UI19 OnDemand

Videos from the 2014 User Interface 19 Conference

Design for Understanding

Stephen Anderson · Monday, October 27 · 8:30am – 5:30pm ·Pacific E ·fewer than 22 seats left

Photo of Stephen Anderson

Wrangle information like a cowboy/cowgirl and design to help users make informed decisions. Identify different learning patterns and content themes before jumping to visuals.

See the case studies, techniques, and patterns to help you make interactive visualizations that encourage users to explore content and concepts. Prioritize clarity to convey meaning.

Stephen Anderson is the man behind Mental Notes and the author of Seductive Interaction Design.

The day’s agenda


Find representations of visual encodings

  • The 7 Problems of Understanding people have when faced with too much information
  • Examples of how visuals can be used to simplify complex information
  • What patterns to look for in content before jumping to design solution

Explore static and interactive concept models

  • The 13 types of interaction patterns, and when to use them v. static visuals
  • Timeless, fundamental characteristics of design patterns
  • Why control boxes, base layers, and objects are so valuable


Experiment with data, dimensions, and shapes

  • When to use shapes, overlaps, and colors
  • How to communicate relationships and convey different dimensions of data
  • Ways to show visual models like Venn diagrams, complex charts, or matrixes

Consider cognitive psychology, perception, and emotion

  • How memory works, and why tapping into a prior experience can be advantageous
  • How to relate metaphors to patterns, then pick the right ones for your data
  • The brain’s natural pattern-matching mechanisms

Your visuals are about to become more meaningful

Tell real stories

You’re being asked to do more visuals, but pie charts don’t necessarily tell a clear story. Learn how patterns, user insights, and conversations influence visual encodings.

Anticipate future behavior

What are your competitors doing to answer your audience’s questions? Are there gaps in knowledge that you can fill? Find out where to look before starting your designs.

Do your content justice

Designing for understanding means describing your content in a way that connects with users so they can make decisions more easily and confidently. What’s the story you’re telling?

You’ll see how to:

  • Better facilitate understanding using visual representations
  • Brainstorm ways to display data in fun-yet-intuitive ways
  • Identify patterns common to all visualizations
  • Choose which patterns will best help you convey meaning
  • Try on different metaphors until you find the one that fits
  • Use the brain’s pattern matching to your advantage

Implement a process to design for understanding

A comprehensive list of visual encodings
Get a set of tools for creating understandable visualizations and avoiding common pitfalls.
Insights into how people digest information
Identify which problem you’re designing for, then use the right interaction pattern for the job.
Inspiration, ideas, and a framework for creating visuals
See what differentiates meaningful visual encodings from empty pie charts and graphs.
Your content, but told in understandable ways 
Tell the story of your content in ways that users will understand, engage with, and share.

A bit of lecture, but a lot of designing for data

You’ll work individually and in small groups with real-world data to define a complex information problem, brainstorm how to represent it visually, and facilitate understanding with a final product.

Stephen Anderson, Data Cowboy

Photo of Stephen Anderson

Stephen P. Anderson is the man behind Mental Notes card deck—a tool that’s widely used by product teams to apply psychology to interaction design. He also authored Seductive Interaction Design, which answers the question: “How do we get people to fall in love with our applications?”

When he’s not helping to launch edtech and healthcare startups, Stephen can be found at some of the world’s largest organizations, teaching product teams about interactive visualizations, emotional design, and other fun topics.

Oh, and he’s been a fan favorite of past UIE conferences and seminars—so we know you’ll love every minute of his day-long workshop and featured talk, too.


Stephen outlines what he calls the 7 Problems of Understanding. These range from problems of comprehension to problems of discovery and more.

Listen to the Podcast Now Read the Transcript

Prefer a different workshop? There are 3 other options on Monday

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