Enterprise Software Design Blog

Archive for the ‘Data Visualization’ Category

Data visualization is the study of visually representing data for the purpose of effective communication of data through visual means. Data visualization will improve the aesthetics (you no longer have to see the boring tables and standard widgets) and improve the intuitiveness of the data being resented. Data visualization is a effective tool to present the information to the user in a way it maps the representation they have in their mind.

Apart from BI and analytics where there is a need to represent data as charts, enterprise software designers overlooked the need for visually representing data in transactional pages. This is predominantly due to technical limitation with web browsers and the technology used to develop the UI layer. With the proliferation of Rich Internet Application (RIA) frameworks (Adobe Flex, JaveFX etc), representing data on web browsers is feasible and gives an opportunity for the software designers to take a re-look at their data representation philosophies.

Data visualization and RIA presents enterprise software designers with an opportunity to represent the regular enterprise transactional data as graphics. When designed correctly, it automatically enhances the user experience and usability of the application. Enterprise data models are inherently complex structures with complicated relationships among them. These data models represent enterprise objects and their relationship with each others. The users of the enterprise software generally have a mental model of these data. After all they work and interact with these objects in their day-to-day work life and use the enterprise software to effectively communicate a job. Successful data visualization should map the mental model and represent the mind map on the screen. This immediately creates a trust between the software and user and makes the user interaction simpler and effective.

Let’s take an example of sales manager of a high tech company selling laptops and desktop computers to large companies. He will have a team of sales representatives reporting in to him. He will have a typical mental model about the customers, sales reps engaging with these customers, the sales targets and current status. He knows the relationships these have among each other and he can visually imagine this in his mind. These objects such as customer, sales reps, products, targets and status are available in the enterprise data model as data in rows and column. The data by itself is complex and its representations as rows and column is difficult to comprehend and doesn’t match the mental model the user has.

The mental model of a sales manager looks like this.

With data visualization using rich internet applications, this mental model can be captured in the design below. With a click of a button (on the sales representative node), the sales manager can view the open pipeline for the customer. The design exactly maps the image that sales manager has in his mind and don’t have to wade through the maze of HTML table to find out the information.