Skip to Main Content
High-throughput experiments, such as gene expression microarrays in the life sciences, result in very large data sets. In response, a wide variety of visualization tools have been created to facilitate data analysis. A primary purpose of these tools is to provide biologically relevant insight into the data. Typically, visualizations are evaluated in controlled studies that measure user performance on predetermined tasks or using heuristics and expert reviews. To evaluate and rank bioinformatics visualizations based on real-world data analysis scenarios, we developed a more relevant evaluation method that focuses on data insight. This paper presents several characteristics of insight that enabled us to recognize and quantify it in open-ended user tests. Using these characteristics, we evaluated five microarray visualization tools on the amount and types of insight they provide and the time it takes to acquire it. The results of the study guide biologists in selecting a visualization tool based on the type of their microarray data, visualization designers on the key role of user interaction techniques, and evaluators on a new approach for evaluating the effectiveness of visualizations for providing insight. Though we used the method to analyze bioinformatics visualizations, it can be applied to other domains.