The Research Process

In order to begin with the research, I followed the 'research for creation' method. This method led to the creation of a well-defined research into the related histories, concerning journals and papers, existing theories, to make informed choices about the media that need to be used in order to create. Although the outcome may very well be considered as an experimental product of this process, this method is used to gather research for a “future revealing, enabled through an artistic perception of technology as a practice or craft” (Chapman and Sawchuk 15).

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Initial Planning

  • Choosing the direction of research: visualizing data

  • Issues that move me: sensitive issues, psychology, well-being

  • Areas of interest: music, visuals, technology

Planning and Requirements

  • Look at existing projects dealing with data visualizations

  • Look at how sensitive data is represented

  • Find relevant articles, journals, case studies, etc.

Analysis and Design

  • Finalize on the subject and the problem I am trying to solve

  • Get more resources on loneliness, empathy, data visualizations

  • Finding the problem - enable data visualizations of sensitive issues to foster empathy

  • Find the reasons for existing problems - statistical numbing, compassion fade, information overload, appropriate visual metaphors, representation, etc.

  • Conduct small experiments or create prototypes to solve the issue at a small level

  • Worked on the CAMH data, analyzed it and used percentage drill-down to create the data representing 100 people from Ontario

Implementation

  • Upon self-critique and incorporating concepts and theories learnt, try to create a solution.

  • Include the concepts that are needed to solve the problems in the earlier phase: humanizing data, metaphorical representation, colour theory, visualizing and encoding, affect theory

User Testing

  • Pose the questions that you are trying to solve and use your prototype as a solution: conducting user testing to get insights on the design, appropriateness of the visuals used, accessibility, suggestions and feedback

Iterations created upon Evaluation

  • Work on the feedback, incorporate it in the next prototype: created a version of the prototype by improving the representation of loneliness and depression, avoided colour contrast issues, enhanced the grouping to show age groups, etc.

Re: Analysis, Design Improvements and Implementation

  • Created final prototype

  • Worked it into a narrative on a webpage: helps in sharing, creating awareness, easy access and communication

Final Prototype

  • The creation of the final data visualization, which was used in the narrative storytelling, had gone through careful evaluation, user testing and improvements. With the use of design principles, visualization techniques, humanized data and visual metaphors, the combination of these led to the final creation.

The Iterative Development

The creation phase of the project was Iterative in nature. This helped in incorporating a flexible and adaptable design process, wherein the prototypes can be made and evaluated quickly.

I began my journey by creating my first prototype that followed the theories and concepts that were discovered during the research. For streamlining my direction of creation, I created the user person of an International student, who is away from friends and family. I listing the problems faced by them, how loneliness has affected and what can be done to create awareness about the situation. By carefully incorporating the design principles, the metaphoric interpretations and the approach of humanizing data, I created my first prototype. With internal feedback from advisors and back and forth of design improvements, I made changes to the design aesthetics and the colours used. These feedbacks and insights led me to create another prototype that incorporated feminist and cultural annotations.

The second prototype created was then taken ahead for user testing to receive insights and valuable feedback from the 28 amazing participants. This helped me create my final, much-improved prototype that adhered to the insights received. It was extremely helpful in justifying the colour choices, the overall composition, the metaphorical appropriateness, the visual representations for loneliness and depression and others.

Design improvements - The transition

prototype 1

In the case of my thesis, my choice of leading with a scenic garden lake with flowers symbolizes life. Every flower stands out individually and represents the different states of loneliness and depression faced by the people of Ontario in the form of opening, closing, blooming and wilting.

 

The visual elements of the flower, such as colour and stem length represent the gender and age group it belongs to. The flower as an entity symbolizing life helps the viewers ‘to refer to it, quantify it, identify a particular aspect of it, act with respect to it, and perhaps even believe that we understand it (Lakoff and Johnson 30).

On the right, blue and pink flowers correspond to male and female genders.

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After creating the first prototype, I realized the visual disturbance led the viewer to defocus from the subject - the flowers. The next iteration incorporated this important observation.

 

The flowers were more visible, with the number of fireflies corresponding directly to the proportion of loneliness felt by the person. The open flowers were people facing the least depression, whereas the closed ones were the most depressed out of the entire garden.

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prototype 2

Prototype 3.jpg

The next prototype was an improvement on the scenic landscape, the composition and the colours. The data visualization on the right was shown to depict 60 people for the month of May 2020. 

The colours of the flowers were changed to break away from gender stereotypes. The yellow depicts females, the blue depict males, and the magenta depicts people belonging to the other gender group. These colours had a more gradient effect to add dimensionality. The stems were made darker to keep up with the contrast. The skies were made darker, the waters had more depth and dynamism in them. Overall the composition was corrected to show the different age groups who participated in the CAMH survey.

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The legend of the third prototype can be seen on the right. The scale of loneliness varies by the opening and closing of the flower petals. The scale of depression varies with the proportion of wilting. 

This prototype was used in the user testing to improve further upon the design choices, the aesthetics and the visual language.

A total of 28 participants took part in the survey and 78% of them agreed to the appropriateness of the metaphorical representation of the sensitive issues such as loneliness and depression in the data visualisation. 75% of the people in the survey agreed to feeling sympathetic towards the people being represented. The top emotion words used to describe the data visualization were emotional, lonely and calm.

final prototype - May 2020

The final prototype was created by taking forward the suggested changes and synonymous feedback regarding the contrast, the dramatization of the scale of loneliness and the colour choices.

Some of the changes were:

  • less dark skies, to help improve the contrast for the flowers aged 60 and above years.

  • contrast for the male flowers, given the initial colour chosen for them, was blue - the new colours were pink for males, yellow for females and orange for others.

  • loneliness being more dramatic in terms of representation. For this, I included shade and opacity to show the effect on the extremely lonely flowers.

  • to show a more detailed view, I included a bigger set of people to help incorporate more unique scenarios pertaining to the individuals who took part in the CAMH survey.

  • the stems attached to the flowers were made more segregated visually so that the flowers are not confused in terms of the age group they belong to.

May 2020

final prototype - July 2020

July 2020

final prototype - September 2020

On the right are the data visualizations for the months of May, July and September 2020. The CAMH survey for each of these months had a different set of people who took the survey. Each of these surveys had 1000 people, out of which I represented the people from Ontario in these data visualizations.

September 2020

On the right is the legend for the final data visualizations. We see how the flowers close up and wilt as they start feeling more lonely and depressed.

After creating these data visualizations, I decided to put these in a narrative storytelling layout so that it's easier for the viewers to understand the subject of loneliness. To use the abstract affect in the representation, I also incorporated ambient music to enhance the effect. Special thanks to Scott Buckley for this amazing piece (https://www.scottbuckley.com.au/library/hiraeth/) which was the perfect fit for my project and its purpose. The website has an additional video that demonstrates how voice and words are important when communicating with people feeling lonely. Along with this, there is an interactive demonstration with clickable flowers that reveal the stories of some individuals who were represented through visualizations.

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References used on this page:

Chapman, Owen B., and Kim Sawchuk. “Research-Creation: Intervention, Analysis and ‘Family Resemblances.’” Canadian Journal of Communication, vol. 37, no. 1, Apr. 2012. DOI.org (Crossref), doi:10.22230/cjc.2012v37n1a2489.

​“COVID-19 National Survey Dashboard.” CAMH, https://www.camh.ca/en/health-info/mental-health-and-covid-19/covid-19-national-survey. Accessed 11 Feb. 2021.

“Hiraeth.” Scott Buckley - Creative Commons Music Library, 5 June 2020, https://www.scottbuckley.com.au/library/hiraeth/.

Lakoff, George, and Mark Johnson. Metaphors We Live By. press.uchicago.edu, https://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/M/bo3637992.html. Accessed 5 Mar. 2021.