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Flowstory: the efficacy of storytelling techniques applied to the visualisation of flow and movement data

Liem, J. (2020). Flowstory: the efficacy of storytelling techniques applied to the visualisation of flow and movement data. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City, University of London)


Storytelling is an emerging research topic in the field of visualisation. Visual data stories are often said to make visualisations more effective at communicating information in a more memorable, engaging, or persuasive way. However, such expectations the visualisation community has towards storytelling are rarely based on empirical evidence. The growing body of work within different visualisation domains (e.g., cartography, InfoVis, SciVis, business) mainly formalise ideas as models and frameworks. Only little prior re-search describes the audience’s perspective based on empirical evaluations of the effects of narrative visualisations. This research was motivated by the lack of information on how,why, and when storytelling mechanisms may or may not work in visualisation.

A qualitative design space study defines the scope of the research topic: flow and movement visualisation and storytelling. While the research approach may apply to a broader spectrum of visual communication types, flow and movement visualisation was selected because it shares two central characteristics with telling a story: space and time. Descriptive and generative case studies demonstrate the capabilities of the proposed Flowstory design space to develop narrative-visual designs and empirical evaluation approaches.By interweaving visualisation and storytelling, the framework allows others (e.g., datascientists or data journalists) to bring elements from one discipline into the other when making visual-narrative design considerations.

Two empirical between-subjects crowdsourcing studies explore to what extent selected narrative techniques influence visualisation consumers. The first study investigates to what extent varying text-based emplotments of a visualisation affected the ability to memorise and recall gathered information for making predictions. The second study analyses to what extent commonly used storytelling techniques to generate empathy or provide structure influenced people’s attitudes towards a topic regarded as contentious or strongly held, like immigration. Contrary to initial expectations, the experiments do not provide much evidence for making strong claims about the benefits of storytelling in visualisation.However, results indicate that storytelling can foster the overall understanding but appears to not elicit empathy effectively, can force a reader into a line of thought, and hinder creative thinking.

The conducted research contributes new ideas and perspectives to the developing field of storytelling research in visualisation. In conclusion, this thesis provides a valuable descriptive and generative framework that can be used across disciplines but also shows that the research community should not rely on common, but unchallenged assumptions about the benefits of storytelling in visualisation without careful consideration. This conclusions are discussed in the context of methodological implications for future research paths and experiments.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: Q Science > QA Mathematics > QA75 Electronic computers. Computer science
Departments: Doctoral Theses
School of Science & Technology > School of Science & Technology Doctoral Theses
School of Science & Technology > Computer Science
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