Visualization in Testing (TestRetreat 2013)

The second session yesterday was the one I facilitated on visualization of testing information. I’ve recently started taking an interest in this – reading books by Nathan Yau and Stephen Few, with Colin Ware, Edward Tufte and others on the short term reading list (along with additional books by Yau and Few). I’m even strongly considering doing my doctoral thesis on it.

We started out with a couple of points of few raised – one was to just show the critical information while the counterpoint of showing all the information, while providing a way to highlight the critical information. I think the crux of the issue was recognizing that different people have different needs and to address these a number of dashboards (or a highly customizable dashboard) are necessary. There was also a concern raised that summarizing information lost value.

Personally, I’m leaning towards showing summaries and the critical information, with the ability to drill down into the broader context of data. My concern is information overflow for most people – while I can understand wanting to have the information available and needing different information for different people, I think most people consuming most of the information we generate as testers need to see only subsets and just won’t look at our information if they can’t quickly get what we need. I think this is very situationally dependent though – we really need to take into account the needs of our audience.

We then ranged across a broad swath of ideas about the topic, identifying several points like a potential reluctance to use green on dashboards as it might imply a broader statement of readiness/completeness than was intended. We talked about quantitative vs. qualitative data and how to display it. One idea for qualitative information was to show screen caps from a camera pointed at a user’s face as they used the software. Christina brought up the idea of image quilts which she’d heard about in a recent Edward Tufte seminar – using many screen captures (of presumably many users) to show an overall status.

We covered quite a few other topics as well – I’m still processing the whole thing, and expect to write more about it in the coming days. In the meantime, here’s the artifacts that came out of the session – Heather made a mind map of the notes, and we got 5 pages of easel pad paper.

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