Physical data representations, or data physicalizations, are a promising new medium to represent and communicate data. Previous work mostly studied passive physicalizations which require humans to perform all interactions manually. Dynamic shape-changing displays address this limitation and facilitate data exploration tasks such as sorting, navigating in data sets which exceed the fixed size of a given physical display, or preparing “views” to communicate insights about data. However, it is currently unclear how people approach and interact with such data representations. We ran an exploratory study to investigate how nonexperts made use of a dynamic physical bar chart for an open-ended data exploration and presentation task. We asked 16 participants to explore a data set on European values and to prepare a short presentation of their insights using a physical display. We analyze: (1) users’ body movements to understand how they approach and react to the physicalization, (2) their hand-gestures to understand how they interact with physical data, (3) system interactions to understand which subsets of the data they explored and which features they used in the process, and (4) strategies used to explore the data and present observations. We discuss the implications of our findings for the use of dynamic data physicalizations and avenues for future work.
A short video showing the interactions that were possible with the dynamic physical bar chart used for this study.