Visualizations are probably the most effective way to convey information, insights and prompts for action to humans. We are not terribly good at quickly and correctly interpreting textual information that require sequential processing. Our brains however are very well equipped to rapidly interpret information presented in a well defined visualization. The expression ‘one picture says more than a thousand words’ is one that speaks volumes (and a picture capturing that expression would of course tell us even more…).
Visualizations were omnipresent at last week’s Oracle OpenWorld 2015 conference. From keynote sessions by Larry Ellison and Thomas Kurian to the demo grounds where SaaS applications as well as development tools, PaaS services and other products were demonstrated, visualizations were everywhere. In part because they look nice and have an immediate appeal. But far more than just eye candy, visualizations are truly very effective in many use cases – especially when rapid responses to real time findings are required or where decisions need to be made based on deep insight in trends, patterns, correlations and underlying causes.
Glance, Scan, Commit
At the heart of Oracle’s strategic design philosophy for [cloud]user experience is the ‘glance, scan, commit’ way of working we humans tend to adopt. We scan our surroundings for things that stand out in some way and therefore may require more attention. The things that attracted attention on our first scan are then glanced at – to better understand what makes them stand out, quickly interpret if action is indeed required (such as more in depth investigations, decisions or execution of a workflow or business process). Some things can perhaps be done on the fly (accept/reject, send left or right, acknowledge) and are immediately removed from the to-do list. For others we may determine that nothing further needs to be done. Then there are more involved tasks that are the end result of the scan and glance stages. These tasks form a to do list of things that we need to work on – commit ourselves to – either instantaneously or at a later moment. (see Strategic design philosophy pushes Oracle cloud user experience to lofty new heights by Kathy Miedema for more details on this philosophy).
Glance, Scan and Commit are implemented throughout Oracle’s SaaS applications. Users typically start from an initial dashboard that provides them the information they need to perform the Glance. This is typically information that is the outcome of aggregations and advanced data analysis – resulting in condensed reports of those facts that the user needs to be aware of, needs to react to or decide upon. This information should be presented in such as way that the ‘cost of understanding is minimized’ – as Jairam Ramanathan, Senior Development Manager for Data Visualizations at Oracle Cloud and Mobility Development Tools puts it.
Usually this means that the presentation shows a recent change or trend, a comparison with a threshold, deadline or other target or a list of action items. Data Visualizations are used to present these elements in a way that makes them easy to interpret quickly and correctly. Compared with a purely textual representation, most visualizations can easily add context – such as time or location – and categorizations or grouping. Visualizations can leverage special traits of our human minds. These include our ability to quickly interpret, compare and spot differences in position, shape and size, color (to some extent) and extract a story from animation. Our brain’s associative powers quickly come into play with visualizations.
Jeremy Ashley, GVP Cloud Applications UX at Oracle and responsible for the Glance, Scan, Commit philosophy, stresses that visualizations may not be too simplistic, or our brain simply zooms out. A visualization needs to hold a certain challenge in order to pique our curiosity.
Visualizations not only cater for the glance phase, they can usually also play an important role in the scan phase. Visualizations can allow drill down, to analyze a little further and look in more details into specific areas of interest indicated during glance. Additionally, visualizations may go beyond just presenting the data and also support simple manipulation of data – for example adjusting a gauge or dragging elements on a time line or even a bubble chart. Read the complete article here.
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