Communicating evolutionary theory continues to demonstrate significant challenges. One particularly demanding area is comprehending evolutionary time scales. Furthermore, visual representations such as the Tree of Life usually incorporate temporal aspects but require interpreting the underlying biological concepts as well as the representational features used to convey evolutionary meaning.
In this paper, we investigate how users engage with the DeepTree exhibit, an interactive touch table visualization of a dynamic Tree of Life (Block et al., 2012). The main purpose of DeepTree is to visualize the relationship of all life on earth. Specific focus of this paper is to explore how a zooming interactive feature which enables users to move virtually from the origin of life to present day species, influences perception and understanding of evolutionary time associated with the tree metaphor. The aim of the study is to explore how the zooming feature affords new ways of understanding the information which the dynamic tree metaphor conveys, what properties of zooming interactions are associated with various temporal aspects and how moving in time is perceived.
A video recorded clinical, semi-structured interview was conducted with each participant while s/he interacted with the DeepTree application. The analytical method used to treat the generated data was a combination of deductive and inductive coding of the transcripts and accompanying visual recordings.
The findings suggest that DeepTree is a natural and intuitive touch-based interface for navigating the metaphor of biological relationships. Interacting with the visualization induced various positive affective reactions. However, in its present design, DeepTree may not completely support users' understanding of evolutionary time. The results indicate that zooming can be interpreted in different ways. This suggests that the embodied and immersive experience offered by such interactive tree applications might strongly influence users' temporal interpretations associated with evolution concepts if they are designed appropriately.
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