Human processing of graphical information is a topic which has wide-reaching implications for decision-making in a variety of contexts. A deeper understanding of the processes of graphical perception can lead to the development of design guidelines which can enhance performance in graphical perception tasks. This study evaluates the data-ink ratio guideline, which recommends the removal of non-data graph elements, resulting in minimalist graph designs. In an experiment, participants answered graph comprehension questions using bar graphs and boxplots with varying data-ink ratios. Participants answered questions with similar levels of accuracy and mental effort. Some participants drew on graphs, reducing the data-ink ratio of high and medium data-ink stimuli. Additionally, expert interviews were conducted regarding graph use, graph creation, and opinions about the data-ink concept and example graphs. Interviewees had a variety of opinions and preferences with regard to graph design, many of which were dependent upon the specific circumstances of presentation. Most interviewees did not think that high data-ink graph designs were superior. These results suggest that data-ink maximization does not improve performance in graph comprehensions tasks, and that arguments regarding the data-ink ratio deal with the subjective issue of graph aesthetics.
Library of Congress Subject Headings
Reading comprehension; Visual communication--Research; Information visualization; Graphic methods
Experimental Psychology (MS)
Department, Program, or Center
McGurgan, Kevin, "Data-ink Ratio and Task Complexity in Graph Comprehension" (2015). Thesis. Rochester Institute of Technology. Accessed from
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