Design Pitfalls (or How NOT to Make an AV)

In addition to the positive design principles above, there are some design pitfalls to avoid. Similar to the above list, we begin with the major "don't"s and work towards the smaller issues.

Negation of Good Principles

First and foremost, failure to at least think about the issues above is a poor decision. You may not agree with all our recommendations, but at least reason about the issues yourself and make a decision.

Excessive Documentation Required

If your tool requires more explanation to operate than a textbook chapter on the topic you're trying to illustrate, something has gone wrong. This is not to say that users (especially educators) are off-the-hook with regards to reading READMEs, but other principles (like user-centered design) agree with our perspective that the interface should not require major documentation just to operate at a simple level.


So many visualizations out there have known and/or unknown bugs which really detract from their use as educational tools. For example, if a balanced binary tree cannot be balanced in the visualization tool, use of that tool has no educational value (and in fact may decrease understanding!).

Missing Features

Nearly as bad as bugs, missing features detract from a tool's usefulness as well. If a stack visualization can only push but never pop, it's not really a stack visualization at all. In reality, most missing features are not as egregious as that example; they tend to be more esoteric features. Nevertheless, it's important to get complete coverage of a topic in order to make your ADSV as useful as possible.

Lack of a Design Goal

When a user (educator, learner, or researcher) is unable to determine what you intended to do with your visualization, chances are it doesn't do that thing very well. If your AV is intended as an in-lecture presentation maker, make that apparent. Similarly, if it's intended as an exploration tool for learners to use on their own, make that apparent as well. See our list of what visualizations are GoodFor to get an idea of the types of design goals we (and hopefully the community) envision.

Make it Hard to get Started

AVs that are directly available in web pages will typically get more attention from potential users, since they need not go through the additional step of downloading and unpacking an AV or AV system.

Implementing a Common Topic

Lastly, if there are already 100 visualizations for your topic, are you sure you want to spend time implementing it again? Check existing visualizations to make sure that someone else hasn't already done it. If you still want to stick to your original topic, certainly no one will stop you. However, it would be more useful to the community (educators, researchers) if you would implement a topic that has few or no examples (SkipLists, anyone?!?).