our analysis is intended to provide an overview of important design considerations and thereby help practitioners incorporate graphical history tools into their own visualization applications.

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About the authors

Jeffrey Michael Heer - Assistant Professor Computer Science Department - Stanford University

Jock D. Mackinlay, Director of Visual Analysis - Tableau Software

Dr. Chris Stolte, CDO - Tableau Software

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