Visualization of Complex Systems
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Complex systems are difficult to understand. To aid understanding of complex dynamic systems the field of system dynamics has developed a set of visualization methods for graphic representation of the simulation models of complex systems. The resulting visualizations, however, may sometimes be difficult to understand for audiences without a background in the scientific investigation of complex dynamic systems. It is therefore necessary to find new ways of representing complex systems with the purpose of making them more accessible. This thesis describes how system dynamic models may be visualized with a particular audience in mind – novice system dynamics students. The use of narrative elements and multimedia in the development of the user interface is explored. A variety of theories and research fields, such as narrative theory, system dynamics, human computer interaction, and computer support for collaboration and learning (CSCL) are utilized in the study. The project includes analysis and development of visualizations of system structure, behavior, and narratives that link and explain the relationship between structure and behavior of complex dynamic systems. Two prototypes of interactive learning environments are developed and evaluated in the project: The Two-Shower prototype and The Quito prototype. The Two-Shower prototype is based on a small model of a complex system and portrays two showers that share a hot water tank. The model is a metaphorical model and represents a simple system for resource sharing. The second model is a model of Quito, the capital of Ecuador, and describes the dynamics of the citizens, tourists, pollution, and the maintenance of Quito’s UNESCO enlisted historic buildings. The Two-Shower prototype is evaluated by usability tests and suggestions for new design are made. The experiences from the development of the Two-Shower prototype are then discussed considering how they may be transferred to the Quito prototype, which is based on a larger model. Being a model of a social system, it portrays issues that are more complex. Modeling of social systems raises some particular issues regarding choice and representation of variables. The thesis attempts to make bridges between complex system theory, system dynamics, visualization, and learning theory – as related to design.