A dashboard that visualizes complex data about insect populations and forest health

Product: Web Dashboard
Skills: Visual design, Animation design, User research
Duration: 3 weeks
Tools: Sketch, Keynote
Type: Individual




Dashboards allow users to monitor situations in real-time. The assignment for the course Interaction Design Studio at Carnegie Mellon University was to design a dashboard that helps Pennsylvanian foresters anticipate the thread of threatening insect within the Allegheny forest. 



Too much spreadsheet data, not enough visualization

Foresters working for the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) must comb through thousands of spreadsheet entries detailing specific insect populations to get an overall picture of forest health. This is a tedious and often unfruitful process. 

From my research, I learned that most of the data in the spreadsheets is neither relevant nor understandable to foresters. When examining the data, foresters are looking for relationships. Specifically, their goal is to uncover whether or not certain insect populations, such as the Hebrew Moth, is proximal to or occupying areas with a certain tree species, such as the Black Gum. 



The new interface communicates relationships

From my research, I discovered that foresters rely on complex and hard-to-read spreadsheet data to make decisions. Much of this data, one forester told me, is not even useful or even relevant. I designed a dashboard that transforms complex spreadsheet data into animations on a map. The map animations tell a story of how threatening insects are spreading through a geographical area over time. As a result of the design, foresters can visualize the data that is relevant to them. They can use this data to make quick decisions with less time and effort.



Map animations are used to tell a story from the data 

I designed a dashboard that uses map animations to:

  • Demonstrate spatially where the threatening species are spreading
  • Alert foresters to areas of risk
  • Tell a story


Press the play button in the middle of the screen to watch the dashboard animation







Learned that insects are only a threat when tree diversity is low

I began by diving into the spreadsheets of data we were given. For the assignment I had been given data on a particular insect , the Hebrew Moth, and a tree, the Black Gum. My objective was to design a dashboard to show how the Hebrew Moth threatens the Black Gum. However, through secondary research, I discovered that the Hebrew Moth is not an invasive species to the Pennsylvania forest.



Discovered that foresters look for relationships in the data

After understanding the data, I reached out to a forester with the U.S. Forest Service in Pennsylvania.  When I showed her the spreadsheet data, she explained that she would need to call on an entomologist to read the data. She told me that much of the data was completely useless and unintelligible to her. All she needs to know is whether or not threatening insects are proximate to or inhabiting areas with low tree species diversity. She explained that areas with low tree diversity (only a few tree species) are at risk to even native insects such as the Hebrew Moth.



Explored different methods of visualizing data

  • Focused on showing forest diversity which refers to the percentage breakdown of different tree species in a certain forested area.
  • Focused on showing the density of certain insect species and where they have spread over time
  • Explored different areas on the screen where alerts would be placed


Designed interfaces in black and white, later in color

  • Explored different methods of laying out content
  • Explored different levels of content
  • Explored level of content dedicated to the tree species versus the species of insects, deer, or fungi that threaten the tree