Learning from our users – first feedback on our prototype

In mid-April we publicly released the first version of our web application for feedback. We sought out advice from human rights researchers, international criminal litigators, investigative journalists, and policy advocates – spending over an hour with more than 45 users. Our whole team was struck by the willingness of our colleagues to dedicate time to giving us feedback. To everyone that took the time to talk with us – thank you!

This post will cover what we’ve learned from our users, how their feedback helps our mission, and why we’ll be reaching out again shortly.

Interviewees really liked… Interviewees had questions about …
  • The content itself
  • Charts showing command structures
  • Being able to access all the sources
  • Ways of going forward and backwards in time
  • Background information about security forces in a country
  • Showing analysis rather than just data
  • Visual clutter and data density
  • How to find data quickly
  • Downloading our information
  • Not knowing how data was selected for inclusion
  • Completeness of the data
  • Slow application responsiveness

We are answering the right questions, but not always in the right way

Users strongly validated the premise of our work – they very much wanted (and generally found it hard to find) information on the organizational structure, command personnel, location and areas of operation of security forces tracked through time. Interviewees could see the value of the dataset – in part or as a whole – to their own work. They were also intrigued by the visuals on offer, liking our ambition.

Our visualization of the command chart was a huge success, users loved being able to see that information in a visual way. Users had extremely positive views about actual data. They got glimpses its value, in particular where we included the analysis we can produce using the data. For example, for each alleged human rights incident we included a list of nearby units, which numerous interviewees found clarified the overall purpose of our research. They also liked the ability to see sources for each datapoint, which would help them appraise the data for inclusion in their own work. While users did not find the timeline functionality intuitive to use, when we explained how they could “time travel” through our data to see the command tree, commanders and other data at a particular point in time they were thrilled.

The biggest issue for users was that they were often overwhelmed with information, particularly in the initial map view of country. This made it difficult to grasp what they were looking at, or where to go next. There were many questions related to our terminology (what do we mean by area of operations, affiliated person, etc). Users often had difficulty navigating around the application from page to page, and our tools to sort through the visuals (like the filters on the map page) were not intuitive.

Users Want More of This Users Want Less of This
moreofthis lessofthis

What we will do next

The 45 people we interviewed told us straight what they liked and did not about our work so far They have given us good guidance on the direction we need to take.

  • Make it far, far simpler to use – less of a stand-alone application and more of a webpage
  • Simplify the presentation of key information, using visualization more sparingly, offering contextual guidance where needed.
  • Make it ‘search first’, giving lots of ways of find, sort and filter throughout the application.
  • Speed it up, and give lots of cues about how user things change things when the user does something.
  • Let people take the data home.

We have taken the feedback users have given us and will launching a radically new and improved application in the coming months – so stay tuned for more updates!