An experiment on the role of graphical elements in architecture visualization
The evolution and maintenance of large-scale software systems requires first an understanding of its architecture before delving into lower-level details. Tools facilitating the architecture comprehension tasks by visualization provide different sets of configurable, graphical elements to present information to their users. We conducted a controlled experiment that exemplifies the critical role of such graphical elements when aiming at understanding the architecture. In our setting, a different configuration of graphical elements had significant influence on program comprehension tasks. In particular, a 63% gain in effectiveness in architectural analysis tasks was achieved simply by changing the configuration of the graphical elements of the same tool. Based on the results, we claim that significant effort should be spent on the configuration of architecture visualization tools and that configurability should be a requirement for such tools.