Academic journal article Human Factors

Configural Display Design Techniques Considered at Multiple Levels of Evaluation

Academic journal article Human Factors

Configural Display Design Techniques Considered at Multiple Levels of Evaluation

Article excerpt


Two studies were conducted to examine issues in the design and evaluation of configural displays. Four design techniques (bar graphs/extenders, scale markers/scale grids, color coding/color layering/color separation, and annotation with digital values) were applied, alone and in combination, to a baseline configural display, forming 10 displays. Two qualitatively different evaluations assessed performance for (A) low-level data probes (quantitative estimates of individual variables) and (B) system control and fault detection tasks. Three of the four design techniques improved performance significantly for low-level data probes (color coding was the exception). A display with digital values only (i.e., no analog configural display) produced the poorest performance for control/fault detection tasks. When both levels of evaluation are considered, a composite display (configural display with all four techniques applied) was clearly the most effective. Overall, the findings obtained in the two experiments provide very limited evidence for the generalization of results between evaluations. The two levels of evaluation, the display manipulations, and the patterns of results are considered in terms of a cognitive systems engineering evaluation framework. General implications for the evaluation of displays and interfaces are discussed. Actual or potential applications include design techniques to improve graphical displays and methodological insights to focus and improve evaluation efforts.


An ongoing research program has explored issues in the design and evaluation of configural displays (Bennett & Flach, 1992; Bennett, Nagy, & Flach, 1997; Bennett, Payne, Calcaterra, & Nittoli, 2000; Bennett, Toms, & Woods, 1993). This type of display maps several individual variables into a single geometrical form. Changes in the individual variables cause the overall pattern, or configuration, of that form to vary. One focus of these research efforts has been on fundamental issues in the design of these displays. These include issues in perception and pattern recognition as well as the quality of the specific mappings between graphical representations and domain semantics. A second focus has been on fundamental issues in evaluation, including the use of multiple methodologies. Factors in both design and evaluation were investigated in the present study: Alternative versions of a configural display were evaluated using two qualitatively different methodologies. We begin with a description of the basic config ural display and the design techniques that were evaluated.

The basic configural display included four variables: two variables that were plotted on the y axis and two variables that were plotted on the x axis. A single geometrical form (a rectangle) was plotted at the intersection of these four variables. This rectangle could change in size, shape, and location within the x-y grid (for a more complete description of the display, see Bennett et al., 1993).

Ten displays were implemented using four design techniques (the scales, color, bar-ex, and digital techniques). The baseline configural display (Figure 1) had no techniques applied. The scales design technique added scale markers and scale gridlines to the baseline (Figure 2). The color design technique (Figure 3) used chromatic and luminance contrast to add color coding, visual layering, and visual separation to the baseline display. The bar-ex design technique (Figure 4) incorporated bar graphs for each individual variable and "extenders" that connected them to the configural form. Eight of the 10 displays were formed through a factorial combination of these three design techniques, applied at two levels (present or absent). The final two displays incorporated the fourth design technique -- digital values. The composite display had the scales, color, and bar-ex design techniques applied and was also annotated with digital values (Figure 5). …

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