Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Architecture of Understanding

One of the key benefits of Visual Fusion is its ability to put information into context, which, in turn, can build meaning. With so much data whirring about, it can be tough to pin it down, get a good look at it, and make sense of it. Early on here at IDV, one of our key goals was to create our platform in a way that presented a deliberate and empirical information architecture to the users (by the way, Edward Tufte makes the observation that design is one of two industries that call their customers “users”). If we can arrange the content in ways that are findable and usable, then the folks who have to do work and take actions as a result of the data will be in a better spot. This is my prime directive as we work on Visual Fusion 5.0.

One of the pioneers of Information Architecture (actually, he coined the term) is Richard Saul Wurman. He identifies five key organization principles, which he calls LATCH, an acronym for Location, Alphabet, Time, Category, and Hierarchy. These are the big means by which humans tend to arrange their data in order to give it structure and findability. Wurman, incidentally, is also the creator of the TED conferences, short but poignant presentations on technology, education, or design that have a startling ability to make me cry –which can be embarrassing since most of the presentations I see are in our conference room, surrounded by coworkers. Oh well.

Back to the point, previous versions of Visual fusion have been strong in the Location, Time, and Hierarchy methods of information organization. But if three-out-of-five is good, then five-out-of-five should be some unspecified percent more awesome, right?! In version 5.0 of Visual Fusion, coming this fall, we take aim on the remaining types, Alphabet and Category, with great relish.

An enhanced information architecture is a key component of 5.0.

New to 5.0 are native and fully integrated scatterplot, bar, area, and frequency charts; a list view; rapid searching; and a platform to extend these features or create as necessary. Plus some other really fascinating stuff that you’ll have to guess at for now. Also, these visualization items are not just additional ui widgets, they are all integrated into the existing visualization elements so that they work as a Tandemized unit. More on that in a minute.

The ability to find something goes hand-in-hand with how well it's organized” –more rich insight from Mr. Wurman. In the past, I’ve been left wanting when it came to finding an individual item in VFX. I have to find it in the map or in the timeline (or, perhaps, through some custom search) which means that I have to know where or when something is if I want to select it for further investigation. To mitigate the requirement of time/space clairvoyance, here comes (drum roll) the Alphabet method of information organization. In 5.0, each feed will list within it all of the items that have been returned; a roll-call that one can sort, page through, and interact with in order to see its incarnation in the other visuals.  My mom is a big fan of TweetDeck.  Our list view will, similarly, present the individual items that populate the larger application.  This is the latest in a continuing effort to make my Mom proud of me.

View individual items as a list or chart.  Interact with them the same way you might in the map or timeline.

But the most exciting improvement in findability is the search box next to each of the new visual components. Typing into the find field immediately whittles down the dataset to the items that match your criteria. With each character that is typed in, the dataset responds with more and more specific results. Hunting for particular items just got much easier and faster. Thanks, Alphabetic means of information organization!

Contextualizing data by presenting it in various concurrent forms (like on the map and in the timeline) is nice, but bridging those visualizations through user interactions provides a more seamless (and way more fun) treatment of the data.

Interactions in any one zone cause the item to pulse in the others.  Extreme visual tandemization!

All of our new visualization methods allow the same level of two-way interactsmanship that make the map and the timeline such a robust pair. As one interacts with an item in any visualization, its incarnations in the other supporting visualizations ping in response. This cat’s cradle of visualization linkages does more than just provide additional means of seeing data, but it laces together multiple methods so that the combination of visuals is stronger than the sum of its parts. There should be a word for that.

The new charting components deliver enhanced Categorical organization. The thematic abilities of Visual Fusion have long let users define categories and tie them to visual statuses in the map and timeline, but the advent of the integrated charting adds a new level Categorical coziness.

I’m excited for you to try it out and I’ll keep you posted here as development progresses and there are new things to share. Thanks for taking the time and, as always, drop us a line if you have any questions or suggestions for improvement!

1 comment: