Ph.D. Program in Software Engineering, Institute for Software Research
Carnegie Mellon University
How do domain experts create explanatory diagrams?
Scientists, mathematicians, and technologist use visual representations as a key tool to explain their work to others. Informal representations such as sketches are used to brainstorm and ideate and more formal diagrams are used to communicate findings or teach important concepts. This paper investigates how professionals create explanatory diagrams, through 18 open-ended interviews with people with diverse professional backgrounds. Our interviews revealed diagrammers' diverse interactions with visual representations that include finding, creating, storing, and reusing representations. We also discovered the important role that drafts plays in the creative process as a low-cost, low-commitment medium for planning and early evaluation of formal diagrams.
Based on these results, we propose more natural features that would explicitly support representation tracking and simplify diagram specification with constraints. Finally, we discuss possibilities to leverage techniques from modern software engineering to enable better abstraction and automation of diagram creation.