Engaging with (big) data visualizations: Factors that affect engagement and resulting new definitions of effectiveness


  • Helen Kennedy University of Sheffield
  • Rosemary Lucy Hill University of Leeds
  • William Allen University of Oxford
  • Andy Kirk




Data visualization, user engagement, user studies, socio-cultural factors, effectiveness


As data become increasingly ubiquitous, so too do data visualisations, which are the main means through which non-experts get access to data. Most visualizations circulate and are shared online, and many of them are produced by Internet researchers. For these reasons, data visualization is an important object of study for Internet research. This paper proposes that Internet research should engage critically with data visualization, and it does so by focusing on how people engage with them. Drawing on qualitative, empirical research with users, in this paper we identify six factors that affect engagement, which we define as socio-cultural: subject matter; source/media location; beliefs and opinions; time; emotions; and confidence and skills. We argue that our findings have implications for how effectiveness is defined in relation to data visualizations: such definitions vary depending on how, by whom, where and for what purpose visualizations are encountered. Our research also suggests that research into visualization engagement can benefit from adopting qualitative approaches developed within media audience research.

Author Biographies

Helen Kennedy, University of Sheffield

Professor of Digital Society

Rosemary Lucy Hill, University of Leeds

Lecturer in Sociology

William Allen, University of Oxford

Research Officer at the Migration Observatory, in the Centre on Migration, Policy, and Society (COMPAS)

Andy Kirk

U.K.-based freelance data visualization specialist and editor of the award-winning Web site visualisingdata.com.




How to Cite

Kennedy, H., Hill, R. L., Allen, W., & Kirk, A. (2016). Engaging with (big) data visualizations: Factors that affect engagement and resulting new definitions of effectiveness. First Monday, 21(11). https://doi.org/10.5210/fm.v21i11.6389