Ocean Tracks



The Exploratorium was designing an interactive data visualization about the migration of marine animals.

The exhibit, a large multi-touch table, was designed to allow museum visitors to select a marine animal and visualize specific data about its migration.

Research Questions

  • Did museum visitors ask and answer their own questions?
  • Did users understand how to use the moveable plastic card to filter data?
  • Were the icons and visual representations easy to interpret?

Users could move on the plastic cards or off the screen to show or hide information for that species. Data for each animal–such as its speed or sex–were represented via different line styles, and toggled on or off by pressing inside the hole in the selected card.


  • Intercept 13 pairs of museum visitors and invite them to participate
  • Videotape participants using think aloud protocol
  • Use structured follow-up interviews to learn additional details about the experience

Findings and Impacts

Finding 1

Few visitors understood the intended activity: to add or remove cards from the screen to show or hide animals. Almost half thought they needed to slide the card around to different map locations.


We switched from movable, tangible cards to a static, digital control panel.

Finding 2

Visitors struggled to differentiate the icons for male vs female tracks.


We chose a new icon set to represent male and female tracks.