User research ensures that the right solution is built to address the users’ actual, rather than perceived, needs. Using systematic approaches, user researchers work directly with end users to gain a deep, genuine understanding of users and their daily tasks and overall goals. By finding patterns among the users, personas—archetypical users—and use cases are created to guide the research questions and subsequent development. Armed with researched user personas and use cases, researchers’ conversations quickly shift from, “But I would expect it to be done this way” to “Our users perform under these conditions and need to perform these tasks to do their jobs.”

User-centered Evaluation Community

Through the Visual Analytics Community, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory has established the User-Centered Evaluation (UCE) community to generate more awareness and conversations around creating useful, usable (and still beautiful) visualizations for analysts. By gathering publications that serve as Guidelines within the UCE community, we hope to support user researchers working within this highly visual, user-oriented domain. Additionally, Papers of Interest features recent user-centered visualization publications and allows community participants to rate each publication. As User Profiles (personas) are a key artifact of user research, an outlet exists to share and host the results of in-depth user discussions and observations. Finally, the User-Centered Evaluation Forum provides a public outlet for user researchers to discuss topics of interest.

A Recent Pacific Northwest National Laboratory Project

City of Seattle Social Media Analytics

For the City of Seattle, social media services like Twitter can be used to both broadcast messages and get a pulse on public opinion and concerns. Particularly for the Emergency Operations Center, such information can be a vital way to communicate with citizens during a critical situation and provide a way to gage areas of danger and the quality of services provided.

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s Visual Analytics group was funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate to provide a solution to allow City of Seattle employees to understand social media data. Taking a user-centric approach, we held a focus group with several City of Seattle employees to understand their current goals around social media where we conducted an initial survey of attitudes and utility of social media and then spoke about particular use cases. We next translated these initial discoveries into user requirements and preliminary design alternatives. Later, we spoke with four employees individually to understand the full scope of their roles, tasks, and other environmental realities while also validating our initial designs. Based on the use cases gathered from the City of Seattle during all our discussions, we developed a web-based service using the Scalable Reasoning System framework to fit users’ unique usage patterns, needs, and goals.



Oriana Love
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
P.O. Box 999, MSIN J4-32
Richland, WA 99352
(509) 372-6613 at