A fairly common visualization type that is severely underappreciated is the seating chart. The visualization is basically a map showing the placement of seats relative to the main attraction. Seating charts aren’t like other maps. They have unique requirements and show unique information. Typically, seating charts are encountered during a ticket purchase process, but they also pop up at weddings and in classrooms. The goals of seating charts depend somewhat on the venue. For stadiums and theaters, they aim to show what your viewing/listening experience will be like. Typically, they are color coded based on ticket price, an important factor when you are trying to balance your experience with your means. Similar to floor plans, they often need to show several levels. Usually this is accomplished through showing multiple plans for each view, but sometimes there are “3D” views that get the same information across in a single diagram. Seating charts for a plane are a different story. They have nothing to do with how well you can see a stage, track, or field, and are much more about accessibility. And even though seat pricing can vary widely depending on when and where you buy your ticket, when you’re making the purchase all seats in the class you select (first, business, economy) will be the same. The important things for plane seating charts are proximity to bathrooms, aisle vs. window, emergency exit rows, where you are relative to the wings, and distance from the boarding door. All of these things factor into the quality of the seat, and different people have different preferences.
One frustrating thing about airplane seating charts is they never show how the windows line up with the seats, so you often end up with a beautiful view of the plane’s paneling, or a crick in your neck from straining to see. This lack of information makes choosing the right seat on a plane just a little bit harder.
Wedding and classroom seating charts have similar purposes. For classrooms, seating charts help the teacher to learn student’s names, or record attendance and behavior. Wedding seating charts help guests find where their hosts think they should sit, and attempt to solve awkward social situations. In both cases, the charts are designed to help manage interactions rather than to provide information to the seated individuals. Seating charts are just one example of custom visualizations that we deal with frequently in our lives and don’t even notice. Next time you buy tickets, pay attention to the seating chart. Someone spent time thinking about it and helping it communicate data to you. Drew Skau is Visualization Architect at Visual.ly and a PhD Computer Science Visualization student at UNCC with an undergraduate degree in Architecture. You can follow him on twitter @SeeingStructure