Data Visualization and the Future of User Interfaces

by lucamascaro

If you’re like a lot of people, most probably, math does not come easily to you. Perhaps the biggest reason for that is because most humans don’t deal well with large amounts of abstract data, which is essentially what numerals are when used in mathematics. Humans tend to rely heavily on the senses, especially eyesight, to make sense of the world. When you consider how humans use their brains and senses together to make sense of information, you can quickly see why many people are proclaiming that the next evolution of user interfaces for computers and other electronic devices will rely heavily on data visualization.

Data visualization has been in around at least in rudimentary form for a long time. Something as simple as a chart or graph is, in essence, a form of data visualization. But the newer concept of data visualization has more to do with specific ways that obscure types of data can be displayed in a way that makes sense to the human mind. As the capabilities of electronic devices and their software increase, the more detailed the user interface will need to be in order to get the most possible out of the device. To be able to do that without overwhelming users, information will need to be presented cleanly, in a manner that’s easy to make sense of and understand. This is the primary purpose of data visualization, so it’s not much of a stretch to see it fulfilling the role.

Application developers have already started using data visualization in their user interfaces. Smartphone apps have been especially quick to use data visualization techniques to be able to present the largest amount of data possible on the small screen in a clear and effective manner. One example is an iOS app called Planetary, designed to organize music on iPads. Previous music interface applications have organized artists, albums and individual songs in a variety of manners, but all made heavy use of lists. Planetary turns your music collection into a mock-up of the universe. Artists, the highest level of the hierarchy are represented as stars, albums, the next level down, are planets and the individual songs are moons that orbit the planets.

Take Planetary’s basic concept and imagine it being used for other applications. Imagine, for instance, arranging your friends on Facebook arranged in a similar manner.  It’s easy to see how getting away from lists can make large amounts of information easier to fathom and thus manipulate. As smartphones, tablets and other touchscreen devices gain wider use and greater capabilities, data visualization will allow users to take advantage of touch screens and make the most out of the devices’ capabilities. Future progress will demand innovations and greater use of data visualization techniques will certainly play a major part in advancing user interface technology.


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