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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

What at First May Appear to Be Information Design Overload Really Isn't...

The following URL will take you to a type of visual interaction design construct known as a heatmap, an example of which is depicted in the interface above this paragraph that indicates how particular stocks on the New York Stock Exchange are performing in real time:


The evolution of thinking that has occurred over the course of the last 40 years or so in the history of interaction design that informs the functionality of this design began at places like Xerox PARC, MIT's Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and Media Lab (http://www.media.mit.edu/), UC Berkeley, and the University of Illinois, to name but a few. Some of the people whose ideas and approaches to designing interactions who have laid the proverbial intellectual groundwork for a piece like this, such as John Ellenby, Alan Kay, Jeff Hawkins, Dennis Boyle, Bill Verplank and Bill Moggridge, had never been to design school. BUT—they were very interested in how people’s behavior can be shaped by the tools they use and the structure of the communications they interact with on a daily basis. These pioneers of interaction design framed some of the thinking that informed the design and functionality of this site—if you’re unfamiliar with these people, you’re probably NOT unfamiliar with some of the inventions that their thinking informed: laptop computers, PDAs, and the interfaces that allow billions of users to operate these.

Hermann Zschiegner is the creative director and programmer of TWO-N, where this interactive experience was conceived and designed. Here’ some “nuts-and-bolts” information he’s offered about how this design evolved and how it works:

• NYXTrac was originally designed as a non- interactive map of the market to be shown on a number of exterior data displays outside of the NYSE’s Wall Street building. This online mock-up was developed to illustrate the idea.

• A simple interface allows filtering the stocks by logical groupings such as geographic region, industry and major indices; it can also be sorted by ticker symbol, price change, volume or market capitalization.

• A mouse-over any ticker symbol provides the market metrics for the selected stock such as the day’s open, high/low and trading volume.

For those of you who have read even a small portion of Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media or The Medium Is The Message (and you have if you’ve been enrolled in AEAH 4842/5842 A History of Communication Design with Michael g in the last five years...), the layout and functionality of this site are rooted in some of his essential ideas. Alan Kay (as quoted in Bill Moggridge's book Designing Interactions) stated the following re: how McLuhan’s ideas may be applied to the kind of computing technology that makes a site like this one function as it does:

“The computer is a medium! I had always thought of the computer as a tool, perhaps a vehicle—a much weaker conception. What McLuhan was saying is that if the personal computer is truly a new medium, then the very use of it will actually change the thought patterns of an entire civilization. He had certainly been right about the electronic stained-glass window that is television—a remedievalizing tribal influence at best.”