Skip to Main Content
The research presented in this paper compares user-generated and automatic graph layouts. Following the methods suggested by van Ham et al. (2008), a group of users generated graph layouts using both multi-touch interaction on a tabletop display and mouse interaction on a desktop computer. Users were asked to optimize their layout for aesthetics and analytical tasks with a social network. We discuss characteristics of the user-generated layouts and interaction methods employed by users in this process. We then report on a web-based study to compare these layouts with the output of popular automatic layout algorithms. Our results demonstrate that the best of the user-generated layouts performed as well as or better than the physics-based layout. Orthogonal and circular automatic layouts were found to be considerably less effective than either the physics-based layout or the best of the user-generated layouts. We highlight several attributes of the various layouts that led to high accuracy and improved task completion time, as well as aspects in which traditional automatic layout methods were unsuccessful for our tasks.