Tuesday 12pm, 15 October 2019


You can’t always sketch what you want: Understanding Sensemaking in Visual Query Systems

Doris Lee

Graduate Student - University of California, Berkeley


Visual query systems (VQSs) empower users to interactively search for line charts with desired visual patterns, typically specified using intuitive sketch-based interfaces. Despite decades of past work on VQSs, these efforts have not translated to adoption in practice, possibly because VQSs are largely evaluated in unrealistic lab-based settings. To remedy this gap in adoption, we collaborated with experts from three diverse domains—astronomy, genetics, and material science—via a year-long participatory design process to develop a VQS that supports their workflow and analytical needs, and evaluate how VQSs can be used in practice. Our study results reveal that ad-hoc sketch-only querying is not as commonly used as prior work suggests, since analysts are often unable to precisely express their patterns of interest. In addition, we characterize three essential sensemaking processes supported by our enhanced VQS. We discover that participants employ all three processes, but in different proportions, depending on the analytical needs in each domain. Our findings discovered the need for integrating all three sensemaking processes into the design of future VQSs to make them useful and practical, by addressing a wide range of analytical inquiries.