Interact: A visual what-if analysis tool for virtual product design


Ciorna V., Melançon G., Petry F., Ghoniem M.


Information Visualization, vol. 23, n° 2, pp. 123-141, 2024


Virtual prototyping is increasingly used by businesses to streamline operations, cut costs, and enhance daily operations. This often includes a variety of modeling techniques among which, complex, black-box models. The path from model development to utilization in applied contexts is yet long. Domain experts need to be convinced of the validity of the models and to trust their predictions. To be used in the field, model capabilities need to be affordable, that is, allow rapid and interactive scenario building, even for non-experts. Complex relations governed by statistical interactions must be unveiled for users to understand unexpected predictions. We propose Interact, a model-agnostic, visual what-if tool for regression problems, supporting (1) the visualization of statistical interactions between features, (2) the creation of interactive what-if scenarios using predictive models, (3) the evaluation of model quality and building trust, and (4) the externalization of knowledge through model explainability. While the approach applies in various industrial contexts, we validate the application purpose and design with a detailed case study and a qualitative user study with engineers in the tire industry. By unraveling statistical interactions between features, the INTERACT tool proves to be useful to increase the transparency of black-box machine learning models. We also reflect on lessons learned concerning the development of visual what-if tools for virtual product development and beyond.



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