Information Visualization - Coursework: Personal Data Physicalization

1. Coursework Brief

For this assignment, you will choose some personal data (about yourself) that you will collect continuously for two weeks. You will design visualizations that represent this data (using non-traditional ways of creating visualizations) and that make it possible to answer some data questions. You will summarize your design process and reflect on what you have learned in a 3-minute long video.

This project gives you the opportunity to practice your design skills, personal data collection skills, presentation and communication skills, as well as reflection and evaluation skills.

2. Process

For this assignment, you will need to think ahead. Indeed, although the task is not heavyweight, it requires to constantly think about it for a couple of weeks before you can start the design process.

2.1. Data Collection

In the first step of the process, you will choose personal data that you will collect for two week, after what you will describe the dataset and formulate three data questions about this dataset. It is completely up to you to decide which data to collect. This choice should be driven by your own interests, an aspect of your life you might want to visualize, understand better, or simply communicate to others.

The only mandatory aspect is that the data must have a temporal dimension. Events that happen during the day have at least a timestamp, and many of them can have a time interval (i.e. start time, end time). For example, you can be interested in trends over time, in revealing cyclical patterns like time of the day when something happens, or in comparing mornings to afternoons to evenings, etc..

The dataset you collect over the course of two weeks should also not be too small (i.e. contain more than one data point a day) and not be too large either (you do not need to collect 10 different dimensions for each data case). A reasonable dataset would be around 4 or 5 data points per day, each with 2 to 4 dimensions. You can collect more, but it will be painful, and you will likely not be able to visualize all the dimensions. So focus on what is really important to you.

To get you started, here is a non-exhaustive list of possible data you could track about yourself, but I encourage you to think beyond this list:

  • online communications:

    • the emails you send and receive

    • your whatsapp / text message communications

    • your tweets / tweets you read

    • news articles you read

  • in-person interactions

    • who you talk to

    • who and how do you greet people

  • Food and drinks:

    • the food you eat

    • what you drink

    • the calories / nutrition values of your food / drinks

  • behaviour:

    • when do you look at / use your phone

    • your youtube/netflix consumption

    • the music you listen to (spotify history, etc..)

    • your Google search history

    • the places you go to

    • the video games you play

  • feelings:

    • your mood at different times of the day

    • how you are feeling when doing specific predetermined activities

  • Surroundings:

    • the cars / animals / birds / trees you see

    • the pictures you take

Of course all these datasets can have varied degrees of details, and it is up to you to decide what level of detail you will record. The more detailed, the more painful to collect, but the more detailed the more interesting visualizations you can create as well.

How you collect this data is also up to you. Here are just a few suggestions of tools you can use for this purpose:

  • lets you retrieve your music listening history data.

  • Toggl is a phone / laptop application to log activities with start and end times.

  • Excel is very good for this kind of small scale project.

  • Depending on what you collect, a notebook and a pen might be the most straightforward solution.

  • Voice recording with a phone app can make things easier to collect, but you would need to transcribe into e.g., Excel afterwards.

While you are collecting your data on a daily basis, stat thinking about data questions. In other words, write down aspects of the data that you think would be interesting to look at, and start formulating hypotheses.

2.2. Design Ideation

Now that you have collected two weeks worth of data, you will design a visualization that will provide some answers to some of the questions and hypotheses that you came up with in the process.

To create the visualization:

  1. You are not allowed to use a computer (although you can use your computer for the data collection and data formatting/processing).

  2. You are not allowed to submit a design hand-drawn on paper (although you should feel free to start by sketching some ideas on paper).

  3. You can use any other material and process you can think of, such as plasticine, paper folding, playdoh, clay, wood, sand, water, cardboard, lego blocks, matches, beer, food, tree leaves, grass, rocks - whatever you like.

  4. Your visualization MUST encode the temporal dimension a way or another. You are free to decide on the visual mapping you want to use for time, as long as some temporal data is encoded in your design.

  5. Your visualization MUST allow for comparison. For example, you can be interested in understanding things have changed from one week to the next, how trends have changed, how two activities compare, etc..

3. Deliverable

You will create a 3-minute video that describes your data and your different designs, as well as some personal data insights and reflection.

You will submit your 3-minute video to Brightspace. The format must be .avi, .mov, .mp4, .mpeg, .mpg or .wmv, and the resolution at least 1280 * 720 (full HD preferred). Use a tool such as Handbrake to compress your video file to a reasonable size (

The format of the video is pretty flexible. It should summarize your design process and what you learned through conducting this personal project. I expect you to be talking for the 3 minutes, and to limit the amount of text. Use images and video snippets instead. Ideally, the video should have a natural flow to it, with a narrative that leads the viewer through your data collection, design process, and investigation of the data. Be creative!

  1. Data Collection and Initial Questions [approximately 30-60 seconds]

    • A short description of the data you collected, that follows the following template:

      • I collected data about …​ (what is the data about?)

      • because…​ (why this data?)

      • using…​ (how did you collect the data?)

      • The final dataset consists of…​ (how many data cases and dimensions?)

    • Questions or hypotheses you have formulated about the dataset you have collected, providing the following details for each question:

      • why are you interested in this question?

      • why do you think visualization can be well suited to answering this question?

  2. Design Process [approximately 30-60 seconds]

    • What material did you use and why? What alternatives did you consider and what was your rationale to decide which to use? (feel free to show sketches or other things you tried out here)

    • What visual marks and visual variables did you use and why? What alternatives did you consider and what was your rationale to decide which to use?

    • How do your design choices relate to your questions / hypotheses? How did you form these data questions, and how do they inform your design?

  3. Reflection [approximately 80-120 seconds] This part is a reflective part where you evaluate your process and your designs, and where you reflect on what you learned. This part is very flexible and could include aspects such as:

    • What worked well, what did not work that well?

    • Did you learn some aspects of visualization that you might not have learned if you had implemented the project in a more traditional form (i.e., coding)?

    • What do you think the physicality of the project adds to the visualization? What are the benefits of the materials you used? What are the limitations?

    • What were the main challenges of your project?

    • What would you have done if you had more time?

    • Did you learn something about yourself that you did not know before starting this project?

    • Did you just get answers to your initial questions, or did you discover unexpected insights about the data?

    • Did it give you new ideas for personal visualization projects you would like to do in the future?

Use minimal amounts of text, and avoid using slides. Instead, talk over the video that shows your design(s), annotate the video directly etc.. Examples should be visual and specific.

4. Feedback

The teaching team will mark your submission using the Rubric below:

Criteria Missing Poor Fair Good Very Good

Data Collection (15%)


Some of the data collection elements are missing or incomplete/out of scope.

You included all required elements and the data is relatively personal, or your descriptions lack details, or it is obvious that other data should have been collected instead to address your motivation. The data is somewhat personal.

Good description of the data you collected. The data is strongly tied to your motivation, so it is clear which data you collected, why, and how. This results in some interesting questions being raised that visualization could help answer. The data is clearly personal.

In addition to Good, the data you collected leads to some very interesting questions that have both depth and complexity. You made a significant effort to collect the data and think about the project before actually collecting it.

Design process (15%)


You provide a dry presentation of your design process. Some parts might be missing, overall the process is very unclear.

You present your design process relatively well, but the overall project lacks consistency. You might not have strong links between your data, your questions, and your designs. Reasonable use of visual marks and visual variables.

You present a sound design process, resulting in a consistent project overall. The questions you had are pertinent for the data you worked with, and the designs make it possible to answer your questions relatively well. Good use of visual marks and visual variables.

You present a strong design process, resulting in a very consistent project. Your questions are very personal and strongly tied to your data. Very good use of visual marks and visual variables.

Creativity (15%)


Limited use of materials showing that you did not fully explore the possibilities for creating these visualizations.

Reasonable use of materials, but you did stick to the same material throughout the project and did not consider alternatives and the rationale for sticking with this material is weak.

Good use of materials, showing that you explored different possibilities. The design ideas vary quite a bit before converging to the final design, and you provide good rationale for your choices.

Excellent use of a variety of materials. You strongly engaged with the design process and explored very different design alternatives. Your tried out divergent designs and ended up creating something that is really different from what is easily done on a computer, leveraging the physical aspects of the materials you used.

Reflection (40%)


Your reflection lacks depth. You mention some things you learned and some things that did not work, but without explaining how this affected your design process. Your reflection is too impersonal/generic for a personal visualization project.

You provide some interesting elements of reflection, showing that you thought about it along the way. You detail some of the challenges you faced and a few things you learned. Still, you could have provided more depth regarding what you learned as a visualization practitioner, and as a person.

Good reflection on your project. You detail interesting challenges you faced and it is clear that you learned new things through this project, be it in terms of visualization design or about yourself. This could be turned into a longer-term project.

Excellent reflection on your project. You clearly articulate the challenges you faced and the decisions you made. You provide an insightful discussion on the effects of using physical materials. You provide some insightful findings about yourself based on your visualization, that have depth and complexity. Overall this is a very exciting project that could quite easily be turned into a longer research project investigating some aspects of personal visualization.

Presentation (15%)


Your presentation is not engaging nor polished. You certainly did not spend enough time preparing it.
OR, your video is less than 2:30 long or over 3:00.

Your presentation is somewhat engaging but you could have done much better. You might not be using relevant images and/or videos that would make the communication better. Your voice-over might be very monotonous.

You show good communication skills. You spent a good amount of time preparing your video, resulting in an engaging presentation. There might be a few glitches, but this is good overall.

You demonstrate excellent communication skills. It is clear that you spent a significant amount of time preparing your video, which is of superior quality. You make excellent use of narration, videos and figures.