Human factor in virtual reality data visualization

Volodymyr Kurbatov
Nov 5, 2017 · 4 min read

This article was originally published on my personal website.

When I saw the first Oculus presentation video I didn’t start dreaming about games. My first thoughts were about areas that VR can transform: travel, commerce, and 3d modeling. But data visualization was the most exciting field for me.

Even with available rich 3d graphics, for data visualization flat shapes was more suitable. 3d charts on flat screen make information more difficult to understand and compare.

But stereo vision opens new frontiers. A user doesn’t have to rotate the model to get an idea about the volume. He can literally feel shapes and proportions. And in some experiences even naturally interact with data. It’s like making any visualization twice better by giving the extra dimension of information. As a user is closed in VR experience it helps keep focus and give a feeling of higher involvement.

While the time I became confused. Why aren’t appear great examples of data visualizations and tools for building them?

So I decided to make small research and compare few numbers in usual 2d and VR view.

My general hypothesis is: Data visualization in VR is better than in 2d.

There are already some examples of 3d charts in VR:

Source Virtualitics

Such experience can nice, but it doesn’t give a lot of advantages. In case of a simple bar chart, it even makes it worse because of perspective distortion. On 2d chart user can compare sizes, in VR it isn’t so easy because of perspective distortion.

Maybe charts that extra layer of information (for example, 3d scatter plot or 3d bar chart) will have more sense in VR. But in this research, I decided to don’t dig into this way. Advantages of such visualizations aren’t high. And hardware for virtual reality isn’t so popular.

Obvious take away here is:

If squares aren’t enough exciting, transform them to boxes in VR isn’t going to help.

After this, I focused on objects that can make more sense for users that bar charts. After small research in areas around I decided to build the demo about people diversity. It shows information about the population using silhouettes of people. Initial idea is that real scale person will affect empathy of a viewer. And pride instincts allow roughly understand the volume of groups.
But at first have a look at flat version:

And VR version:

Record of VR Experience

If you have a chance, I would recommend to use VR headset:

I was more than satisfied by the effectiveness of VR demo. I continued searching for other objects that have an emotional connection with us. The obvious finding was money. So I build the demo that compares some numbers of bucks.
There is the usual bar chart.

VR version:

Record of VR Experience

Check demo:

With real-life objects and feelings, data visualization gets much more sense than just bar charts. I tested them on few people and got interesting feedback. In VR demos they were much more involved. VR view doesn’t give more understanding of size or numbers. But immersive experience definitely helped users understand more clearly values behind numbers.


I can’t say that data visualization in VR is better than in 2d.
But it isn’t worse. It’s just different. It definitely makes sense to use VR in cases when values can be shown in objects from real life.

Please have a look on examples and share your feelings in comments here or directly on Twitter.

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Originally posted on

Inborn Experience (UX in AR/VR)

Learn about user experience in augmented and virtual…

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