Helping Scientist See – A framework for the design of visualizations in health informatics

As part of my thesis for the MFA in Information Design at Visualization, I created a framework to help designers make better visually-supported methods of analysis in the fields of life sciences. This framework establishes guidelines for the collaboration between information designers, biomedical researchers and other stakeholders in academic and corporate settings.

Why does this matter?

The design of complex interactive visualizations for domain-experts in the life sciences requires close collaboration between researchers, health specialists, data scientists, software developers and designers. However, it is only until very recently that the fields of academia, healthcare and pharmaceutical industries have turn to design as a discipline to support systematic approaches to user-centered problem solving.

The framework

The framework is composed of a main design process that describes nine activities: each activity is also accompanied by a deliverable that the designer must produce with the help of other collaborators. A visual representation of the model can be seen below:


The activities are organized around two main cycles: “analysis” and “synthesis”. This term was borrowed from the Analysis-Synthesis Bridge Model by Hugh Dubberly, Shelley Evenson, and Rick Robinson. The arrows seen in several parts of the model indicate feedback loops, or areas where the linearity of the design work is interrupted. Naturally, design activities are non-linear and the arrows are an attempt to make this more evident in places where feedback and iteration are critical.

The activities

Below you can see every activity with a description, a deliverable and sometimes a form of evaluation or conversation. These activities are derived from several disciplines including User Experience Design, ethnographic research and information theory. For a complete list of references, please see the full thesis which is attached at the end of this page.

There is a rationale behind why these activities were selected and why they were arranged in this fashion, but I believe that a deep dive into that escapes the scope of this portfolio piece. For the sake of practicality, and in the hopes that others can use this model, I wrote an article on Medium with examples for some of these activities. Also, you can download a pdf version of these images.

The image below shows a previous version of this model, but I revised it after determining it did not adequately show the nuanced differences of a design process adapted for these fields, or the interdependencies between designers and other domain experts.


Full thesis

If you want to read the full thesis, please click here.