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We present results from a user study that compared six visualization methods for two-dimensional vector data. Users performed three simple but representative tasks using visualizations from each method: 1) locating all critical points in an image, 2) identifying critical point types, and 3) advecting a particle. Visualization methods included two that used different spatial distributions of short arrow icons, two that used different distributions of integral curves, one that used wedges located to suggest flow lines, and line-integral convolution (LIC). Results show different strengths and weaknesses for each method. We found that users performed these tasks better with methods that: 1) showed the sign of vectors within the vector field, 2) visually represented integral curves, and 3) visually represented the locations of critical points. Expert user performance was not statistically different from nonexpert user performance. We used several methods to analyze the data including omnibus analysis of variance, pairwise t-tests, and graphical analysis using inferential confidence intervals. We concluded that using the inferential confidence intervals for displaying the overall pattern of results for each task measure and for performing subsequent pairwise comparisons of the condition means was the best method for analyzing the data in this study. These results provide quantitative support for some of the anecdotal evidence concerning visualization methods. The tasks and testing framework also provide a basis for comparing other visualization methods, for creating more effective methods and for defining additional tasks to further understand the tradeoffs among the methods. In the future, we also envision extending this work to more ambitious comparisons, such as evaluating two-dimensional vectors on two-dimensional surfaces embedded in three-dimensional space and defining analogous tasks for three-dimensional visualization methods.
User study, vector visualization, fluid flow visualization.

M. da Silva et al., "Comparing 2D Vector Field Visualization Methods: A User Study," in IEEE Transactions on Visualization & Computer Graphics, vol. 11, no. , pp. 59-70, 2005.
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