I recently had the pleasure of attending a one-day tutorial on data visualisation, given by Andy Kirk (@visualisingdata) on the Genome Campus. I was particularly glad that we were able to organise for Andy to run his tutorial here since, rather like Noah Iliinsky and Miriah Myer, Andy frames his guide to data visualisation in terms of a design process; something close to my [UX design] heart.
Taking a step-by-step approach to exploring one’s data, learning about the audience and their goals, deciding on the purpose of the visualisation, and taking time to experiment with different possible solutions is an essential grounding to set down for people, I think.
The March issue of BMC Bioinformatics includes the first ‘how to’ guide for applying user-centred design (UCD) to websites for bioinformatics. In this post, written by user experience (UX) professionals at the European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) UK, we find out how UCD could positively impact scientific discovery in the life sciences.
Paper prototyping for Enzyme Portal
Bioinformatics services can be really useful for scientific research, but unfortunately they have a reputation for being too technical and hard-to-use. This is because it is usually the software developers who decide how bioinformatics software looks and behaves, rather than the biomedical researchers who actually use the resource.
In our article, we outline a better approach – focusing on what the users want.
Activity-centered design (ACD) is a concept that appears to have its roots in activity theory, mostly of the Scandinavian flavour. It asks designers to focus on (wait for it… ) the activities that people are carrying out, and that a system should support.
It is a high-level view of tasks and goals and clearly does not focus on “the user” as an individual unit. Instead, it gives us a framework in which to consider what people do, or what we want them to be able to do, in a more-or-less general sense. This can be a very attractive perspective to take in situations where the user-base is very diverse, the goals are varied, but the broad activities are less numerous and easier to define.
Activity theory itself addresses the psychology of working and learning. It has influenced, and subsequently been influenced by, human-computer interaction research.
Following on from some email discussions, some of my EMBL-EBI colleagues asked me if I could give a general talk on the topic of user research.
They work on Ensembl, one of the joint flagship projects of both the Sanger Institute and EMBL-EBI. It is described as “[a project that] produces genome databases for vertebrates and other eukaryotic species, and makes this information freely available online”. It is a complex system that supports the activities of thousands of scientists around the world.
There were a couple of specific questions that they wanted to explore, and I tried to cover them. I also made the general point that to gain value from user research, we need to dig below the surface, to have articulated goals, and to have a mechanism for reporting findings and acting on them.
A big thank you for the invitation.
It’s about that time of year again! Vizbi, the conference for visualizing biological data, returns in March. This year, it will take place at the Broad Institute, Cambridge, MA, between March 20 and 22. There are half-day tutorials available on March 19.
Early registration closes on February 8. If you cannot make it to Cambridge, USA, you have the option of virtual registration: this allows participation via streaming video, with the possibility to ask questions of the speakers
Back in June 2012, I was contacted by UX designer and visual note-taker extraordinaire, Mike Rohde. We’d been in touch before, to talk about “sketchnotes” and spreading ideas around. Along with 14 others, Mike asked me if I would like to provide some artwork for an upcoming book: the Sketchnote Handbook.
Are bears Catholic? Does the Pope… ? Well, yeah – you get the idea. I was only too happy to produce some illustrations and that book has now been published.