Archive for November 25, 2011

Better Interfaces: Interview, Treemap, Tornado Chart

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 1 Idea Stage, skmurphy

Innovative user interfaces have helped a number of products get adopted, here are three examples to stimulate your thinking.

1. Interview Metaphor: early tax preparation software automated a literal view of the paper forms. Intuit, I believe, was first to switch to an interview format that captured the information in a way that was easier to understand and manage/update. This was a clever reconceptualization of the problem that has been widely adopted. It was “better” in the sense that it was more easily understood by a consumer who only filled out one tax return a year.

2. Treemaps: developed by Ben Shneiderman compress a lot of information on quantifies that differ by orders of magnitude and are more useful at presenting it than bar charts or pie charts. One of the more successful examples is Smart Money Magazine’s “Map of the Market” which you now have to subscribe to see. Some references

3. Tornado charts: also called Tornado Diagrams, these  are a compact visualization of the impact of different variables on the outcome of a sequence of decisions (or a decision tree).  In decision analysis they obsoleted tables of numbers and probability distribution plots, offering a succinct encapsulation of the relative potency of a number of control or input variables. They have migrated over time from an esoteric technique in specialized software tools to one easily generated in Excel.

I don’t have specific suggestions for how to develop better ones beyond asking prospective customers how they represent the problem: what metaphors, paper aids, and mental models are useful in managing the problem they might hire your application to solve.  One author worth reading this is Edward Tufte: he has written four beautiful and insightful books on presenting information:

He periodically offers a one day course that presents material from all four of these books.

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