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


Challenge:  Design a dashboard using tree and insect data from the Allegheny forest to help Pennsylvanian foresters monitor forest health.

Platform: Web dashboard
Duration: 3 weeks
Skills: Visual design, animation design, user research
Tools: Sketch, Keynote


Pictured is a screenshot of the tens of thousands of data entries on plant species and insects that foresters of the Allegheny forest must comb through to make the decisions.


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 to get an overall picture of forest health to get an overall picture of the health of the forest. From my research I discovered that foresters need to know when certain insects are occupying certain areas of the forest. Specifically, foresters need to know when an area of low tree diversity are 



Animation design that visualizes the relationship between tree diversity and threatening insect populations

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.





I began by diving into the spreadsheets of data our class was given. After understanding what data I had at my disposal, I familiarized myself with basic domain knowledge about trees and insects of the Allegheny forest. Although I could understand the data, I did not know what parts were important to a forester. To find this out, I needed to talk to users.



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. 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. Areas with low tree diversity—areas that have only a few tree species present—are at risk to even the forests native, benign insects. 



I began sketching different methods of visualizing the data I wanted to show. I explored layouts, labels, content, and how to present action items. 




When translating paper to high-fidelity mockups, I began with black and white designs before moving to color.





The new dashboard displays insect populations across time and space in relation to tree diversity. 

Through research I discovered that foresters need to be alerted when insect populations are growing in areas with low tree diversity. This is because areas with only one or two species of tree are at risk of being gobbled up when infiltrated by a hungry insect population.



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 play to watch animations.