Man-Machine Interface & Data Visualisation

June 6, 2014 in Uncategorized | Comments (0)

I’ve always been interested in the man-machine interface (or now, more politically correct, human-machine interface). And I’ve only more recently realised that in many ways, data visualisation is an extension of this and will become even more important as the “internet of things” becomes more mainstream.

Traditionally, thinking as a mechanical engineer, the man-machine interface has been the way in which we control machines, and in more recent times, controlling electronic machines such as computers, tablets and smartphones.

Computer Workstation Variables.jpg
Computer Workstation Variables” by Berkeley Lab – Ergonomics, Integrated Safety Management, Berkeley Lab.. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Whether flying an aeroplane or controlling a little angry bird on a smartphone, the human takes in information and acts upon a number of “levers” in order to get a response from the controlled object. In business, we are looking to impart control over profits and costs and the machinery of business presents itself in different kinds of data.

Instead of altitude, velocity and direction, in the case of a plane, we might look at sales pipeline data, call centre complaint call metrics, or financial costs of operations as some examples. Each of these needs to be presented to the pilot, or business manager to quickly assess the situation and make appropriate decisions.

This is where the dashboard concept has come from. Without getting into the detail of what should or should not be on a business data dashboard, the other challenge is in how that data, whatever it may be, should be presented. The science of communicating data must factor a plethora of sciences including psychology, ergonomics, cognition, usability, as well as all the data quality, data analytics, and perhaps a bunch of other specialities in between. It’s a lot to think about!

I recently found this highly educational document about Data Visualization for Human Perception in the Interaction Design Foundation website. This is a great primer on the topic suitable for newbies and veterans alike.

As Apple has demonstrated in great fashion, the KISS principle (Keep it simple, stupid) should reign supreme when designing a man machine interface or data visualisation. A key to that is understanding what you want the user to get out of it.

Now, if only I could get my utility to design better bills…..They want me to pay. How much? By when? How to pay? What did I use? Probably in that order. Everything else should be “below the fold”.

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