Wondering if anyone has any recommendations or articles on this.

Basically we conducted research into the best methods of visualisation are for particular datasets. Basic example, data plotted over time is usually best visualised with a line chart.

Should we then allow users to display this data in a way they see fit, or should we lock it down to our specification?

  • The information you provide isn't sufficient to give a recommendation: What types of data, what kind of applications etc. Judging from gut feel: provide sensible defaults, simply because they'll usually end up using your software in ways you never imagined.
    – peterchen
    Jul 1, 2011 at 11:48

5 Answers 5


We have found that different presentation methods work for different users, both inherently and based on their roles (what are they trying to learn from this?). We therefore not only provide different off-the-shelf visualizations but also allow users to customize them from there. One thing we've learned from watching our users is that one size definitely does not fit all.

  • +1. Give some good defaults and suggestions for users that don't want to learn the 'rules', but allow engaged users the flexibility to do wonderful, unexpected things. Jul 1, 2011 at 16:01

I recommend you to read Edward R. Tufte books. Especially The Visual Display of Quantitative Information.

  • I have this book, I'll read it again with this in mind. Thanks.
    – Graham
    Jul 4, 2011 at 9:27

It really depends on what your userbase is like. I can give you my perspective if I was your target user.

As somebody who often visualizes survey data often in Mekko Graphics and Excel/Powerpoint charts, I would say customizability is key for advanced users. My most frustrating time using these programs is when I am trying to change something that the program tries to automate. Excel/Powerpoint charts default to the color schemes of the document theme, for example, and Mekko automatically sizes and positions all labels, but often doesn't do a good job. Don't even get me started about Mekko's default number formats. The reason I need customizability is that I spend a lot of time looking at the data and thinking about it, and I decide what the story is that I want to tell with the data. The visualizations are citations in a story, and I want to present a simple view that tells exactly what I want it to tell.

While there are an array of guidelines that people should follow to represent data with the least bias (for example, presenting percentages should always be done on a scale of 100%) and giving ultimate flexibility can allow a researcher to violate those guidelines, ultimately best practices can't be controlled by the software, they can only be instilled through a community.

Having seen many non-experts also make and present Excel charts, I think they crave customization as well, but there needs to be a good starting point that they customize from. I usually know exactly what type of chart I want to share before I start building it in Mekko, but a novice user probably needs that automatic guidance like defaulting to a line chart with time series data.


Oh, that's an easy one. Just ask your users whether they prefer Android or iPhone.

This is an eternal debate, and one that can have no definitive answer - whether you let the users choose for themselves, or do you choose for them. It can't have a universally correct answer, but it can have an answer that's right for you and your users. You need to do user research, maybe extract good personas, and get the answer from them.

As a rule of thumb, users don't customize, and if they try to, then many of them will get lost or render the system less usable than the designer would. That's why MS Office 2007/2010 have next to no customization options as opposed to the freely customizable toolbars of 2003 and earlier versions. However, expert and advanced users do customize and greatly value the freedom this gives them.

You need to research your users.


No need to repeat it here, view the following visualization page periodic table

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