|Review of Information Visualization, 2nd Edition (Spence)|
|Review of Information Visualization (Spence)|
|Review of Elements of Graph Design (Kosslyn)|
|HCIL Page for the Book|
|Ben Bedersen's Homepage|
|Windsor Interfaces, Inc.|
|Ben Shneiderman's Homepage|
|More Information on Ben Shneiderman (People Archive)|
|Visualization – New Controls and Applications|
By Gerd Waloszek, SAP AG, SAP User Experience – July 24, 2003
This review takes a personal look at Ben Bederson's and Ben Shneiderman's book The Craft of Information Visualization – Readings and Reflections.
Ben Bederson & Ben Shneiderman
Information: Information presentation
Ben Bederson is director of the Human-Computer Interaction Lab (HCIL) and assistant professor at the University of Maryland. His research comprises new visualization techniques, such as Zoomable User Interfaces (ZUI), as well as digital libraries, single display groupware, and interfaces for electronic voting systems. Bederson is also President & CEO of Windsor Interfaces, Inc., a company, which markets products based on Zoomable User Interfaces, such as PhotoMesa and DateLens.
Bederson published a substantial number of papers on visualization techniques and co-edited the book The Craft of Information Visualization: Readings and Reflections.
Ben Shneiderman's contributions to the user interface design field are numerous and diverse, such as hypertext systems, direct manipulation (a term that was coined by him), information visualization (starfield display, treemap, visible human, and many more...), and the design of large information-abundant Websites.
Shneiderman is the author of several books, probably the best known is Designing the User Interface, a de-facto standard for user interface designers. He is also co-editor of the book The Craft of Information Visualization: Readings and Reflections, which presents the last ten years of work done at the University of Maryland's Human-Computer Interaction Lab (HCIL), which was founded and directed by him.
On the 20th anniversary of the Human-Computer Interaction Lab (HCIL) at the University of Maryland, Ben Bederson, the current director of the lab, and Ben Shneiderman, its founder and longtime director, present the book The Craft of Information Visualization: Readings and Reflections. This book is a collection of 38 key papers on information visualization from the past ten years. Information visualization is a rapidly growing research field and should be be distinguished from scientific visualization: The latter deals with visualizing three-dimensional physical objects and processes; the former is concerned with abstract phenomena (see also the review of Robert Spence's book Information Visualization). Moreover, scientific visualization often deals with continuous variables, such as temperature, while information visualization also deals with discrete variables, such as gender.
In presenting the work of the HCIL research group (the authors even speak of an HCIL community that has developed over the past twenty years), the papers convey the underlying beliefs that drive the group's research. There is no doubt that these are largely influenced by Ben Shneiderman's view of the roles of computers and humans (see the review of his book Leonard's Laptop). According to the authors, "It is important that users stay in control and that the computers offer choices with appropriate feedback for user actions. Conversely, computer-controlled interfaces often lead to unpredictable, and therefore unacceptable interfaces." Secondly, the computer as a tool should become "an extension of the user's body." It should stay out of the way and allow users to focus on their tasks without becoming absorbed in manipulating the interface. Or put in the spirit of Hubert Dreyfus' book Mind over Machine: The ultimate goal of tool development is that user and tool blend; that the user "is" the tool. The authors refer to this user experience as "being in the flow." The tight coupling of dynamic database queries with starfield displays (as, for example, demonstrated in HomeFinder and FilmFinder – see figure 1), and the "Visible Human Explorer" (see figure 2) are instructive examples of tools that have come out of this research approach. They are based on rapid, incremental, and reversible operations and they make the effects of manipulations on the object of interest immediately visible.
Figure 1: The FilmFinder showed color-coded rectangles on a two-dimensional display with range and alpha sliders (from HCIL Website)
This book is primarily a reference source for new visualization techniques and applications, many of which found their way into commercial products. The research papers are organized into eight chapters, each of which is preceded by a new introduction. The first seven chapters are devoted to visualization techniques and applications, while the concluding chapter presents emerging theories:
There are several useful appendices, such as lists of video reports (find free videos on the Web), links to project pages, software for downloading, an index of technical reports from the HCIL, and an author and key-terms index.
Figure 2: The Visible Human Explorer user interface; dragging sliders animates the cross-sections through the body (from HCIL Website)
Bederson's and Shneiderman's book can be used in a number of ways. Readers who want to gain an overview of recent techniques that is more details than textbooks like Robert Spence's book Information Visualization can either read the book paper by paper, or pick those papers that they are most interested in. Most papers are short and can be read as "stand-alone" texts. People who want to know more about certain techniques will also find papers of interest and – even more usefully – links to demo videos and software. A colleague of mine who implements visualization techniques at SAP confirmed that this book is a valuable resource and source of inspiration for his work.
I have one reservation about the book, which I know it is caused by the need to constrain production costs: As the papers are reproduced from print, not only are all of the images black and white (there are some representative color images on the cover pages), the quality of some of them is below average. This is a drawback for a book that relies heavily on images. Of course, readers can download videos and demo software, but this requires an extra step.
Apart from this minor issue, I would fully recommend the book to people who are interested in or working on information visualization techniques. As the authors rightfully state in their introduction, it has become a tradition that the HCIL generously offers its work to the community. This book is one more example of this attitude – kudos to the HCIL research team.
PS: To get "hands on" experience of the material presented in the book, I downloaded a demo copy of Ben Bederson's PhotoMesa program. I will be interested to see how it helps me find my way through my tens of thousands of personal digital photos.
See also in the SAP Design Guild
Note: Both pages are private "bonus" additions by the review author and therefore only accessible through this page.