Reflection & Outlook

What Has Been Done Here?

This thesis investigated a system for emotion experience recording, a visual language for representing emotion and a digital experience prompting reflection. Ambitiously, its intent is to begin a conversation between two branches of knowledge and point to places where they can influence one another.

The design solution presented, Fine., is just one iteration of a tool for gaining emotion awareness. As it is only a prototype, its first steps in development should continue with user testing. Ideally, testing should be done inside and outside of a therapeutic setting. Even though I’ve discussed the shortcomings of empirical studies of emotion, the experience and professional opinions of psychologists would be extremely valuable to the application’s improvement.

The visual system itself needs to be tested and iterated. Good visualization creates a connection between the viewer and the phenomena described. In the case of emotion visualization, I make a claim that visual language must acknowledge, but not focus too intensely on readability. The core focus is upon the reflection process, not an efficient decision-making process. Proof of this claim would be a big step toward establishing a methodology for emotion visualization. Naturally, as an iterative design process takes place, we will discover additional users and their needs. These findings will help to build on the manifesto on the previous pages.

Throughout the project I had many conversations with people about how “scary” or potentially invasive a tool tracking emotions could be. Now, rarely has man ever stopped designing or developing in light of prospective danger. We build spaceships, algorithms and robots without fully reflecting on future consequences of our inventions. Discovery drives us, propelling us into uncertainty. Could Be Worse, the speculative book produced as an addition to this thesis, is my attempt to step back and criticize the ideas presented here. These short stories represent a thought experiment, in which I want to acknowledge and humorize the very possible realities of wide (or forced) use of such emotion recording tools. I wrote the golden rules in the manifesto while writing Could Be Worse. What I know for sure is: Yes, creating hackable databases of computer-readable emotion data could fall into the “wrong hands.” I choose to believe the benefits of such a tool would far outweigh possible threats.

Could Be Worse

What Is There Still to Do?

As I’ve discussed, with the rapid advancements in the sophistication of technology and the invention of the smartphone, personal data collection has becomes its own movement. Since the first visualizations, we have fixed frameworks and methodology for communicating dense knowledge. If it is quantifiable and objective. The most effective way to describe, explore, and summarize a set of numbers — even a very large set — is to look at pictures of those numbers. It is numbers that we can reason about.

There is a long tradition of recording as a path to self-knowledge and realization of identity. However, because of its qualitative nature, we still haven’t found the right processes to modernize and expand upon it. My hope is that recording this type of personal data using technology will become even more commonplace. There is a stigma in Western culture which makes discussions on emotion difficult to approach. A greater awareness of our emotions and an openness to communicate them is obvious progress for our personal lives, and I would argue, our culture. It is also progress for research in behavioral science and emotion.

The increase in the collection of emotion data is a welcome challenge in the visualization practice. Visual representation of emotion is the enrichment to our written records of self-realization. We only need to develop better processes for flexible and unpredictable datasets. Within the data visualization community, there are stirrings of the need to “humanize” these datasets. To being designing ways to connect numbers to what they really stand for: knowledge, behaviors, and people. If this is the second wave of visualization, then I think there is still space for a middle ground. The same deep and thoughtful approach known for in this field, but to softer data sets, with the intention of designing systematic visual patterns for them. It will take quite some time to build widely accepted tools to even generate the data. And, as is natural to an iterative design process, these tools will probably break.

Out of unavoidable necessity, advancements will be made individually in visualization and in the social sciences. But we are set up for these fields of research to influence, complement and improve one another. Together, we only need to accept that perhaps numbers and objectivity are not, in fact, truth. Collaborative discovery will take it from there.

Thanks for reading.

An overview of this project and a link to the log book of my process can be found online here.