Case Study

Data Visualization Concept: The Pursuit of Happiness

For my final project to earn my Master's Degree in Human-Computer Interaction at Georgia Tech, I concepted, prototyped, and tested a website where users can see the 50 states visualized based on factors important to their personal happiness.

Pursuit of Happiness Prototype

A screen capture from the prototype with several variables selected

My Part
  • Data Collection
  • Creation, Distribution & Analysis of Survey
  • Interaction Design
  • Web-Based Prototype (using D3.js)
  • Planning & Facilitation of Usability Testing
The Challenge

The open-ended nature of the assignment afforded students with the flexibility to work on their personal idea or passion. For me that was data visualization. I wanted a concept where I could seek out and collect a lot of data, and one that I felt a lot of people would be able to connect with. I settled on personal happiness, and since I and many of my friends were about to be looking for new places to live, I was thinking about happiness as it relates to location.

I decided to focus on the 50 American states related to factors that commonly impact happiness and/or quality of life. So first, I needed a good list of those factors. I compiled an initial list based on anecdotal evidence, and then I developed a survey to help me validate and add to my list. I distributed the survey via social media and received almost 200 responses.

Pursuit of Happiness Wireframe Concept

Early wireframe concept with parallel coordinates data visualization

I categorized these factors as Social, Cultural, Economic or Environmental and went out in search for single-variable, state-level data sets to support each factor. I aggregated data from dozens of sources, building a unique, clean data set that could be read by the Javascript libraries necessary to display the data. I used Google Charts for the map display and D3 to create a stacked bar chart to serve as a clear indicator of how states compare with one another. I also used a tooltip library to embed more information into the interface, such as data sources for each factor.

Once a working version of the prototype was complete, I developed a user test plan with a list of tasks and conceptual questions about the system. I conducted five tests in all with fellow students and incorporated what I found into another iteration of the design before my final presentation.

The Results

This was the largest project I had ever taken on solo, start to finish, and I had to learn a lot about web development in the process (and get a great deal of help from a few gracious, patient people). The experience was a big step forward for me in interactive prototyping with real code, and it taught me a lot about how to work and communicate with developers. The project was a good capstone for my time at Georgia Tech, bringing together the common themes of the program and taking them all further than I ever had to that point.

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