Visualization

Visualization is the evaluation, production, and investigation part of the design process. It is a process of making data understandable, communicating through clarity and integrity in order to engage the viewers through stimulation. In order to answer a research question for a given user group, recognize important data and visualizing it in the most easiest way to comprehend is an extremely important task for the designer.

The best way to showcase data is to be concise and clear. This week in studio, we focused on the important aspects of visualization. Through hands on practice using Tableau, datasets from 911 calls, and Tufte’s graphical excellence guidelines, we focused on the important details of visuals and data representation.

What?

To practice our visualization skills, we created images to percieve the same information through the eyes of different user groups.

We were given different user groups and research problems that should be answered using the visuals we create. The dataset given was a subset of all the 911 calls recieved in 2015. This included crimes like thefts, car accidents, missing persons, and trespassing. Therefore, deconstructing the research problem was key in recognizine what patterns need to be identified/visualized.

One example of a visual practiced in studio was noticing when and where traffic accidents occur in the U-District. To do so, it was important to break down the information in terms of a visual placing the different accidents in the different parts of the U-District, the statistical breakup of the number of accidents by hour, and an average understanding of which day of the week accidents tend to occur.

The final output was such:

Visual on car accidents

Finally, to test personal understanding, we were delegated to pick a user group and research question. As a person who has recently gone through the pain of finding safe housing, I was aware I wanted to focus on the safety aspect of a new home owner. However, to make my user group more concise, I looked at a new mother with 2 children who is int he process of moving to Seattle.

The aim was to find the safest district for a woman that works but does not mind the commute to her workplace as her prime importance is the safety of her children. Therefore, the following visual decisions needed to be made: facilitate the user in locating the different neighborhoods (since she will not know where they are located in Seattle), breaking down the different 911 event groups and narrowing it down to the ones that affect home safety, and the overall number of crimes that occur in each neighborhood.

The result visual was this:

The aim was to ensure the visuals are connected and flow into one another, facilitating understanding the data. Therefore, beginning from top left, the map shows the spatial layout of Seattle and where each district is located. The circle size denotes the number of 911 records in the area. The top right takes the circles and breaks it down. Each district is broken into three zones, giving numerical values to safety levels. Lastly the bottom visual shows how 5 districts rank in home safety related crimes.

This process of visualization, and as faciliated by Tableau, made me think of how different sets of data can apply to a wide range of user groups. The same data set can answer questions for governments, individuals, families, corporations and so many more. The activity therefore allows a more deeper understanding in communication and furthering investigation.

So What?

Visualization is a key aspect of taking stock on what feedback you have created. While creating softwares, it is an important form of communicating relevant information and results to the user. Therefore, clarity is an extremely important aspect in this process.

While decisions were being on made on what the relevant information is, I faced a challenge while focusing on a few crimes. It was hard to distinguish which crimes the mother would be interested to learn statistics about. More importantly, it was important to keep the user in mind. For someone who is familiar with Seattle’s geographic region and the different locations, I skipped creating the map interface, focusing on similar looking visuals. However, while reviewing I learned the importance of such information and the importance of diversity while creating graphs.

Tufte’s principals further helped narrow down important data. In the future however, I would like to see how to incorporate the same graph type while showcasing data. For example if a stacked bar graph is used to show multiple forms of data, would it be more effective than using different types of graphs?

More importantly, this process has intrigued me to look at many other situations and how data sets can be applied to varrying and different user groups. The key aspect of this process is to realize the importance of communication, and helps designers focus on what more user research is required to refine solutions.

Now What?

In looking at big data and refining it to particular instances, this activity forced me to prioritize in terms of design solutions. By creating visuals and reports, it prompts evaluation of the future needs for a seamless and accessible product. This part of the process is particularly helpful for communicating between developers and users. From application prototypes, to resumes (to show strenghts in different programming languages/skills), to understanding the direction in which a project is headed in, visualization is key in the aesthetically driven society we live in.

The process of visualization causes big picture thinking. As a next step in the process, deconstructing these visuals with a singular theme attaching them is key. Furthermore, it prompts convergent thinking in terms of making designers focus on the needs of the user group and the research questions.

This activity of user research can therefore be applied to future internships in the field of design, data analysis, and consultancies.