Concrete Scale: A Practical Framework for Effective Visual Depiction of Complex Measures

Example of concrete scales:
(a) US Debt (Oto Godfrey,, 2011) explains the gravity of a 115 trillion dollar debt by progressively stacking 100 dollar bills next to familiar objects like an average-sized human, sports fields, or iconic New York city buildings
(b) Sugar stacks (adapted from compares caloric counts contained in various foods and drinks using sugar cubes
(c) How much water is on Earth? (Jack Cook, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Howard Perlman, USGS, 2010) shows the volume of oceans and rivers as spheres whose sizes can be compared to that of Earth.


From financial statistics to nutritional values, we are frequently exposed to quantitative information expressed in measures of either extreme magnitudes or unfamiliar units, or both. A common practice used to comprehend such complex measures is to relate, re-express, and compare them through visual depictions using magnitudes and units that are easier to grasp. Through this practice, we create a new graphic composition that we refer to as a concrete scale. To the best of our knowledge, there are no design guidelines that exist for concrete scales despite their common use in communication, educational, and decision-making settings. We attempt to fill this void by introducing a novel framework that would serve as a practical guide for their analysis and design. Informed by a thorough analysis of graphic compositions involving complex measures and an extensive literature review of scale cognition mechanisms, our framework outlines the design space of various measure relations---specifically relations involving the re-expression of complex measures to more familiar concepts---and their visual representations as graphic compositions.


Chevalier, F., Vuillemot R. and Gali G. Concrete Scales: A Practical Framework for the Visual Depiction of Complex Measures. In IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics (Proc. Infovis'13). 19(12):2426-2435. 2013.

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