Shneiderman focuses on people's interactions with visual information at ninth annual Lucile Kelling Henderson Lecture

Release date: 
December 1, 1998

Chapel Hill, NC Dr. Ben Shneiderman of the University of Maryland's Department of Computer Science visited the School of Information and Library Science on December 7th, as the ninth invited lecturer in the annual Lucile Kelling Henderson Lecture Series. Shneiderman's lecture, "The Eyes Have It: User Interfaces for Information Visualization," focused on the use, misuse and problems of people using graphical interfaces with computers. Specifically, he explored the power of visualization techniques in organizing and retrieving electronic information.

Speaking to an audience of about 150 professors, information technology specialists, information systems designers, librarians and students, Shneiderman described the world as a "visual domain" but not a well-constructed place. He said that by choosing to arrange information around the tasks 1) seeing an overview, 2) zooming in on selected information, 3) filtering out unnecessary information and 4) requesting details on demand, the individual will have more control in gathering and manipulating information in a meaningful way. His research has shown that information organized around these visual techniques or tasks, preferably in a "flat" or two-dimensional mode, is accessed more rapidly and with greater satisfaction than other presentations or designs.

Using many examples from work conducted at the Human-Computer Interaction Laboratory at the University of Maryland, Shneiderman demonstrated how information can be displayed on two axes and explored by users with "sliders" and other widgets to limit or fine-tune the information sought. This system of design has been effective in a variety of settings, including library, medical, pharmaceutical, real estate, and even in Smithsonian museum exhibits.

Perhaps the most intriguing parts of the lecture related to issues on speed of performance that enable individuals to access pertinent electronic information quickly and easily. Shneiderman contends that several dozen links on a web page are often more effective than the often-cited seven-plus-or-minus-two links. This belief is based on empirical studies that demonstrate the advantages of broad over deep structures for search and selection. This kind of research in human-computer interaction is vastly altering and improving interface construction and design.

The mantra that Dr. Shneiderman advocates is "stop the technology madness." He pointed out that up to 5.1 hours per week per person is now wasted in people trying to use computers. What is broken? Very simply – the interface. And, according to Shneiderman, this is a national problem that must be addressed or huge amounts of valuable time will be needlessly lost. Thus, Shneiderman's conclusion that "we can do better" in interface design was a motivational thought. Rapid and good visualization (instead of typed or voiced commands) is the wave of the future and will offer consistency, predictability and control for the user. In other words, the goal of good interface design shall be met: the user will feel mastery of and responsibility for their interaction with computers.

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The Lucile Kelling Henderson Lecture Series was established in 1990 to honor the memory of Lucile K. Henderson, faculty member (1932-60) and dean (1954-60) of the School of Information and Library Science. Mrs. Henderson made many contributions to the university and to the profession as an excellent teacher, administrator, counselor and advisor. She died in 1990 at age 95.

The School of Information and Library Science is home to approximately 250 graduate students, 70 undergraduates and 19 full-time faculty members. It prepares students to work with computer information systems and networks or for careers in library administration, acquisitions, collections management and other aspects of library work. The school offers master's degrees in information science and library science, a certificate of advanced study, a doctor of philosophy in information and library science and an undergraduate minor in information systems.