An Experimental Scrutiny of Visual Design Modelling: VCL up against UML+OCL

Amalio, Nuno and Briand, Lionel and Kelsen, Pierre (2019) An Experimental Scrutiny of Visual Design Modelling: VCL up against UML+OCL. Empirical Software Engineering, 2019. ISSN 1382-3256

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The graphical nature of prominent modelling notations, such as the standards UML and SysML, enables them to tap into the cognitive benefits of diagrams. However, these notations hardly exploit the cognitive potential of diagrams and are only partially graphical with invariants and operations being expressed textually. The Visual Contract Language (VCL) aims at improving visual modelling; it tries to (a) maximise diagrammatic cognitive effectiveness, (b) increase visual expressivity, and (c) level of rigour and formality. It is an alternative to UML that does largely pictorially what is traditionally done textually. The paper presents the results of a controlled experiment carried out four times in different academic settings and involving 43 participants, which compares VCL against UML and OCL and whose goal is to provide insight on benefits and limitations of visual modelling. The paper's hypotheses are evaluated using a crossover design with the following tasks: (i) modelling of state space, invariants and operations, (ii) comprehension of modelled problem, (iii) detection of model defects and (iv) comprehension of a given model. Although visual approaches have been used and advocated for decades, this is the first empirical investigation looking into the effects of graphical expression of invariants and operations on modelling and model usage tasks. Results suggest VCL benefits in defect detection, model comprehension, and modelling of operations, providing some empirical evidence on the benefits of graphical software design.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: This is a post-peer-review, pre-copyedit version of an article published in Empirical Software Engineering. The final authenticated version is available online at:
Identification Number:
23 October 2019Accepted
28 December 2019Published Online
Uncontrolled Keywords: Design; modelling; UML; OCL; VCL; Diagrams; Experiment
Subjects: CAH11 - computing > CAH11-01 - computing > CAH11-01-01 - computer science
CAH11 - computing > CAH11-01 - computing > CAH11-01-04 - software engineering
Divisions: Faculty of Computing, Engineering and the Built Environment
Faculty of Computing, Engineering and the Built Environment > School of Computing and Digital Technology
Depositing User: Nuno Amalio
Date Deposited: 27 Jan 2020 10:11
Last Modified: 12 Jan 2022 12:57

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