Effortless data exploration with zenvisage: An expressive and interactive visual analytics system

Tarique Siddiqui, Albert Kim, John Lee, Karrie Karahalios, Aditya Parameswaran

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review


Data visualization is by far the most commonly used mechanism to explore and extract insights from datasets, especially by novice data scientists. And yet, current visual analytics tools are rather limited in their ability to operate on collections of visualizations-by composing, filtering, comparing, and sorting them-to find those that depict desired trends or patterns. The process of visual data exploration remains a tedious process of trial-and-error. We propose zenvisage, a visual analytics platform for effortlessly finding desired visual patterns from large datasets. We introduce zenvisage's general purpose visual exploration language, ZQL ("zee-quel") for specifying the desired visual patterns, drawing from use-cases in a variety of domains, including biology, mechanical engineering, climate science, and commerce. We formalize the expressiveness of ZQL via a visual exploration algebra-an algebra on collections of visualizations-and demonstrate that ZQL is as expressive as that algebra. Zenvisage exposes an interactive front-end that supports the issuing of ZQL queries, and also supports interactions that are "short-cuts" to certain commonly used ZQL queries. To execute these queries, zenvisage uses a novel ZQL graph-based query optimizer that leverages a suite of optimizations tailored to the goal of processing collections of visualizations in certain pre-defined ways. Lastly, a user survey and study demonstrates that data scientists are able to effectively use zenvisage to eliminate error-prone and tedious exploration and directly identify desired visualizations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)457-468
Number of pages12
JournalProceedings of the VLDB Endowment
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2016
Event43rd International Conference on Very Large Data Bases, VLDB 2017 - Munich, Germany
Duration: Aug 28 2017Sep 1 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Science (miscellaneous)
  • General Computer Science


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