Pattern from Barbara Mirel
GOAL: Determine a competitive product mix and persuade stakeholders
to implement it.
Subgoal: Establish a baseline for sales and growth
Figure 1. Partial set of patterns for Establish a Product Performance
Establishing a baseline for sales and growth is one of many QUERY-AND-INTERPRET
subgoals in which users are engaged when determining the best product mix
for their store. Users derive this baseline from the sales and growth of
the 3-5 top performing products in a category.
The first step in establishing a baseline is to get an overview ? a
30,000 Foot view. Users look at all products’ sales and growth by manufacturer,
brand and item for each outlet of sales, region, and market. This 30,000
Foot View pattern embodies a number of patterns (#1-7 in figure 1), each
involving its own group of patterns. See Figure 1.
The patterns named in Figure 1 only go to a certain level. In reality,
each of the lowest level patterns in the diagram embodies even more finely
grained patterns, working down the hierarchy to single actions with individual
interface objects and to the under-the-hood relationships among objects.
I stopped at the level above because I see it as a critical Janus-faced
point. It is a this level that the patterns turn at once to users’ large-scale
real world goals and motives and to their direct manipulations at
the program interface.
From Figure 1, the sample pattern that I’ll describe is Information
Flow for Precision. This pattern comes into play when users need information
to flow from the interface to tell them the meanings of the graphics and
precise values relevant to setting a baseline for product performance.
As Figure 2 shows, graphics used for the 30,000 Foot View present multiple
charts and a data sheet, giving users a workspace for discovering
standards relevant to a successful productg mix. Missing from immediate
sight in this workspace, however, are ample information aids ? precise
values of data columns and bars and labels for all items. Users need this
precise , complete information for valid decisions and persuasive effect..
A description of Information Flow for Precision follows.
Figure 2. Graphics for 30,000 Foot View.
INFORMATION FLOW FOR PRECISIONS PATTERN
Information Flow for Precision plays a role in many subgoals of QUERY-AND-INTERPRET
? it is a core activity in interactive visual analysis. One challenge in
designing for Information Flow for Precision is that the informational
content, presentation (structure and appearance), and visibility that users
expect and need vary by work context and data table within the subgoal
of establishing a performance baseline and across diverse QUERY-AND-INTERPRET
activities. The design of Information Flow for Precision, therefore, inherently
embodies a tension between customized and one-best-system (generic) approaches.
The following description reflects our group’s understanding of the needs,
problem, and solution of this pattern so far.
Context: The graphics for a 30,000 Foot View immediately
and perceptually show a good deal of vital information about high and low
performance through size, height, color and position. Users, however, need
more precise information as well because their interpretations and conclusions
will affect the success or failure of their businesses. Users need precise
and accurate values for data points and aggregations and labels for data
items. The purposes served by this information and the times during inquiry
that users access it vary and overlap. Users need this information for
such immediate inquiry problems as follow:
Users’ problems relevant to this pattern are straightforward. Addressing
them in software and interface design is more complicated since content,
presentation, and visibility depend on purpose, context, and data.
Have I highlighted/selected all and only the data I want to look at? --
verify a selection.
Is what I think I see really what I’m seeing? ?validate initial perceptual
What are the top runners that have 75% of the market share? --identify
ranges and whole-to-part ratios.
What figures will prove my case? -- print and report in order to inform
and persuade others.
Where am I now and how did I get here? -- save and refer to later in an
inquiry to monitor progress.
Problems and Contending Forces
Relevant Content -- Users expect relevant information on an as-needed basis
with little effort or interruption to their ongoing visual analysis. Yet
without a lot of built in intelligence, the program cannot presuppose all
cases and is apt to either over- or under-supply users with information.
Users also expect the information to be “chunked” according to their integrated
way of thinking about their problem and analysis. Making discrete facts
available and letting users pick, choose and combine them as they like
distracts them from their train of thought, diverting attention from their
task to the tool.
Contending Forces: Combined content relevant for one situation may be
irrelevant for another. Providing different ‘flows” for different cases
lead to too many types of flows for users to keep in mind. Providing
discrete facts for create-your-own flows undermines problem-solving efficiency.
Presented Right ?. At a point of need, users expect to see almost
simultaneously visual and textual renditions of the data. They want to
read it easily (legible), extract what they need immediately from its format,
and dock it where it will not interfere with the graphical data. If too
much information is crowded in a small space, users can neither access
information easily nor get it to display legibly in printed reports or
notes. If due to size, form, or lack of mobility, the presentation of values
and labels blocks the visual display, users cannot perform core actions
such as selecting data, rotating, it, and so on.
Contending Forces: A small size that does not block graphics may be
illegible, and it may inhibit providing enough information. Printed presentations
are a different “genre” from presentations relevant to as-you-go analysis.
Information flows for data of interest, when docked, lose their data context.
Visible As Needed ? At times, users want to display precise values or
labels continuously; other times, they want to “turn them off” in order
to devote more screen real estate to graphics. Because having this information
available as-needed is core to analysis, users do not expect to devote
much if any attention to this present-or-hidden choice. Any design that
shifts attention to the tool (e.g. many keystrokes, window positioning
and rearrangement) annoys users.
Contending Forces: Continuous visibility reduces the space devoted
to graphics and, at a point if it is context-sensitive, leads to perceptual
Provide multiple flows, some that automatically appear, others that must
be accessed. Provide context sensitive precise information that appears
and disappears when cursored-over. It remains visible as long as
the cursor is over the data so that it can be printed with a screen shot.
It does not display when users use the cursor and left mouse button to
select. At that point more reduced information on values/coordinates appears
off to the side in order not to interfere with users’ field of vision for
selection. Provide as well a Stats Table window accessible from the toolbar
that docks in the bottom left hand corner of the screen. This table gives
key information on the total value, the percent of the whole comprised
by the selected data, the number of cases selected and deleted. If
the default information is not right for users, they can select in Preferences
from a range of options, the combinations and relationships they want to
Providing the Stats table improved users’ ability to visually establish
a baseline because, for instance, they could sweep the top 5 brands in
a bar chart, press the toolbar button for the Stat Table, and immediately
see on it (already calculated) that these brands comprise 85% of all market
sales. The availability of this information increased the efficiency of
this activity. They left it docked for the rest of the visual analysis.
In addition, seeing labels/values of items appear off to the side while
sweeping over bars to select them resulted in users’ reported confidence
in the accuracy of their analyses rising from “Somewhat Confident” to “Very
Other Possible Solutions
Ideally, as we gain insights from more actual use cases about what information
users need for various types of problems and analysis, we will more elegantly
design content, presentation, and visibility with minimal elements able
to address multiple siltations. At the program architecture level, the
program can differentiate among types of analysis ? e.g. simple descriptive
analysis answering what questions; analytical statistics answering why
questions; over time analyses) ? and automatically structure and populate
information flows in the Stat Table to coincide with the specified type
Information Flow for Precision is part of many other pattern sets across
subgoals in solving the problem of finding and convincing others of a competitive
product mix. Within the one subgoal of establishing a performance
baseline it is part of other patterns such as Sweep-and-Select, Monitoring,
Notes/Reports, What Data Tables, Fields, and Ranges (in Data-to-Graphic
An example pattern prepared for the Usability
Pattern Language Workshop at Interact