Client: Fisheries and Oceans Canada

My roles: User research, strategy development

Tools and skills: Questionnaire design, focus groups, task analysis, 

card sorting, persona creation,  Microsoft Office


The State of the Salmon program (SOS) is a governmental organization that was created to track and understand trends in Canadian Pacific salmon. I was hired by the SOS group via a Mitacs Accelerate internship to conduct user research on their target audience and create a strategy for developing data visualizations that would help them achieve their organizational goals.


Expert consultation 

I began the process by holding a focus group with key members of the SOS team to clarify their goals for the program, and how these fit into the organizational goals of federal fisheries at large. We determined the principal goals of the program, and created a prioritized list of those that could be facilitated by data visualization. We also identified and loosely categorized prospective end users, and developed a list of individuals within those groups that we could recruit to participate in user research. 

Formative questionnaire

We contacted potential end users from this list and recruited 28 individuals to sit for structured interviews or fill out a questionnaire, a group which included scientists, managers and technicians. In this questionnaire, users were asked to describe the questions they had regarding salmon stocks, their ability to answer these questions, and the barriers they encountered in answering them. This information would allow us to develop a taxonomy of tasks and begin to identify existing pain points in departmental practices. We also solicited demographic and psychographic information in order to refine our existing user segmentation and assist us in developing user personas. 

Example Questions

What are the questions you have about salmon stocks that you need to answer to support your work?

What questions do you have, or are you asked, that you currently cannot answer easily when it comes to integrating information within or across stocks?

What questions can you not answer because the data is not readily available to you?

Card sorting 

Following the questionnaires, I conducted a card sorting task with the SOS team. I compiled the tasks described by our participants in the questionnaire, and had the experts categorize these as within or outside of scope based on the program goals, as well as the availability quality of data.

After determining which tasks were within scope, the group sorted those by similarity to create categories of related tasks. We then prioritized each of these categories based on importance and urgency, and roughly outlined the data requirements for each category.

User segmentation and persona creation

Information gathered in the questionnaires also allowed us to segment our end users into subgroups based on their psychographic characteristics, such as data fluency, technical aptitude, willingness to learn and use new techniques, etc. Based on these segments, we created user personas to refer to during the development of our visualizations.   

Strategy document

Once the expert consultation and user research stages were completed, I compiled a strategy document to serve as a guide to visualization development for the SOS program. This strategy document described information that resulted directly from the above processes, such as organizational needs, user segmentation, personas and a prioritized task taxonomy.  

Furthermore, the strategy document included a visual encoding survey describing successful visualizations that addressed similar tasks, and wireframes of potential visualization interfaces for each task category. I also made recommendations for usability testing methodology that would help us validate these visualizations once they were developed. 


This program of user research helped shape the direction of the SOS program by clarifying who the visualizations would be most useful for and how they could be designed to best address their specific needs. It directly lead to the creation of the Status Evaluation tool, and formed the basis of three successful grants that allowed us to continue with the visualization development and perform user testing.