Ecological dashboard strategy, data visualization and animation

Central America graphic
This infographic was created to underscore the fragility of biodiversity in the region.

The effects of drug trafficking on biodiversity in Central America

Less than 1% of the world's landmass contains 7% of its biodiversity. This project aims to illustrate the adverse effects drug trafficking is having on the climate and natural habitat in a way that might encourage global environmental policy makers to combat more local narcotics operations.

Central America dashboard on a tv screen
The final version of our dashboard, designed to be displayed on large screens in the lobbies of places policy-makers work.

Early sketches and ideation

The first task was to come up with a list of features that could be measured and visualized in a dashboard format. Then, in order to show the most important information in the most glanceable way, a lot of time was spent sketching various graphical repreentations of these features on paper and on the whiteboard.

Central America graphic sketches

The Design Studio method for rapid iteration

One of the reasons we were so prolific in our early ideation phase was that we were following the Design Studio method for quick co-design. In this method, each member sketches ideas on their own for three to five minutes, followed by a quick presentation of each person's sketches, and then without questions OR discussion, everyone engages in a second and possibly third round of individual sketching. After the final round of individual sketches and subsequent presentation, the group picks one idea for everybody in the group to work on together. This method facilitates cross-pollination of ideas that usually results in greater buy-in to the final product for everyone involved in the ideation session.

Central America graphic sketches

Digitizing the dashboard...

Once the features and layout began to crystalize on paper, we moved to Sketch to start playing with color, typography and overall visual style.

dashboard design: working on computers
Treemap of CA drug trafficking effects

This treemap represents the percentage of land taken over by three types of drug-related activities. As these areas grow in size, the map suggests a physical "squeezing" of the natural wildlife habitat, forcing different animals to live in a smaller, increasingly crowded jungle.

Central America graphic sketches
Central America graphic sketches
The two versions of this graphic demonstrate how the treemap would change given two possible outcomes: less deforestation and more deforestation.

Wait... is that a gauge?

One of the elements I designed for our dashboard was a visualization of the level of endagerment of four keystone species in the region, on a scale from "at risk" to "extinct." Each animal's position on the scale represented its current status. In order to reflect the delicate balance of nature - if one species goes, they all go - I chose to balance the scale on a fulcrum, similar to a seasaw or physical scale. As species' status changed over time, their positions would shift on the scale, tipping it closer, or farther (hopefully), from extinction.

Central America graphic sketches
The animation of the 'seesaw gauge' in the lower right corner of the dashboard was one of my unique contributions to this project.

Iterations, iterations, iterations...

Central America graphic sketches
Over the course of the three weeks of this project, each member drafted many versions with Sketch, often using posters and photographs as inspiration for color palettes.


  • Gena Hong
  • Pei Lin
  • Shaun Burley