Politecnico di Milano (ITALY)
About this paper:
Appears in: EDULEARN20 Proceedings
Publication year: 2020
Pages: 4442-4448
ISBN: 978-84-09-17979-4
ISSN: 2340-1117
doi: 10.21125/edulearn.2020.1173
Conference name: 12th International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies
Dates: 6-7 July, 2020
Location: Online Conference
In this paper it will be presented and discussed the didactical approach used to introduce information visualization and information design to students with a graphic design background. The approach is based on a four-years long experience in which this approach has been refined and tuned for better suiting the students’ needs.

Information visualization is a discipline that is gaining relevance in the industry, and it is a competence increasingly required by studios and companies. As a response, several universities are adding it to design education programmes. However, teaching information visualization to design students is not a simple task, since it requires theoretical knowledge (basics of human perception, how to use visual variables) as well as technical skills (softwares and approaches needed in translating data into a visual form). Moreover, design students are not used to work with data, both from the technical and conceptual point of view. Information visualization is not a direct, mechanical operation: it is more similar to a translation (Baule 2017) in which a number of choices have to be made by the designer. Choices are not just related to the visual side but also to the underlying data: how to select, filter, and aggregate it. All the operations related to data are clearly part of the design process, but in our experience students with a design background tend to see them as related to other disciplines (e.g. data science). Since the designer acts as a “visual translator”, and in some ways as author, it is important to train students also on the ethical/deontological point of view: which kind of responsibilities do we have and how can we cope with them? To make the task even more complex, at the moment of writing the time allocated to teach information visualization is often limited.

To cope with the presented issues, the “learn by doing” theory comes at hand. It is a proven didactical approach in design education (Ozkar 2007), in which students are faced with a concrete experience and provided with the technical means to solve it. By practically realizing projects, the aim is to learn design in its broad sense: how to design things rather than realising a particular artifact. By applying such approach in teaching information visualization, and drawing both on academic and professional experience, a didactical approach was identified. It provides a process stressing most of the problems that arise when dealing with information visualization, allowing the students to face them and understand how to solve them. The setting can be seen as composed by a series of sandboxes in which students can fail, discuss and improve their knowledge.

In the presented approach, students work in teams, with the goal of creating a real infographic for a newspaper. Each phase of the realisation (topic selection, dataset selection, early draft, technical draft and final delivery) is defined by an output that students have to discuss with teachers and among the class.

By presenting intermediate and final output of the course we will discuss the aforementioned approach highlighting how students proved to become aware of the criticalities related to information visualization and able to produce high quality results within the course.
Information visualization, data visualization, information design.