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Karen McGraw

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The Human-Computer Interaction Lab (HCIL) at the University of Maryland has submitted new technical reports of interest to our membership. These reports address topics ranging from knowledge visualization and iterative design, to content exploration tools. Two of these reports are reviewed here, followed by bibliographic information and abstracts of the other reports. To receive or retrieve one of the HCIL reports, send e-mail to hcil-info@umd.edu or access them via the Internet athttp://www.cs.umd.edu/projects/hcil/.

Shneiderman, B. The eyes have it: A task by data type taxonomy for information visualizations. IEEE, Visual Languages '96, (September 1996) Boulder, CO, CS-TR-3665.

Designing advanced graphical user interfaces requires that designers understand how users will seek information and view collections of items which have multiple attributes. An accepted guideline has been to present overview data first, zoom and filter based on user interest, then present specific details on demands. However, current and future graphical and direct manipulation approaches to query formulation and information visualization must be able to accommodate more than one data type, and must enable users to perform specific tasks, depending on the type of data being perused. This report examines richer ways to visualize information, based on the use of a task-by-data taxonomy representing seven data types and seven user tasks. The seven data types include the following:

  • 1-dimensional data linear data types such as textual documents and alphabetical lists of names organized sequentially
  • 2-dimensional data planar or map data such as geographic maps or floor plans
  • 3-dimensional data real-world objects such as molecules and the human body
  • Temporal data data with a start and finish time, and items that may overlap, such as medical records and project management data
  • Multi-dimensional data contents of relational and statistical databases; items with n attributes are represented as points in a n-dimensional space
  • Tree data collections of items portrayed as hierarchies or tree structures, which illustrate parent-child relationships
  • Network data collections among items which require that items can be linked to an arbitrary number of other items.

The types of tasks users perform vary according to the type(s) of information they want to find, sort, filter, and interpret. The report discusses each of the following tasks, providing brief descriptions as well as typical problems users experience when performing them:

  • Overview gain an overview of the entire collection
  • Zoom zoom in on items of interest
  • Filter filter out uninteresting items
  • Details-on-demand select an item or group and get desired details
  • Relate view relationships among items
  • History keep a history of actions to support undo, replay, and progressive refinement
  • Extract extract sub-collections and query parameters.

User interface designers should consider the taxonomy of data types and tasks described in this report when planning and defining user interfaces for applications that enable users to find, view, and use information.

Ellis, J., Rose, A., & Plaisant, C. Putting visualization to work: ProgramFinder for youth placement (September 1996), CS-TR-3692.

This report describes the development of ProgramFinder, a joint effort between HCIL and the Maryland Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ). ProgramFinder is a tool for choosing programs for troubled youth, from drug rehabilitation centers to secure residential facilities. It required converting HomeFinder (a dynamic query prototype) to enable the new tool to plot available programs on a map of Maryland, refining the user interface, and gaining "buy in" from DJJ staff and management. During the first year of the project the team performed 22 field visits, administering the Questionnaire for User Interaction Satisfaction (QUIS) to 332 DJJ personnel, and making short and long-term user interface recommendations. During the second year the extensive prototyping continued, with an emphasis on supporting DJJ's workflow related to youth case management.

The report details the progressive development of ProgramFinder through five different prototypes, each involving user interface design, prototype implementation, and the selection of search criterion. DJJ's attribute selection process proved to be the most time consuming and difficult task. One key finding was that a direct link to DJJ's workflow was needed to generate the necessary "buy in" for the prototypes.

The report analyzes the interaction between the efforts of HCIL and DJJ and the amount of "buy-in" by DJJ staff and management, and includes lessons learned for developers. For example, users' reactions to the tool were positive, due to their early and continual involvement in the design project. Suggestions DJJ personnel made to increase the usability of the tool included the use of a text display to review the few best matches once the initial map-based filtering was done, the ability to receive detailed information or help about slider values, and the ability to add notes or comments, among others. Lessons learned from this project are of interest to user interface designers:

  • Search criterion selection can be difficult
  • Customization to the user's workflow increases users' understanding of the tool and thus, their "buy in"
  • Interface design can initiate changes in the users' work processes
  • The presentation of similar applications early on stimulates interest
  • Creating alternative designs helps engage users.

Other new research reports not reviewed, but also available through HCIL include:

Plaisant, C., Marchionini, G., Bruns, T., Komlodi, A., & Campbell, L. Bringing treasures to the surface: Iterative design for the Library of Congress National Digital Library Program (1996), CS-TR-3694.

This report describes three user interface `design and test' iterations for a project for the Library of Congress' National Digital Library Program. These iterations illustrate the progression toward a compact design that minimizes scrolling and jumping, and which anchors users in a screen space that tightly couples search and results. Issues and resolutions are discussed for each iteration, reflecting the challenges of incomplete metadata, data visualization, and the rapidly-changing Web environment.

Kolker, R., Shneiderman, B. Tools for creating and exploiting content (July 1996), Getty Art History Information Program, Research Agenda for Networked Cultural Heritage, 27-30, Santa Monica, CA. http://www.ahip.getty.edu/agenda/tools.html.

The Humanities is an umbrella under which there are many disciplines, almost all of which are divisible into small components. Although separate disciplines, the Humanities performance and artistic production, critical and theoretical work, research, and language learning often intersect. However, only occasionally is Humanities research carried on by teams or under the rubric of a collective project. Therefore, the current state of tools and access to content via computer is, with some exceptions, scattered across many sites and individual projects. This report describes a content exploration tool project for the Humanities.

Karen McGraw can be contacted at kmcgraw@clark.net

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