A Generic Framework and Library for Exploration of Small Multiples through Interactive Piling

Fritz Lekschas, Xinyi Zhou, Wei Chen, Nils Gehlenborg, Benjamin Bach, Hanspeter Pfister

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Small multiples are miniature representations of visual information used generically across many domains. Handling large numbers of small multiples imposes challenges on many analytic tasks like inspection, comparison, navigation, or annotation. To address these challenges, we developed a framework and implemented a library called Piling.js for designing interactive piling interfaces. Based on the piling metaphor, such interfaces afford flexible organization, exploration, and comparison of large numbers of small multiples by interactively aggregating visual objects into piles. Based on a systematic analysis of previous work, we present a structured design space to guide the design of visual piling interfaces. To enable designers to efficiently build their own visual piling interfaces, Piling.js provides a declarative interface to avoid having to write low-level code and implements common aspects of the design space. An accompanying GUI additionally supports the dynamic configuration of the piling interface. We demonstrate the expressiveness of Piling.js with examples from machine learning, immunofluorescence microscopy, genomics, and public health.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)358 - 368
Number of pages11
JournalIEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics
Issue number2
Early online date7 Oct 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2021
Event2020 IEEE Visualisation Conference - Virtual Conference, United States
Duration: 25 Oct 202030 Oct 2020


  • Information visualization
  • small multiples
  • interactive piling
  • visual aggregation
  • Spatial organization


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