First Visual Designs: Exploring our Design Space

In our previous blog post we introduced the datasets that we will be working with. Make sure to check it out ! In this next section we put pen to paper and break down the visualization design process. Sketching possible data visualizations help to convey ideas, demonstrate functionality, visualize flow, and illustrate anything that requires human interaction (for example an interactive map). The Design Process consists of three parts: Diverge, Emerge and Converge.

  • Diverge: Here we look for inspiration. We plot anything that comes to mind. Essentially, this is a brainstorming session in which ideas are jotted down on paper, free of any constraints. No ideas are bad.
  • Emerge: At this point we select and group similar ideas that were mentioned in the Diverge Stage.
  • Converge: In this last stage, we identify which ideas from the emerge step should be taken forward, resulting in a few select designs to be implemented.

Here is how our Design Process Board looks like. Do you want to check our work in more detail? check it out on the following link !

Alright that was the short introduction, let’s take a tour in our Thought and Design Process. We will discuss the Diverge, Emerge and Converge section one by one.


In this phase of our design process we just sketch anything that comes to mind. We don’t know if we will use all these ideas but there is only one way to find out. As you will see some sketches were made with pen and paper, but others were made with pen and tablet. It is a really awesome tool allowing a large pallet of colors and lines to be used!

Let’s select a few promising sketches from the Design Process Board and discuss them.

Our first initial idea was to visualize each country’s political/civil liberties ratings over time. The line plot does just that. Such a plot would help us get an overview of the progression of freedom in various countries.

At the end of the day we want to see how freedom has progressed, so it was only natural that this was the first idea that came to mind. In order to clearly see the evolution across time we are thinking to insert an interactive political ratings line plot. Wouldn’t it be awesome if the sketch would come to live?!

In contrast to countries, we can also visualize the progress of freedom in different regions, for example Europe versus Asia.

Alright let’s take a closer look to the next sketch !

One of our research questions looks at whether or not there are any associations to be observed between various economic, social and demographic realities and the freedom citizens are granted in their respective countries. We sketched a basic visualization of average life expectancy per country.

We ask the question: Do people with more freedom live longer?

Next sketch !

The idea behind the sketch on the left is to visualize the stability of various regions/territories. How do we visualize the impact of one country’s freedom score on its neighbor? In other words, we want to understand the role of geographical adjacency. Do freedom areas exist? Do restrictions on freedom spill over into nearby polities?


In the emerge stage we take sketches from the diverge phase and organize them based on similarity of ideas and goals.

Below is an example of one of our first affinity map. It seems that many sketches mentioned a location(country) aspect, and therefore we grouped them together.

Next set of ideas !

Similarly, we gathered sketches that linked countries’ liberty and freedom scores with the kind of vaccine ordered and doled out by respective governments.

Last box of ideas !

A large number of our sketches also attempted to find the best way to simply present the Freedom House data in a purely descriptive way, based on geographical region.


Almost there ! The final phase of the Visual Design Process is the converge phase. Here we debate and determine which ideas from the emerge stage we should take forward to implementation.

As you can see, we believe that the sketches with a spatial component are very promising, and therefore we decide to continue with that idea. On top of that, by making an interactive map or globe we want to implement an extra dimension that will provide additional information for each country.

Another idea we would like to work out further is visualized below. In essence, we want to see a relation between the access to a certain vaccine and the ratings in the freedom spectrum for a given government.

Getting to the converge phase isn’t a straightforward and fast process. Instead, it is an iterative journey that requires creativity, effective teamwork and time. The whole process is perhaps best captured by a global overview of our Miro board. We should note the designs gathered in the converge phase are in no way set in stone. Iteration will continue as we work our way into implementation, and new ideas come to our minds.

4 students enrolled in the master’s program of statistics and data science eager to start blogging on Medium