Development of a design for mobile data visualization

Image: SMU assistant professor Wang Yong wants to develop a data visualization plan to allow users of mobile devices to easily read and interact. see more

Photo credit: Singapore Management University

By Jovina Ang

SMU Office of Research – It is projected that by 2025, nearly three-quarters of the world’s internet users will be mobile-only.

While mobile devices allow for easy access to data, there are limitations in how the data is optimally presented due to the small form factor and limited screen size.

For example, it is much easier to display 10,000 data points on a desktop than on a smartphone, which typically has a screen size of 2.82 inches (71.5 mm) x 5.78 inches (146.7 mm).

When data is displayed on a small screen, it’s either truncated, distorted, or too cluttered to be read – which is why mobile devices can’t display all the information they need at once.

Mobile devices also don’t have access to precise input methods such as “click”, “drag and drop”, or “brush” with the mouse to allow users to interact with the data.

Another limitation of mobile devices is the difficulty that users face when browsing data.

“There is no doubt that good mobile data visualization is critical to improving user understanding, pattern recognition, monitoring and analysis,” assistant professor of computer science Wang Yong told the Office of Research.

“With the widespread use of mobile devices to monitor health data, read financial charts, and decipher all sorts of work and personal trends, the field of mobile data visualization will become increasingly important in the coming years,” he added.

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“There are three key aspects that are critical to optimizing layout on mobile. First, enough data must be displayed for users to understand. Second, the ability to zoom in and out to provide users with the level of data granularity. And third, there must be a way for users to select a subset of the data to extract the information they need,” he explained.

“As a researcher, I also want to understand the impact of the different interaction modes – voice, touch and tilt – on improving the user’s readability of data,” he continued.


This research, led by Professor Wang and Assistant Professor Kotaro Hara from the SMU School of Computing and Information Systems, is considered one of the world’s most groundbreaking research projects on mobile data visualization.

The research is funded by a Tier 2 grant from the MOE Academic Research Fund and is divided into two work packages.

work package 1

In work package 1, 30 data visualization experts from academia and industry (e.g. Microsoft Research and Tableau) will be interviewed to get their feedback on the challenges and problems they face in the real-world design, creation and applications of mobile data visualizations.

The team will also collect visualization examples from the web to understand and determine how the different visualization techniques such as scatter charts, bar charts, pie charts, etc. can be optimally displayed on mobile devices without losing the meaning of the data.

In addition, researchers will explore in depth the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in mobile data visualization. In particular, how can AI seamlessly respond and push data visualizations from desktops to mobile devices?

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At the end of this work package, the team intends to publish a comprehensive guide detailing the principles and framework for converting desktop to mobile data visualizations.

Work package 2

Work package 2 focuses on examining how the three user interaction modes – i. language using natural language processing; ii. touch with fingers; iii Tilt – can enhance user interactions with mobile data visualizations.

Speech recognition using natural language processing (NLP) is a convenient way for users to provide instructions for changing the data layout or extracting a subset of the data. For example, if you want to see your step count before and after the COVID-19 pandemic, all you have to do is “speak” to the data visualizations by voice.

While touch operation is natural and intuitive, a major limitation is the large selection area that accommodates the size of a finger for data manipulation.

Tilting, a unique interaction input for mobile devices, is also explored. In this part of the research, the team investigates how mobile users can navigate and control animated data transitions.

After completing these work packages, Professor Wang’s team aims to advance the research by investigating the combination of the different modalities to improve data readability and the user experience of data visualizations on mobile devices.

Professor Wang is excited about the potentially groundbreaking research: “It is so exciting to work in this area of ​​cutting-edge research. Currently, there is no blueprint for desktop-mobile communication for data visualization. Our goal is to be the pioneers pushing the frontiers of this research.”

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