Towards Visualization Thumbnail Designs that Entice Reading Data-driven Articles

This paper reports empirical studies to understand what makes visualization thumbnails inviting and interpretable. The figure provides 16 thumbnail designs used in an experiment.


As online news increasingly include data journalism, there is a corresponding increase in the incorporation of visualization in article thumbnail images. However, little research exists on the design rationale for visualization thumbnails, such as resizing, cropping, simplifying, and embellishing charts that appear within the body of the associated article. Therefore, in this paper we aim to understand these design choices and determine what makes a visualization thumbnail inviting and interpretable. To this end, we first survey visualization thumbnails collected online and discuss visualization thumbnail practices with data journalists and news graphics designers. Based on the survey and discussion results, we then define a design space for visualization thumbnails and conduct a user study with four types of visualization thumbnails derived from the design space. The study results indicate that different chart components play different roles in attracting reader attention and enhancing reader understandability of the visualization thumbnails. We also find various thumbnail design strategies for effectively combining the charts' components, such as a data summary with highlights and data labels, and a visual legend with text labels and Human Recognizable Objects (HROs), into thumbnails. Ultimately, we distill our findings into design implications that allow effective visualization thumbnail designs for data-rich news articles. Our work can thus be seen as a first step toward providing structured guidance on how to design compelling thumbnails for data stories.

IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics