Points of View: Intuitive design

Journal name:
Nature Methods
Volume:
13,
Page:
895
Year published:
DOI:
doi:10.1038/nmeth.4041
Published online

Appeal to intuition when making value judgments

At a glance

Figures

  1. An abstract representation of a system should embody its physical and temporal characteristics.
    Figure 1: An abstract representation of a system should embody its physical and temporal characteristics.

    (a) On the left, the use of arrows for both sampling data and the addition of reagents confounds the processes. The direction of the arrows is unintuitive, as exemplified by a schematic (right) of the underlying physical system. (b) Flipping the timeline improves the display. Timeline encoding adapted from ref. 2.

  2. Choose colors with likely value judgments that are compatible with the underlying meaning.
    Figure 2: Choose colors with likely value judgments that are compatible with the underlying meaning.

    (a) Using a red/green combination falsely implies negative/positive values of the categories. Gray is used for multiple purposes. (b) Encoding factor type with hue provides the option to use decreasing color opacity across column to encode the three levels of confidence. Red/blue combinations are color-blind safe3.

  3. Encode the control condition (-) and experimental intervention (+) with colors that reflect the nature of the intervention.
    Figure 3: Encode the control condition (−) and experimental intervention (+) with colors that reflect the nature of the intervention.

    (a) The control is unduly emphasized when it is depicted in red. (b) The use of gray avoids value judgments based on color, and using a lighter shade for the control makes it visually subordinate to the intervention category. Avoid hollow bars because they interfere with figure–background perception1. (c) Use red for the intervention if it is harmful or corresponds to a negative outcome. (d) For the positive outcome, blue is preferable to green to aid color-blind readers3.

  4. Shapes can intuitively encode cellular properties.
    Figure 4: Shapes can intuitively encode cellular properties.

    In row 1, the variation in color and shape lacks a unifying theme demonstrating the progression from normal to cancer stem cell. Row 2 presents a more intuitive progression; the immune cell is intuitively visualized as one with a thicker (more resistant) boundary. The spikes of the cancer stem cell suggest the potential to do physical harm. In row 3, the continuity across shapes is improved by encoding cancer with a fill color that differs from that of the outline. Now the shape of the normal cell remains distinguishable throughout. Adapted from ref. 4.

References

  1. Wong, B. Nat. Methods 7, 863 (2010).
  2. Araldi, D., Ferrari, L.F. & Levine, J.D. Neuroscience 35, 1250212517 (2015).
  3. Wong, B. Nat. Methods 8, 441 (2011).
  4. Chun, H.J.E. et al. in Cancer Genomics 1st edn. (eds. Dellaire, G.D. et al.) 1330 (Elsevier, 2013).

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Author information

Affiliations

  1. Martin Krzywinski is a staff scientist at Canada's Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre.

Competing financial interests

The author declares no competing financial interests.

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