Visualizations and their effect on Understanding

IMG_4958How does one effectively convey data? How do different visualizations affect understanding? What if the readers are experts? Or alternatively, non-experts? These are the questions the Wellesley PGP team is asking. At the moment, tabular views are the most common method for presenting personal genomic data. But while such a method is familiar and pragmatic, it is far from the best approach when it comes to not only readability, but also the display of relationships and trends. As a result, the Wellesley HCI lab has been exploring alternative visualizations that could potentially increase the accessibility of genomic data. Previous to this summer, we developed a set of new visualizations that were reviewed by individuals who boast a strong background in either the biological sciences and/or health care. From their feedback, the PGP team improved the visualizations, and are in the process of launching a new study to determine the understandability of these visualizations to non-experts rather than experts. In particular, we are interested in discovering how the presentation of data affects the average user’s understanding of their personal genomic data.


To create this study, the PGP team spent much of their time building a new website on which to run their study. In addition, careful thought was given to the drafting of each question, for wording is paramount when it comes to user understanding. After two weeks of hard work, we were ready to begin our pilot. During a joint brainstorm with the BostonU iGEM Team, we asked that our users check for confusing wording and functionality. In addition, throughout the rest of the week, the PGP team tracked down other members of the HCI lab, students at Wellesley College, students at the NEGEM Conference, and family members to test and rework our study.


Finally, on June 24, the PGP team successfully launched our first study of the summer through Amazon Mechanical Turk. As the results pour in, we are excited for the next stage!


Related Links:

Exploring Personal Genomics

The Personal Genome Project




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