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This year we had a batch of exciting graduate thesis works that explored different aspects of information design in a rigorous and creative way. Here we highlight just three among many fascinating projects that represent different paths on this journey.

IDV graduate student Gabrielle LaMarr LeMee received the Otto and Marie Neurath Award for Outstanding Social Relevance. She created an interactive simulation to explore the social dynamics and consequences of school segregation. Gabrielle says:

For my thesis, I wanted to explore the issue of school segregation. I’ve been interested this issue ever since I saw Nikole Hannah-Jones, a New York Times journalist speak right here on Northeastern’s campus about her work covering school segregation. This sparked a connection for me with this problem that I think I had instinctively been aware of for a long time and from there, I began a year of research and analysis.

I found that segregation is an underlying issue that perpetuates race and class gaps in society. Analysis on the effects of desegregation programs from the 70s has shown positive outcomes for both black and white students in all areas of life. And yet we see levels of segregation in our schools that are higher than they were before those desegregation efforts.

Desegregation policies failed because there wasn’t enough public compliance. I felt that visualization, specifically an interactive simulation could have an impact on attitude and behaviors around school choice, giving future policy efforts a chance to work. I created an interactive simulation for users to experience the process of selecting a school for their child from different viewpoints with the goal of connecting individual choices and policy choices to consequences both for the user’s child and for the community.

I focused on Chicago because that is my hometown so the data driving this simulation is based on census data for Chicago and Chicago Public Schools data.

Download her thesis

Antonio Solano received the Neurath Award for Outstanding Scholarship. He has worked in a team of scientists at the Broad Institute, a biomedical and genomic research center, and built a series of novel visualization tools for the analysis of large genomic datasets, specially by proposing a redesign of Multiple Sequence Alignment visualizations. At the same time, his thesis presented a wider view, developing a replicable model for collaboration for the design of these tools in healthcare and bioinformatics. Antonio says:

The problem of data visualization in life sciences, and specifically in genomics, has fascinated me for many years now, as have the endless molecular complexities of living organisms. At the same time, I firmly believe that a formalized discipline of design can provide important contributions to critical human problems. Designing digital products for the visual exploration of genetic data has been, in hindsight, a natural progression of my pursuit for these passions. I am driven by improving the tools that scientists and healthcare professionals use to improve our understanding of diseases, and the quality of our lives. By working in this project, I have been able to contribute with a tool that facilitates the analysis of viral data, and at the same time provide a formal model that I hope will be adopted by other visualization professionals in the field.

Download his thesis

Liuhuaying Yang received the Neurath Award for Outstanding Design Inquiry. built visualization tools for a large public agency, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), which is responsible for public transportation by rail, bus, and boat in the larger Boston region. She has found the MBTA to be an extraordinary complex organization, tied to many historical, technical, economic, and political contingencies. The governance of such a historically grown system, where every subway line has distinct technology, teams, and modes of operation, is challenging and relies on learned practices and tacit knowledge of its operators and managers. Liuhuaying’s visualization tools are designed to mesh with these practices and have been adopted across the agency; are currently used to manage the green line and the bus network.

Liuhuaying says:

Passengers always believe that the MBTA’s service can be better. I have been working in the MBTA as an intern for a year and implemented a lot of visual tools for dispatching, operation and planning. They like these tools very much and also believe that their work has been very positively affected. Then I realized that, in the era of big data, the challenge for such a complex large system is not only about business intelligence, but also the problem of understanding and communication between people around the data. I hope my thesis will allow the public to see the efforts and improvements that MBTA is doing.

Download her thesis