Data Visualization Research: How It Informs Design and Visual Thinking

Joshua Korenblat
Assistant Professor, Graphic Design
SUNY New Paltz

Design research aligns with the process of researching a data visualization project. Data visualization maps numbers to visual variables; many design projects, meanwhile, have concerns other than numbers and statistics. Yet the research process that contributes to a sound data visualization can offer valuable insights into visual thinking and storytelling. Data visualization is the end result of data analytics, an exploratory process that cultivates a mindset familiar to designers.

Curiosity guides this mindset: observational, descriptive methods allow the creator to understand a topic from multiple angles, ultimately honing clarity in communicating an idea. The process might at times proceed from details to a big picture; other times, from a big picture to details. This data analytics mindset dovetails with emergent processes in design thinking. In both processes, small sprints often yield results more optimal than a grand master plan.

Data analytics involves spatial visual thinking skills that designers—all of whom work with points, lines, planes, and color—have the ability to understand. One of the leading visualization packages for the open source statistic package R is called the “grammar of graphics,” akin to verbal and visual language. I will use an accessible information graphic that compares Presidential biographies at the time of first election. This case study will detail how the analytic process conducts along a circular track: gathering data, structuring it, finding an insight, and visualizing that insight in a memorable, authentic, and persuasive way for a specific audience. Designers, and designers interested in storytelling, can identify familiar experiences at each step of the process. For designers who have yet to work in data analytics and visualization, accessible methods of sketching with data can exercise observational skills and visual thinking processes that propel many design and teaching practices—even those unconcerned with data visualization as the end result.

Visualizing Pesticide Use in Controlling Zika

Courtney Marchese
Assistant Professor of Interactive Media + Design
Quinnipiac University

Information graphics help condense large amounts of data into comprehensive visuals. One of the most critical topics for the general public to understand is issues of public health. Zika virus has come to the forefront as one of the most threatening mosquito-transmitted diseases in the Americas, with proven complications that include microcephaly and Guillain-Barré syndrome. Although there is currently no cure for Zika, there are a number of pesticides used in the affected areas in hopes of controlling the spread of the virus. In collaboration with scientists and other experts in the field, I will harvest and deliver the most important data to the general public. Through data visualization, we can track which pesticides are being used where, and how efficiently they are controlling the spread of the virus-carrying mosquitos.

My methodology in creating the information graphics is to research both data visualization techniques as well as pesticide use in the Americas as it related to controlling Zika transmission. I will also interview and collaborate with experts as I collect and analyze the necessary layers of data. From there, many iterations of potential visualizations will be created and critiqued until the best possible solutions have been created. My hope is that these graphics will help provide a comprehensive overview of the relationship between various pesticide use and the spread of Zika virus.

Spark Collaborations: Design as Catalyst for Social Impact

Natacha Poggio
Assistant Professor, Visual Communication Design
Hartford Art School, University of Hartford

Designing for wellness has extended further beyond the creation of care products to the design of processes and experiences involving patients as learners and users. Visually compelling and meaningful systems of artifacts are part of the “wicked solutions” at the intersection between design and health.

The past decade has seen a radical revolution in the amount and variety of design products and systems addressing life-improving humanitarian issues and showcasing the transformational implementation of design as a change agent. Visual communication design education still struggles to transcend the conversation about effectively implementing and facilitating design curricula that could help trigger and sustain positive social and cultural change while balancing the need for portfolio-driven outcomes.

Approximately 3–11 million amputees worldwide are in need of a prosthesis, most are located in the poorest countries, where physical therapists are seldom available to teach patients how to use their artificial limbs. “Prosthetic Training Across Borders” (PTAB) is an ongoing transdisciplinary research initiative between Design and Physical Therapy departments at [University] and nonprofit humanitarian organization LIMBS International. Faculty leading teams of undergraduate and graduate students collaboratively co-created prosthetics training materials for above-knee amputee patients in developing countries.

Through the use of simple illustrations to overcome literacy limitations, these educational materials facilitate the communication process for local clinicians so they can effectively educate their patients about rehabilitation protocols and regain mobility. By following simple, concise instructions in posters, brochures, and manuals, amputees are able to perform various training activities and avoid inefficient gait patterns. After testing of prototypes in Peru, Ghana and Kenya, the materials are being translated for cultural adaptation to the 32 clinics in Latin America, India and Africa. PTAB initiative not only has transformed the lives of patients, but also shows a practical way in which the intersection between design and health matters.