Lessons from Visualization Research

A “concrete scale” is a technique that can be used to visually relate, re-express and compare measures of extreme magnitudes or unfamiliar units.

Concrete scales depict simple relationships of complex measurements, making it easer for a viewer to comprehend the measure.

There are several techniques to use when displaying complex measurements, such as conversion/comparison, containment/nesting, unitization (defining an object as a new unit of measure), and analogy. The study also suggests questions for designers to consider when creating a visualization’s concrete scale:

  • What makes the measure difficult to assess?
  • Is it a good unit? Is the object culturally appropriate, familiar?
  • Can/shall the physical property be used?
  • What technique to use? Comparison, containment, unitization?
  • What anchor(s) to use? Dimension, magnitude, scale?
  • When and what containers to use?

Source: Using Concrete Scales: A Practical Framework for Effective Visual Depiction of Complex Measures, Chevalier, et al., 2013