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Synthesizing Data Visualization and User Experience

Designers: Do you ever find yourself making a data visualization but you’re not sure which graph or chart to use? Users: Do you look at a visualization and wonder what you’re supposed to be looking for?

We live in a world with an abundance of data which gives us opportunities for insight and action. But often it’s easy to get lost in it all. Our Managing Director, Mark Schindler, and fellow industry leader, Bang Wong (Creative Director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard) have collaborated on a framework for answering the questions we have surrounding data and user experience.

DVUX draws on the parallels between data visualization and user experience design, defining both processes and highlighting the overlap. Effective data visualization is very much dependent on the user — what questions are they asking? What problems are they trying to solve? What insights will help them? Bringing in the UX design process helps create a data experience that is intuitive and actionable.

Designing a data viz? Start with the user

Our first DVUX Meetup, titled “A framework for matching user needs to data visualizations” discussed the concept of putting the user first. At GroupVisual.io, we do this by discovery. This is a crucial component of our design process. During discovery, we create what we call Question Boards. These are visualizations of the key questions our users are looking to answer when they interact with a digital product.
Sometimes, one question may lead to some follow-on questions, which we represent visually in a similar format to a wireframe or workflow diagram.

After the Question Boards are created, we can focus on what data is needed in order to answer each question. Through an iterative process, we design a visualization that directly addresses the user’s questions and helps them arrive at an answer in the least possible amount of time.

Cognitive workflow in data viz design

In our second DVUX Meetup, Mark Schindler discussed the role of abstraction and narrative techniques as important factors to structuring a user interaction around data. We covered the elements of human intelligence, as defined by Steven Pinker. Next, we touched on some historical background of graphical techniques. The bulk of the talk was centered around the different workflows that our graphical toolkit enables, and some frameworks for approaching a data design challenge.

If you missed either of the Meetups, be sure to subscribe to the DVUX Meetup page to be notified about upcoming events!