Part 1: Background

“In the beginning was the deed” – Goethe (cited by Vygotsky and Luria 1994)

Chapter 1

Exploiting Interactivity

“The ability to draw and then move linkages opens up a new field of graphical manipulation that has never before been available” Ivan Sutherland (1963)

1.0 Interactivity: A paradigm shift

As computers become faster and more powerful, they are providing us with many new opportunities. One of these is the advent of visualisation applications which allow users to view large data sets in the form of abstract representations. Interactive tools can then be used on parts of that representation to identify the useful data and assess the alternatives available. Such Visualisation applications can be applied to many different scenarios. One of their values is that they can enable the user to summarise vast quantities of information very quickly. Another is the ability to examine trade offs and correlations.

Adding interactivity may seem a very simple modification but the insight that results can be very valuable. Instead of examining a static piece of information the user is now in dialogue with their data. Bill Buxton (1994) makes the point that the difference between having interactivity and not, is the difference between a two way dialogue and one way information provision. Adding such a two way interaction produces a whole paradigm shift in the ways a piece of technology can be used. He illustrates this by saying: “Interactive television is to broadcast television what the telephone is to radio (since the telephone is interactive audio, whilst the radio is broadcast audio). Any model of interactive television that does not acknowledge a change of paradigm of that magnitude is missing a large part of the potential of that technology“.

Another aspect of interactivity is that it encourages a user to ask many different questions of a set of data. When describing static representations of data Casner (1991) established that “Different presentations of the same information best support different tasks”. In other words, each question that a user wants to ask of a data-set requires an entirely different presentation. Whilst this limitation applies to static presentations, it is not relevant when interactivity allows different features of the data to be made salient as and when required. Once such interactivity is provided, the underlying representation becomes a medium through which different features of the data are made explicit and so a single representation cn be used to answer many different questions.

This shift in paradigm from static representations (graphs) to interactive ones (visualisations) has not yet been fully conceived or utilised in everyday applications. For example, the standard displays in the Stock Exchange still use tables of data with no interactivity. In order to get a graph of the trends present in the data many traders will cut and paste data to a spreadsheet. However, none of the spreadsheets currently allow even simple interactivity of the sort that will be described in chapter four. Considering the trade-off tasks that these people are working with everyday, simple interactive graphs would be very useful tools.

Another application area where interactivity could usefully be applied is the visualisation of mathematical models. In many situations, people within science and business are developing mathematical models of problems. Such models can be very complex and are often difficult to think about qualitatively. This thesis demonstrates a number of ways that these models can be visualised and explored. Such exploration can help users understand their problems, find useful solutions an communicate aspects of their models.

1.1 Visualisations as external representations

Another fundamental concept behind this thesis is that by combining interactive tools with abstract representations it is possible to build external representations of the user’s problem. Such external tools allow users to transfer much of the procedural work involved in problem-solving to the computer, enabling them to concentrate on interpreting their problem and searching for a solution. Nardi and Zarmer (1993) suggested a similar idea when they described a system in which users could build up problem-solving representations from simple building blocks that they called “Visual Formalisms”. As they identified, such tools can form an integral part of the problem-solving process and “can stimulate and initiate cognitive activity”.

Another value of such a representation si that because it is external it can be shared. Thus visualisations can become valuable problem representations with which to communicate with other people and educate them about the constraints one is working under. Such communication can also enable a group to negotiate  between alternatives in a reasoned manner.

1.2 The dangers of automation

One of the problems with having such powerful computers is knowing how and when to use that power. In many situations it is possible to fully automate a representation. For instance Casner’s solution to the problem of providing a representation for each of a user’s different questions was to build an automatic graph builder (BOZ) based on a task analysis of each question a user wanted to ask. For each question BOZ analyzes the task, works out an appropriate representation and then presents the user with a single static solution to interpret.

However a contradictory idea to such automatic graph building is that part of the value of building a graph is in how one constructs it. As Cleveland (1985) puts it: “graphing data needs to be iterative because we often do not know what to expect of the data; a graph can help discover unknown aspects of the data, and once the unknown is known, we frequently find ourselves formulating new questions about the data“. Similarly, in describing the value of interactive graphics, Bertin (1977) says: ” A graphic is no longer “drawn” once and for all; it is “constructed” and reconstructed(manipulated) until all the relationships which lie within it have been perceived… a graphic is never an end in itself; it is a moment in the process of decision making“. By automatically generating graphs much of the valuable constructive process is lost. A better alternative might be to present the data in the form of an interactive external representation (or externalisation). In this way the user can gradually build up an understanding of their problem.

The issue here is partly one of context. BOZ would be a useful tool for a situation where a user wanted to generate the best static graphic to communicate a particular point (e.g. for publication in a magazine). However, if this tool were to be used for graphical problem solving, then automation removes a lot of the externalisation’s value by taking away control from the user. The opportunistic and constructive support that could be added to the externalisation through the use of a computer is absent. Added to this the user would lose the continuity and flow of their problem solving process when they describe each new question in terms of a formal task analysis.

Much over-use of automation can be found in engineering software. A lot of these tools apply algorithms to mathematical models and come up with a “solution”. However the engineer who is using it may not have a good understanding of why that particular solution has been suggested. As Julie Bort (1996) points out “Data is fed in and results come out, but the tool doesn’t report how it comes to its conclusions. Sometimes the how is as revealing as the what.” The visualisations described in Chapters 5 to 10 allow the user to stay in control of their problem by actively constructing their solution using an external representation. In this way the user should be able to gain an understanding of how they achieved their solution and the alternatives available.

The problem with automation is that it tends to be viewed as a “cure-all” As Newell and Card (1985) warn, some researchers seem to act as though “if the interface is intelligent then it is not necessary to know anything about the user because the interface will be able to interact intelligently”. This thesis is not arguing against automation per se, but rather that we must focus our attention on exploiting the different strengths of both humans and computers.

1.3 Problem Solving as Exploration

One of the reasons that automation is not always an ideal solution is that a user often does not really have a good understanding of the available information before they start to solve a problem. For instance if I were to start to look for a house to buy I might have a fairly good idea of what my ideal house would be but I don’t have a good feeling for the current market.. Many of today’s database tools would require that at this early stage in my decision making I should define a specific query for the computer to search. For example: Find all the houses, with three bedrooms and a garage, that cost less than £80,000. The database would then return a resulting subset of houses that satisfy this query, however I would not gain an understanding about how this subset relates to the whole set of available houses.

Ideally I would like to start my problem-solving by taking a rough look at the number of houses in a variety of areas to get a feel for what is “out there”. Once I have explored the problem a little I can come up with a clearer specification of what I am looking for. Then I would be interested in seeing a variety of options that are close to satisfying my specification. Finally I would make a choice usually based on some form of trade-off, since it is unlikely that the “perfect” house exists. Lunzer (1996) has called this process reconnaissance. It appears to be a crucial part of many problems solving situations.

Interactive external representations are ideally suited to solve this sort of problem. The  underlying representation can provide contextual information about the whole data space and the user can make use of interactive tools to move through the space, iteratively adjusting their query. Responsive feedback from each interaction provides the information needed to perform each iteration of problem solving.

The visualisations presented in this thesis will support two forms of exploration. Firstly exploration where one is looking to select a subset from a large data set (The Attribute Explorer – chapter 4). This sort of interface can be valuable for any sort of database. Secondly the exploration of a mathematical model where one has a more or less continuous representation of the whole space. In this case the solution sought is often the definition of a useful region that satisfies a number of specific constraints. There are a huge range of situations in which such models are used. Both of these forms of exploration have many potential applications.

1.4 Thesis Structure

 The Thesis is made up of four parts: background, invention, abstraction and epilogue.

This first chapter of Part I has introduced the importance of exploiting interactivity in external represenations, the main topic of this thesis. Chapter 2 examines the value of external representations in a little more detail. Chapter 3 outslines the 3 research strategies adopted during the research work: exploring the problem space by designing novel artifacts and providing designers tools for thoughts by developing abstractions. these first three chapters together (Part 1) provide the background to this thesis.

Part 2 comprises five chapters describing the novel artifacts designed during the course of research fo different forms of grapical probelem solving. Chapter 4 introduces the Attribute Explorer, a tool for exploring multi-attribute data (a set of objects each described by values to a set of attributes). Chapter 5 explains Pre-Calculation, a method which enables us to create data from mathematical models which we can then visualise. Chapters 6 and 7 describe the Influence Explorer and Prosection Matrix. These tools have been applied to financial, electronic, structural and mechatronic problems. Chapter 8 outlines a formative design evaluation that was carried to identify weaknesses in the visualisation as they progressed.

Part 3 introduces a number of different abstractons that can be used to characterize these tools. Chapter 9 describes interactive external representation in terms of the different forms of representation and interactivity that they use. A number of different visualisation techniques are described in terms of this characterisation and some simple guidelines are formulated. Chapter 10 examines a few of these visualisations in more detail using a data centric notation. The notation is used to describe the specific data selections possible with each visualisation, the consequence of this data selection and the perceptual comparisons that these consequences then facilitate. Such descriptions can be valuable for comparision that these consequences then facilitater. Such descriptions can be valuable for the comparision of different visualisation tools and the identification of weaknesses.

Finally Part 4 summarizes the findings of this thesis and suggests how we should move forward from here. In particular it identifies opportunities for further development and reasons why these might prove valuable.

1.5 Contributions

This thesis makes a number of novel contributions

  • it brings together an innovataive research philosophy
  • It presents pre-calculation as a novel method to create data to be visualized from the mathematical models (Chapter 5)
  •  It presents a number of novel artifacts (The Attribute Explorer in Chapter 4, The Influence Explorer in Chapter 6 and the Prosection Matrix in Chapter 7)
  • It characterises the space of interactive externalisaations (Chapter 9)
  • It presents DIVA – a new notation to describe the perceptual information that interactive external representations afford to users (Chapter 10).

1.6 Research Context

Having introduced the concepts that structure the thesis I would now like to briefly explain he context within which it was written, both physically and academicially.

My own undergraduate bacground is in psychology (although one upon a time I did do the first year of an engineering product design degree). I then worked for a while as a research assistant doing empirical HCI studies on icon search(May et al 1993). The work reported in this thesis has been carried out within the Electrical Engineering Department at Impeerial College. The visualisation tools arose out of direct collaborations with engineers in the labs at Imperial and a number of different industrial partners (Philips, Infolytica, Reuters & First Derivative Associates). The context that grounds the designs came from meetings and conversations between: industrialists, scientists, domain specialists (in financial modelling, marketing and many varieteis of engineering), statisticians, engineers, designers, computer scientists and psychologists.

In a sense for me this work has actually been “trans-disciplinary”: I have spent much of my time over the last four years learning a lot about engineering, statistics and programming. These are all important skills. In a sense they have helped me learn about the context of my problem domain in an almost ethnographic way. I have in effect worked next to my “problem holders” for the last four years. For a psychologist, even one doing HCI, that a pretty priviliged position.

However the other side of thsi coin is that the academic field of HCI has also provided an important context for this work. Although Rasmussen (1992) argues that “HCI or, better, cognitive engineering is not a new academic discipline but a conceptual market place for exchange of cross-disciplinary work”, I would disagree; it is important that we develop an academic discipline, sharing a common ground, within which we can foster the cumalative growth of ideas.

This thesis is based on many concepts and arguments that have emerged from within HCI. Without the existence of that community I don’t believe it could have been written.

 

50 responses to “Part 1: Background”

  1. Attorney'S Job Peoria Il says :

    always i used to read smaller articles that as
    well clear their motive, and that is also happening with this
    article which I am reading now.

  2. Juli says :

    hey there and thank you for your information – I have definitely picked up anything
    new from right here. I did however expertise some technical points
    using this site, as I experienced to reload the web site
    a lot of times previous to I could get it to load properly.
    I had been wondering if your web hosting is OK?
    Not that I am complaining, but slow loading instances times will often affect your
    placement in google and could damage your quality
    score if advertising and marketing with Adwords. Well I’m adding this RSS to my e-mail and could look out for a lot more of
    your respective exciting content. Make sure you update this again very soon.

  3. Karry says :

    There are also quite a few great health benefits associated with HCG diet program as well.
    The increase will remain even after you have stopped using
    the hormone. Some have seen an immediate weight loss, calling this a “miracle” diet.

  4. Insects Pest Control Langley says :

    Hmm it looks like your blog ate my first comment (it
    was extremely long) so I guess I’ll just sum it up what I submitted and
    say, I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog. I as well
    am an aspiring blog writer but I’m still new to everything.
    Do you have any recommendations for rookie blog writers? I’d certainly appreciate it.

  5. Pest Control Raccoons Vancouver says :

    It’s an amazing piece of writing for all the web users;
    they will obtain benefit from it I am sure.

  6. Flick Pest Control Victoria says :

    Very nice post. I just stumbled upon your weblog and wished to
    say that I have really enjoyed browsing your blog posts.
    After all I’ll be subscribing to your feed and
    I hope you write again soon!

  7. Motorized Roller Blinds Vancouver says :

    Great info. Lucky me I discovered your blog by chance (stumbleupon).
    I have book-marked it for later!

  8. Window Treatments For Privacy Surrey says :

    Hello! I could have sworn I’ve been to this website before but after browsing through some
    of the post I realized it’s new to me. Anyhow, I’m definitely
    happy I found it and I’ll be bookmarking and checking back often!

  9. Pest Control Management Chilliwack says :

    whoah this blog is wonderful i like studying your articles.

    Stay up the good work! You understand, a lot of people are looking around for this information, you
    could help them greatly.

  10. nokhbeganpand.org says :

    always i used to read smaller content that also clear their
    motive, and that is also happening with this article which I am
    reading here.

  11. Kristal says :

    I like the valuable info you provide to your articles. I’ll bookmark your blog
    and test once more right here regularly. I’m reasonably sure
    I’ll be informed lots of new stuff right right here!
    Good luck for the following!

  12. http://www.everytrail.com/view_trip.php?trip_id=2357909 says :

    Hey! I could have sworn I’ve been to this site before but after reading through some of
    the post I realized it’s new to me. Nonetheless, I’m definitely happy I found it and I’ll be bookmarking and checking back often!

  13. 16Mm Transfer Dvd Vancouver says :

    Wow, awesome blog layout! How long have you been blogging for?
    you make blogging look easy. The overall look of your site is
    wonderful, as well as the content!

  14. dwi defence attorneys says :

    Hey! Do you use Twitter? I’d like to follow you if that would be ok.
    I’m undoubtedly enjoying your blog and look forward to new updates.

  15. Mesa Chiropractor says :

    It’s remarkable for me to have a web page, which is
    good designed for my know-how. thanks admin

  16. construction bonds says :

    I think everything typed was actually very logical. But, what about this?
    what if you were to write a awesome headline? I ain’t suggesting
    your content is not solid, but suppose you added a headline that makes people want more?
    I mean Part 1: Background | Positive Technology is a little vanilla.
    You might peek at Yahoo’s front page and watch how they create article titles
    to get viewers to click. You might try adding a video or
    a picture or two to get people excited about everything’ve got to say.
    In my opinion, it might bring your posts a little bit more
    interesting.

  17. angular cheilitis cure says :

    I read this piece of writing fully on the topic of the difference of newest and preceding technologies, it’s awesome article.

  18. wendy stevens local guerrilla marketing says :

    Yes! Finally someone writes about coach wendy stevens reviews.

  19. how to get rid of cold sores inside your mouth says :

    Hi there to every body, it’s my first pay a visit of this weblog; this website
    carries awesome and truly fine material for visitors.

  20. Law Gospel Churches Papillion says :

    I was suggested this website by my cousin. I am not sure whether this post is written by him as nobody else know such detailed about my trouble.
    You’re wonderful! Thanks!

  21. Animal Control Companies Surrey says :

    What’s Going down i am new to this, I stumbled upon this
    I’ve found It positively useful and it has helped me out loads.
    I am hoping to contribute & help different users like its aided
    me. Good job.

  22. residential general contractors says :

    Pretty great post. I just stumbled upon your weblog and wished to say
    that I’ve truly enjoyed surfing around your weblog posts.
    After all I’ll be subscribing for your feed and I’m hoping you write again very soon!

  23. reviews metabolic fat factor says :

    I’m not sure where you’re getting your information, but great topic.
    I needs to spend some time learning more or understanding more.
    Thanks for excellent information I was looking for this info for my
    mission.

  24. Metabolic Fat Factor reviews says :

    Excellent blog here! Also your web site a lot up fast!
    What web host are you using? Can I am getting your
    associate link to your host? I desire my site loaded up as fast as yours lol

  25. Empower Network Top Producer Formula Review says :

    Can I simply just say what a relief to uncover an individual who really understands what they’re talking about online.
    You definitely realize how to bring an issue
    to light and make it important. More and more people need to look at this and understand this side of your story.
    I was surprised that you’re not more popular given that you definitely have the gift.

  26. Zamurai PBN Blueprint Bonus says :

    I used to be recommended this web site through my cousin. I’m now not
    certain whether this submit is written by means of him as nobody else realize such distinct about
    my difficulty. You are wonderful! Thanks!

  27. logan airport parking discount} says :

    I think the admin of this web page is in fact working hard for his web site, since here every material is quality based material.

  28. click here. says :

    First of all I want to say wonderful blog! I had a
    quick question that I’d like to ask if you don’t mind.
    I was interested to find out how you center yourself and clear your head before writing.
    I have had trouble clearing my mind in getting my ideas out.
    I do take pleasure in writing but it just seems like the first
    10 to 15 minutes are generally wasted just trying to figure out how to begin. Any recommendations or tips?

    Thanks!

  29. play games for money and prizes free says :

    Definitely imagine that that you said. Your favourite reason seemed
    to be at the internet the simplest thing to be mindful of. I say
    to you, I certainly get irked whilst other folks think about
    issues that they plainly don’t know about. You controlled
    to hit the nail upon the highest as neatly as defined out the
    entire thing without having side-effects , folks can take a signal.
    Will probably be again to get more. Thank you

  30. new cydia sources december 2013 says :

    You need a 3rd party software program to do that. If you have got an iphone with a agreement and you desires
    to be on official carrier, its simple to activate.

    So you can watch Flash video clip and Flash web site on your iPad now.

  31. Elke says :

    The item of the game is to find words by connecting
    letters in a grid. By Jailbreaking you can appreciate independence from Apple and their efforts to manage the market.

    It provides status information about solutions and tools.

  32. http://www.petitmoi-bigworld.co.uk/2013/10/review-of-my-nica-handbag-from-bagable.html says :

    Divers like the Invicta 8926 Dive View due to the reliability and it
    is cheaper than other watches. Having its launch, people have repeatedly supplied positive feedbacks
    to the item.

  33. Shayne says :

    Hi there I am so glad I found your website, I really found you by mistake,
    while I was browsing on Digg for something else, Nonetheless I am here now
    and would just like to say many thanks for a remarkable post and a all round interesting blog (I also love the
    theme/design), I don’t have time to look over it all at
    the moment but I have bookmarked it and also added in your RSS
    feeds, so when I have time I will be back to read much more, Please do keep
    up the superb b.

  34. dress murah lengkap says :

    I read this paragraph completely regarding the comparison of most recent and preceding technologies, it’s awesome article.

  35. squeeze page maker says :

    Yes! Finally someone writes about website landing pages.

  36. pherazone reviews says :

    Hello everyone, it’s my first visit at this web
    site, and piece of writing is truly fruitful in favor of me, keep up posting these types of
    articles.

  37. Elvia Taylor says :

    Awesome site you have here but I was curious if you knew of any user discussion forums
    that cover the same topics talked about here? I’d really love to
    be a part of community where I can get opinions from other knowledgeable individuals that share the same interest.

    If you have any suggestions, please let me know.
    Kudos!

  38. www.52mantels.com says :

    Begin the nite install again if you experienced to install .Internet Framework.
    The alter to the iOS app delivers that system’s version in line with the rest of
    the business’s offerings.

  39. speak portuguese language says :

    For most recent news you have to visit world-wide-web and on web I found this website as a finest web site for most recent updates.

  40. Emergency tire change says :

    If you want to obtain a good deal from this post then you have to apply such strategies to your won blog.

  41. truvia side effects says :

    Yesterday, while I was at work, my sister stole my apple ipad and tested to see if it can survive a thirty
    foot drop, just so she can be a youtube sensation. My iPad is now broken and she has 83 views.
    I know this is completely off topic but I had
    to share it with someone!

  42. events for kids on long island says :

    Have you ever considered creating an ebook or guest authoring on other websites?

    I have a blog based upon on the same topics you discuss and would love to have you
    share some stories/information. I know my audience
    would enjoy your work. If you’re even remotely interested, feel free to shoot me an email.

  43. training a guard dog says :

    I constantly spent my half an hour to read
    this webpage’s posts every day along with a cup of coffee.

  44. der hobbit 2 trailer 2 says :

    Greetings! I know this is kinda off topic but I was wondering if you knew
    where I could locate a captcha plugin for my comment form?
    I’m using the same blog platform as yours and I’m having problems finding one?

    Thanks a lot!

  45. buzznet.com says :

    Have you ever considered about including a little
    bit more than just your articles? I mean, what you say is
    fundamental and all. Nevertheless think of if you added some great pictures
    or videos to give your posts more, “pop”! Your content is excellent but with
    pics and video clips, this website could undeniably be one of the very best in its niche.
    Wonderful blog!

  46. st cloud mn towing says :

    No matter if some one searches for his necessary thing, so he/she needs to be available that in detail, thus that thing is maintained over here.

  47. hormone during pregnancy says :

    Oh my goodness! Incredible article dude! Many thanks, However I
    am going through difficulties with your RSS. I don’t know why I cannot join it.

    Is there anyone else having similar RSS problems?
    Anyone who knows the answer can you kindly respond? Thanx!!

  48. mortgages says :

    Today, there is not a good reason to be unmanageable and
    be buried in debt again because there are a good number of free personal
    finance software products that can help you to be abreast with your money, make plans, and have
    total control of your finances. As soon as you get your
    first pay or profit, get into the habit of savings.
    For instance, instead of getting your car professionally detailed,
    save money by getting it washed for 5 dollars by a kid on the block.

Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. My Thesis « Positive Technology - April 8, 2010

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s