Hand-drawn sketching, on napkins or whiteboards, is a common, accessible method for generating visual data representations. This practice is shared by experts and non-experts and is probably one of the faster and more expressive ways to draft a visual representation of the data. In order to better understand the types of and variations in what people produce when sketching data, we conducted a qualitative study. We asked people with varying degrees of visualization expertise, from novices to experts, to manually sketch representations of a small, easily understandable dataset using pencils and paper and to report on what they learned or found interesting about the data. From this study, we extract a data sketching representation continuum from numeracy to abstraction; a data report spectrum from individual data items to speculative data hypothesis; and show the correspondence between the representation types and the data reports from our results set. From these observations we discuss the participants’ representations in relation to their data reports, indicating implications for design and potentially fruitful directions for research.


Author = {Walny, j. and Huron, S. and Carpendale, S.},
Title = {An Exploratory Study of Data Sketching for Visual Representation},
Year = {2015}},
publisher = {Eurographics Association},



Extended Materials


The table below present excerpts of participant's sketches classify along the data representation continuum.

Figures Sources & experiment material

Representation Continuum

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Data report spectrum

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Levels of Data Description

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Figures from the paper

Below you will find the excerpts presented in the paper.

Summary of the results

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Download the Script

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Download the dataset

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Jagoda Walny
Jagoda is a PhD candidate working with Dr. Sheelagh Carpendale in the Innovis Group (Interactions Lab, Department of Computer Science) at the University of Calgary. She is interested in how everyday visual thinking methods such as sketching can inform information visualizations. She uses a qualitative approach to explore the characteristics of analog visual thinking tools.

Samuel Huron
Samuel Huron is a post doctoral researcher in the Innovis Group (Interactions Lab, Department of Computer Science) at the University of Calgary. He received his Ph.D. in 2014 from the university Paris-Saclay in collaboration with INRIA. Previously, he was the lead designer of the Institute of Research and Innovation at the Pompidou Center.

Sheelagh Carpendale
Sheelagh is a Professor at the University of Calgary where she holds a Canada Research Chair: Information Visualization and an NSERC/iCORE/SMART Industrial Research Chair: Interactive Technologies. She directs the Innovations in Visualization (InnoVis) research group and her research focuses on information visualization, collaborative visualization, and large interactive displays.

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