Beyond Tasks: An Activity Typology for Visual Analytics

Darren Edge, Nathalie Henry Riche, Jonathan Larson, Christopher White

Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics | , Vol 24(1): pp. 267-277

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As Visual Analytics (VA) research grows and diversifies to encompass new systems, techniques, and use contexts, gaining a holistic view of analytic practices is becoming ever more challenging. However, such a view is essential for researchers and practitioners seeking to develop systems for broad audiences that span multiple domains. In this paper, we interpret VA research through the lens of Activity Theory (AT)—a framework for modelling human activities that has been influential in the field of Human-Computer Interaction. We first provide an overview of Activity Theory, showing its potential for thinking beyond tasks, representations, and interactions to the broader systems of activity in which interactive tools are embedded and used. Next, we describe how Activity Theory can be used as an organizing framework in the construction of activity typologies, building and expanding upon the tradition of abstract task taxonomies in the field of Information Visualization. We then apply the resulting process to create an activity typology for Visual Analytics, synthesizing a wide range of systems and activity concepts from the literature. Finally, we use this typology as the foundation of an activity-centered design process, highlighting both tensions and opportunities in the design space of VA systems.