The visualization of financial data
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The Visualization of Financial Data. A review of information visualization tools in the financial data domain by Brian Sylvester LIS 544 Spring 2008. Definitions of Financial Data. “A time series of price and volume values for a wide array of assets” (Roberts, 2004, pp.17)

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The Visualization of Financial Data

A review of information visualization tools in the financial data domain

by Brian Sylvester

LIS 544

Spring 2008

Definitions of Financial Data

  • “A time series of price and volume values for a wide array of assets” (Roberts, 2004, pp.17)

  • “Financial information can be characterized with the following attributes: large amount, multi-dimensional and abstract nature, complex information structure, hidden information” (Lux, 1998, pp. 58)

  • Tools looked at dealt with two areas of financial information – Personal, Corporate or Global Finance, and the Stock Market

Clusters of Tools

23 tools were examined, either in the form of promotional ads / demonstrations, documentation, or the tools themselves. Four clusters were identified, along with a fifth group of tools which defied classification.

Cluster #1: Charting Tools

Tools in the Charting Tools cluster:

Expensr (

Finesse (

GraphWise (

Grisbi Graphs (

Share Cracker (

SpotFire (

VisualCalc (


WireVis (

Characteristics of Charting Tools

Charting software is easily the largest cluster of tools which deal with financial information. It refers to tools which generate almost any sort of chart: tables, bar graphs, vertical and horizontal line graphs, time lines, or pie charts. Most use multiple charts in linked displays to show relations and trends.

Model Charting Tool: Spotfire - Please take a moment to watch this short video about SpotFire

IV Toolbox

for Spot Fire

On the whole, chart making tools do not utilize pre-attentive features beyond using color and size, as in the case of bar graphs or pie charts, to distinguish sets of data visually.

Perceptual Coding


Information Density

Cluster #2: Dashboards

Tools in the Dashboards Cluster



See Stok Run (

Characteristics of Dashboard Tools

Dashboard tools display a hemispherical icon which resembles the speedometer or tachometer displays found in the dashboards of automobiles. The ‘needles’ on these dashboard icons can display the relative placement of a data set between two extremes.

Model Dashboard Tool: iDashboards

A demo of the iDashboards tool can be accessed from here:

IV Toolbox

for iDashboards

There is virtually no use of the various methods of visually comparing data beyond the use of color and size, both of which are utilized primarily through the inclusion of charts and graphs. Additionally, these types of displays fail to include a semantic zoom or animate shift of focus.

Perceptual Coding


Information Density

Cluster #3: Geographic Models

Tools in the Geographic Models Cluster

Finance Maps (

Visualization of Financial Information (,ACM&CFID=23244455&CFTOKEN=49095553)

Characteristics of Geographic Model Tools

  • Geographic tools share the common feature of using a visual display in the form of a map or globe. The tools utilize color and position to display financial data for different countries or regions by mapping data directly onto an image of that country or those countries. Color is the primary feature of these particular tools which, on the whole, do not utilize many other pre-attentive or interactive features. Both tools are used to discuss global finances

Model Geographic Tool: Finance Maps

Finance Maps is freely available from here:

IV Toolbox

for Finance Maps

These tools use hardly any of the visualization tool features which have been found to be useful. The displays are not linked to any kind of details, forcing the user to scroll down and find information on a chart rather than clicking on the map. The map is supposed to be manipulate-able, in so far as the user is supposed to be able to move it around, zoom in, and select items, but none of these features work with any reliability.

Perceptual Coding


Information Density

Cluster #4: Treemaps

Tools in the Treemaps Cluster:

HeatMaps (

Market Maps (

Minority Game’ Agent Based Visualizer (

Characteristics of Treemap Tools

Tree maps break data down into groups which are then visually arranged as rectangles, which are then colored and arranged onto a rectangular display so as to allow the user to visually recognize patterns. Tree maps traditionally use color, shading, size, and position as pre-attentive features, and rely on the use of semantic zoom, focus in context and details-on-demand. They are used almost exclusively to view information about the Stock Market.

Model Treemap Tool: Market Maps 1000

IV Toolbox

for Market Maps 1000

Market Maps and the other tree-map tools are among the most interactive tools examined. The market maps tool uses color, shading, position, proximity and similarity of the colored rectangular blocks to display patterns and similarities between market segments at a quick glance. By ‘driving down’ into the market map the user can find detailed information and bring out specifics quickly.

Perceptual Coding


Information Density

Cluster #5: Other Tools

Tools in the ‘other’ category:

Financial Reminiscences (

Spie Graphs (

Ticks (

Visual Trader (

Characteristics of Other Tools

The fifth cluster identified for financial tools is also the second largest cluster. Most of the tools come close to fitting in to one or more of the other sections, but because of important differences were considered separately. Each will be discussed in greater detail below, and a perceptual coding toolbox will be filled out for each tool.

Financial Reminiscences

Financial Reminiscences is a piece of ‘artwork’ generated using a method of rendering financial data. Read the short paper at the above website for a detailed explanation of how the image was created.

IV Toolbox

for Financial Reminiscences

Financial Reminiscences hardly qualifies as a visualization tool, based on the listing of features from the toolbox. There is no interactivity available with the tool, which really only is a method for creating a static display. It does utilize pre-attentive visual features, but by randomly and densely mixing the data together much of the comparison value is lost, as is the ability of the viewer to get detailed information

Perceptual Coding


Information Density

Spie Graphs

- click to the left for a video demonstration

IV Toolbox for Spie Graphs

Spie Graphs is unique among insofar as it is the first to use more perceptual coding features than interactive features. On the whole, through the use of depth cues, color, and shape, Spie Graphs is able to pack in a great deal of data into a single chart. These charts can then be compared, but not manipulated directly. Spie Graphs could plausibly have been included within the cluster ‘chart making tools’ but was not because it is the only tool examined which utilizes depth cues.

Perceptual Coding


Information Density

Ticks - click to the right for a video demonstration

IV Toolbox

for Ticks

Ticks, used solely as a tool for mapping the motion of the stock market, uses an even mix of visual encoding and interactivity, although on the whole it suffers from a lack of specificity. It does not show actual numbers, from what can be ascertained by reading the documentation, and does not allow for semantic zooming. The tool is also the only tool to utilize animation features in order to keep up to date in real time, a feature which is to be particularly valued in the volatile realm of financial data.

Perceptual Coding


Information Density

Visual Trader - click the link in the center of the page to watch a demonstration of the tool

IV Toolbox

for Visual Trader

Visual Trader uses the most visualization features from any of the three examined categories and combines them into a highly interactive, visually appealing, and useful tool. While it is only used for the stock market, a platform similar to this one could plausibly be developed for personal or corporate finances. The display features show data in multiple ways, allowing users to find many different patterns and trends.

Perceptual Coding


Information Density

Clusters and Data Sets

Best Tools

In terms of Visualization Features, the best tool for each data set seems to be:

  • Personal/Corporate Finance: Spie Graphs

  • Stock Market: Visual Trader


We may conclude from these reviews that most tools do not make substantial use of pre-attentive features and rely instead on interaction and linked displays.

The best tools for the respective domains of personal/corporate finance and the stock market are tools from the Other category which utilize both interaction and pre-attentive features.

Conclusions, Cont.

Perhaps because of the need for detailed information updated in real time, financial data is more often described using conventional chart and graphing software and, where visualization methods are utilized, they predominantly do not take advantage of the pre-attentive features of the human visual system. This represents a great opening in terms of future research and development of visualization tools, for those tools which do take advantage of these visual features are in a position to more quickly, efficiently and effectively monitor, track and display financial information.


  • All websites and electronic documents were retrieved on April 25th, 2008.

  • Animated Equity, LLC. (2008). See Stok Run 3.0: Animated stock market. Retrieved from

  • Chang, R. et al. (2007). WireVis: Visualization of Categorical, Time-Varying Data

    • From Financial Transactions. FromIEEE symposium on Visual Analytics Science and Technology, 2007, pp. 155 - 167. Retrieved from

  • Expensr, Inc. (2007). where did all my money go? Retrieved from

  • (2004). Finance Maps: mapping the major equity market changes over the last 52 weeks. Retrieved from

  • GraphWise, LLC. (2007). Graphwise. Retrieved from

  • iDashboards. (2007). Financial Solutions. Retrieved from

  • Information Builders (2007). Data visualization tools from information builders. Retrieved from

  • Nirvana Systems. (2008). Visual Trader. Retrieved from

  • Page, J. (2008). Spie Graphs. Retrieved from

  • Roberts, P. (2007). Information Visualization for Stock Market Ticks: toward a new trading interface. (Masters Thesis, MIT University, 2007). Retrieved from

Bibliography, cont.

  • Saito, Y. (2002). Financial Reminiscences: An example of art based on information visualization in finance. In the Proceedings of the Sixth International Conference on Information Visualisation, 2002. Retrieved from

  • (2008). Market Maps 1000. Retrieved from

  • SS&C Technologies, Inc. (2008). Heatmaps. Retrieved from

  • Varshney, A. & Kaufman, A. (1996). FINESSE: A Financial Information Spreadsheet. Retrieved from

  • Tibco. (2008). Guided Enterprise analytic solutions: Tibco - SpotFire. Retrieved from

  • VisualCalc, Inc. (2008). Visual Calc: Pre-Figured calculators. Retrieved from

  • Waddilove, R. (2008). Share Cracker reviews and free downloads. Retrieved from

  • Wei Jiange (2005). Information Visualization Of An Agent-Based Financial System Model. Computing in Economics and Finance, 468. Retrieved from

  • Wessel, W. (2007). Grisbi Graphs. Retrieved from

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