ChronoViz Web

A software tool for “highlighting” and annotating ranges of time-based media, for ethnographic research.

[Page Under Construction]


Steven Rick

Early Prototype Stage
Web Development
Interaction Design



ChronoViz Web is a tool that augments a researcher’s ability to observe by allowing them to seamlessly annotate multiple videos at once. I am currently in the process of designing and developing an early prototype.


Who am I designing for?
Research ethnographers often record a single event from multiple angles. Doing so provides a rich dataset that captures not only their research subject, but the context the subject acts within. How are multiple events interlinked? Correlated? Reacting to one another?

After a session of field work, their data often looks like this — multiple streams of video data:

Fig 1. Screen recordings (video) are an example of temporal data.

Note the brief pause between paragraphs. Why did the participant stop writing?

Fig 2. Offscreen view of participant typing, pausing to think.

Without this second synced recording, the reason behind the paused typing in the first screen (Fig 1) would remain unknown.

Annotating temporal data poses unique challenges. Therefore tools behavioral researchers have available for data analysis do not afford for easy annotation of multiple streams of temporal data, like audio and video.

My goal is to design and develop a web tool that allows researchers to:

Play multiple videos at once,
AND make annotations in the same window,
AND visualize those annotations on a timeline,
AND add descriptions and tags to annotations,

Eliminating tedium for a more seamless video-analysis process.

As the sole designer-developer, my role spans multiple domains:
💻 Building a v1 early prototype version of the application in JavaScript, 
✒️ Designing the user flow and features in Figma,
💬 And soliciting feedback from Design Lab ethnographers by designing and coordinating user testing. 

Problem Space



Who am I designing for?
Our main stakeholders are research ethnographers. Take for example, Colleen Emmeneger, an ethnographer studying interactions between pedestrians and autonomous vehicles. 

Primary Stakeholders: Research Ethnographers
Colleen Emmenneger
• Ethnographer of 10+ years experience
• Multiple cameras set up, facing driver and road, and stationary cameras set up at intersections
Colleen ft. her three-camera set up

Secondary Stakeholders: Research Assistants
Oftentimes other individuals will also annotate the same set of videos to ensure inter-coder reliability.


Landscape Analysis

What tools does Colleen have at her disposal?
Post-study, Colleen wants to annotate these simultaneous video streams to note waves, nods, body language, etc.

What tools does she have at her disposal?

As you can see, a range of solutions exist, but either the lack of automation makes for a tedious experience, the software is not OS-agnostic, or the software has a learning curve too complex for lighter-weight use cases.



ChronoViz aims to fill the middle ground by: 

1. Providing automated features such as multi-media playing and annotation. 
2. Being OS-agnostic through development via web. 
3. Reducing the learning curve with a relatively simple and intuitive workflow. 



User Journey

Feature identification
I began by identifying a frame for the main user flow, allowing me to break down each stage into sub-features:  


Low-Fidelity Prototyping

Afterwards came ideation time. I explored flows and layouts for each feature through sketches, drawing inspiration from analogous annotation or video tools, such as:

Google Docs Comments
Figma Comments
Lightworks Video Editor
Kindle Annotations


Building a V1 & User Feedback

Following ideation, it came time to test whether the basic functionality of the application was possible through implementation of a basic proof-of-concept prototype.

This slide-deck demonstrates a few key features and their technical implementation:

The application builds upon three basic objects, represented as JSON objects: Videos, Annotations, and Tags.

As the codebase grew, documentation became critical for communication, managing complexity, and reference for my own future self.

I tried to convey the underlying structure and function through a mix of diagrams, UI screenshots, text descriptions, and code snippets.


Design Considerations

Talking to many of the ethnographers, it became clear that because the tool experienced repetitive use, small touches made a significant difference. Thus, I paid special attention to microinteractions throughout the application while building the v1 version.   
1. MULTIWINDOW DISPLAYAllows users to "pop" out a video and drag it around on the screen, even to a second monitor

  • Many tested users owned multiple monitors.
  • Allowing for flexible arrangement bypasses the constraint of limited screen space when fitting many videos

2. KEYBOARD SHORTCUTSProvides users keyboard shortcuts for creating annotations, applying specific tags, navigating the timeline, etc.

  • Because the users often encounter repetitive actions (e.g.: creating multiple point annotations of a specific tag), keyboard shortcuts cut down on mouse traveling time and enable the user to traverse the app with keyboard only.

Annotations are rendered as timeline-visualizations as well as in a text-based table.

  • Similar to Google Doc and Notion comments,  affords users in-context view (timeline-visualization) as well as list view (table)

Other small touches. For example: clicking on an annotation on the timeline brings the video times to the annotation start time to avoid scrubbing through the timeline.

  • These small interactions, though small, accumulate to a more convenient experience.


High-Fidelity Prototype

After several rounds of user testing the v1 application, I ordered the feedback by priority and feasibility. A few key insights emerged:

While many of the users said the keyboard shortcuts and micro-interactions were helpful and intuitive, they were not easily discoverable on first use.
To address this, I baked in more unintrusive signifiers throughout the application to help guide the user.
2. NOTEPAD: A feature which the original ChronoViz, as well as other video-coding software, lacked was essentially a notepad for tracking qualitative data within the application.

Setting up videos can be confusing, as indicators of video start times can clash with the annotation visualizations
Many researchers analyze a variety of temporal data beyond video data (e.g.: gesture annotation, movement tracking across 3-dimensional space). While it may not be realistic for me to catch all these edge cases, an ability for users to extend the tool by plugging in their own Javascript add-ons could be immensely useful.

Before moving on to more coding, I took the time to flesh out a more complete prototype in Figma, based on feedback, to communicate the vision and solicit further feedback.



Iteration & Features


On-the-Go Learning

I loved this project because ...


Copyright ©2019 Mengming Luo 
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