design activity framework

by Sean McKenna, Dominika Mazur, Jim Agutter, Miriah Meyer
design activity framework for visualization design

The design activity framework is a new visualization design process model devised to guide visualization designers in building more effective and useful visualization systems and tools. The novelty of this framework includes its flexibility for iteration, actionability for guiding visualization designers with concrete steps, concise yet methodical definitions, and connections to other visualization design models commonly used in the field of data visualization. In summary, the design activity framework breaks down the visualization design process into a series of four design activities: understand, ideate, make, and deploy. For each activity, the framework prescribes a descriptive motivation, list of design methods, and expected visualization artifacts.

To elucidate the framework, two case studies for visualization design illustrate these concepts, methods, and artifacts in real-world projects in the field of cybersecurity. For example, these projects employ user-centered design methods, such as personas and data sketches, which emphasize our teams’ motivations and visualization artifacts with respect to the design activity framework. These case studies also serve as examples for novice visualization designers, and we hypothesized that the framework could serve as a pedagogical tool for teaching and guiding novices through their own design process to create a visualization tool.

To externally evaluate the efficacy of this framework, we created worksheets for each design activity, outlining a series of concrete, tangible steps for novices. In order to validate the design worksheets, we conducted 13 student observations over the course of two months, received 32 online survey responses, and performed a qualitative analysis of 11 in-depth interviews. Students found the worksheets both useful and effective for framing the visualization design process. Next, by applying the design activity framework to technique-driven and evaluation-based research projects, we brainstormed possible extensions to the design model. Lastly, we examined implications of the design activity framework and present future work in this space. The visualization community is challenged to consider on how to more effectively describe, capture, and communicate the complex, iterative nature of data visualization design throughout research, design, development, and deployment of visualization systems and tools.