Research Associate Dr Alfie Abdul-Rahman talks about user-centred design and evaluation in visualization, her recent OxTALENT award and poetry visualization on the web.
When did you start at the Centre and what was your first role here?
I joined the Centre in February 2012 as a Research Associate.
What is your background?
I have a PhD in Computer Science from Swansea University. The title of my thesis was Physically-based Rendering and Algebraic Manipulation of Volume Models. In my thesis, I introduced a new approach to direct volume rendering based on the Kubelka-Munk theory of diffuse reflectance.
After completing my PhD, I joined HP Labs in Bristol as a Research and Development Engineer working on document engineering. Later, I joined Moonfruit/SiteMaker as one of their software developers. From there, I came to the Centre.
Summarise the research you are doing / your research interests in a few sentences.
My main research interests are visualization and visual analytics. Since joining the Centre, I have been working on a number of digital humanities projects that involve user-centred design and evaluation of visualization, such as Imagery Lens for Visualizing Corpora and Commonplace Cultures: Mining Shared Passages in the 18th Century using Sequence Alignment and Visual Analytics. Each of these projects has resulted in a number of web-based, interactive tools (Poem Viewer - pictured below - and ViTA) that are not only accessible to the domain experts in the projects, but also are available to the public.
Why is this important (to the scientific community / the world at large)?
Familiarisation with the tasks that are performed by digital humanists is important as it enables us to further understand the problems that are faced by researchers. Through a user-centred design approach, we are able to design and build visual analytics tools that assist digital humanities researchers to gain further insights into their data and research foci.
What would you like to do next, funding permitting?
I would like to continue investigating the unanswered questions in the fields of visualization and visual analytics, in particular user-centred design and evaluation.
Are you involved in any wider collaborations? Why are these important?
I have been involved with both the Digging into Data Challenge JISC/NEH Program (II) and (III). The Digging into Data Challenge Program (II) was a collaboration between computer scientists, a linguist, and poetry scholars from the Universities of Oxford and Utah, while the Digging into Data Challenge Program (III) was a collaboration between visualization scientists and humanities scholars that work in the fields of literary studies, intellectual history, and digital humanities from the Universities of Oxford and Chicago as well as the Australian National University.
These collaborations are important, as they not only allow us to work across multiple disciplines but also enable us to disseminate our research worldwide.
What publication /paper are you most proud of and why?
I am very proud of all of my publications as each of my publications tackles research questions that I consider important in the fields of visualization and visual analytics. If I had to choose, I would pick one of my recent papers that have won some awards.
Have you received any awards or fellowships?
I received an Honorable Mention Award at CHI2016 for a paper (I Know Where You Live: Inferring Details of People's Lives by Visualizing Publicly Shared Location Data) that I co-authored with Professor Min Chen and Dr Ilaria Liccardi (a colleague from MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory).
And I also have just won an OxTALENT Award for the Data Visualization category for my work on Poetry Visualization on the Web.
What do you think the most important issues/challenges in your field will be in the next decade and how is the Centre placed to address them?
I think that one of the important challenges is how we can introduce new research directions in visualization for digital humanities. I believe that the Centre is well placed to tackle this challenge, as it is a hub of interdisciplinary minds that is always ready to tackle the different topics of research questions.
What do you think the Centre does best?
What the Centre does best is promoting collaboration across different areas of research. This can be seen not only from the range of the seminars held, but also by the various topics of conversations that can be heard along the corridor that range from astronomy, climate change, biology to musicology.