Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Historical Theorist Ben Scneiderman

Historical Theorist:

Ben Scneiderman

Current Position: Professor, CS, ISR, UMIACS; Founding Director HCIL

Academic Degree: Ph.D., SUNY at Stony Brook, 1973

Research Interests: Human-computer interaction, user interface design


Ben Scneiderman has promoted human-computer interaction by writing, lecturing and researching for over 25 years.  He presently, is a professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Maryland, and also is a member of Maryland’s Institute for advanced Computer Studies.  His signature book, Software Psychology, introduced the world to the human aspects of computing while his internationally acclaimed book, Designing the User Interface: Strategies for Effective Human- Computer Interaction, impacted and shaped the HCI field for graduates, researchers and practitioners worldwide.

Dr. Scneiderman’s work is key to HCI because he has integrated human concepts in order to accelerate technological advancement.  He took problematic issues that users had with technology and found ways to simplify the visibility of interfaces to make them much more user-friendly.

Historical Research

Aside from finding various projects and awards that he has been apart within the last 25 years, I have been truly impressed by Scneirdermans accomplishments in research through the advancements of HCI technology.  I was most interested with four particular projects that Scneiderman took part in, which involved discoveries with hypertext, information visualization with treemaps, medical interfaces and photo applications.

Hypertext Hands-on!

In 1989, Scneiderman and Greg Kearsley published Hypertext Hands-on!, which was the world’s first commercial electronic book with the highlighted links idea.  This project was designed to provide a non-technical introduction to hypertext through the form of a book/software package.    The software included hypertext applications for travel guides, product catalogs, technical documentation, novels, blue prints, textbooks and encyclopedias.  The software also contained examples of a hyper novella, hyper travel guide, hyper business procedures, hyper blueprints, and even a hyper joke.  In addition, the software package discussed system design issues such as user interface, performance, networks, direct manipulation, windows, browsing and indexes.  For me, I found this particular project interesting because hypertext is something I am so familiar and used to.  It’s funny to think that two years after I was born (which was in 1987), Scneiderman’s research evolved to be the foundation for how I search through when looking for information about him. 

Information Visualization with Treemap’s

The other project was the Treemap concept, which was developed in 1991.  Since 1991, Scneiderman’s major focus has been with improving information visualization.  “Information visualization” emphasizes visualization concepts and current research results, and their application to interface design.  The Treemap concept was Scneiderman’s way of producing compact visualization of directory tree structures.  During the early 90’s, his interest in such informational structures was in response to the common problem of a filled hard disk.  Once again, Scneiderman’s useful research in this area proved helpful for users to manage and locate files on their hard drive.  The design concepts that Scneiderman went through were interesting to me, for the fact that he had to try to simplify the design to visually be understandable for users, but was still able to apply an intricate set of algorithms, when mapping how files could be located or connected to each other.  In many of my HCI classes we discuss the importance of user-ability when designing an interface, this was another good example of that process.


Later “information visualization” work that Scneiderman did was with the LifeLines project.  Computerized medical records were posing problems for system developers.  Many of the problems dealt with infrastructure and privacy issues, which needed to be resolved before physicians could even start using the records.  Scneiderman along with other researchers found that efforts to solve the problem would be successful if they had a better and careful user interface design that still allowed for rapid access to the needed data.  Today, LifeLines has evolved to provide a general visualization environment for personal histories.  It is a one-screen overview of a given record, which uses timelines and provides direct access to the data.   While icons represent discrete events such as physician consultations, line color and thickness illustrate relationships or significance, along with rescaling and filters, which allow users to focus on part of the information, revealing more details.


The last project of Scneiderman’s that I found the most interesting and could relate to was the PhotoFinder project.  Due to the emergence of faster computers, the declining cost of memory, the popularity of digital cameras, online archives and presentation slides, the amount of stored graphical information has increased.  Scneiderman and a group of researchers recognized that having the ability to store and manipulate images was important.  Therefore, they found ways to tend to the growing need for more sophisticated ways to retrieving and browsing images. How they went about addressing the storing and manipulating issues was through efforts that included ways of addressing such tasks as different ways to input, cataloging image metadata, searching and browsing for images.

PhotoFinder project was developed at the University of Maryland Human Computer Interaction Laboratory and was geared towards developing an understanding of user needs, appropriate task, and innovative designs for consumer users of digital photos. As mentioned earlier in regards to the emergent need for digital cameras, scans of existing photos, PhotoCDs, and photos by email, the project was supposed to allow user the ability to manage thousands of photos. 

The first appearance of this application was in 2001.   Today, I can think of many photo applications that exist because of this founding research.  Programs such as iPhoto that comes with a Mac, or even web-based applications, like Facebook and Myspace, use this format.  In addition, in the description of this particular research project, I could see the connection of not just the effects of society’s use with the program, but also how Scneiderman's past research relates to this evolution of such photo applications.  Treemap and Hypertext, along with LifeLines projects, all can be applied to this particular PhotoFinder project.  Scneiderman seems to be able to take information learned from one context and apply it to another and still come out successful.  He is able to tap into what the user needs for interaction and then applies the right amount of technology to guide the user to be able to do whatever it is that they want to do.  For me, I have found that his theories in information visualization have been so helpful.  I hate to have to read directions or instructions to applications.  I love to just be able to visually look at an interface and just figure it out. That’s why I think “tweeting” has emerged so quickly and is much more popular than web applications such as Myspace and Facebook because of its simplistic interface.  All of these programs still allow users the easy-user-ability to send links, post information such as blogs, post pictures and browse quickly.  In addition, I also invest much of my time in music recording software and love to just be able to find files and figure out how to mix and record music without the hassles of trying to go through the program manual to do simple task.  I feel that since society is advancing in technology, peoples’ patience and time has shortened and much of the technology we use needs to be able to allow users to quickly understand and process information when using interfaces.

How theories apply to today…

Scneiderman has really contributed to such advancements in HCI that allow users to effectively interact with such interfaces.  Along with our understanding of how to browse through the Internet, most of his research projects have been the foundation for many applications and software that we use today. When looking at the four projects previously discussed, I can see how each of them have evolved into an advanced form of how I interact with my computer, either through browsing the internet, searching for files on my computer or just sorting and sending photo’s.  All of these interfaces will probably be modified and become much more advanced as years progress, but what I find interesting with all of this is the fact that no matter how advanced the programming might be, the design interface is simplified for all users to understand. 

In closing, if I could sum up all of this research and discussion and how apply it to my understanding of HCI, I would say that the ability for users to be able to interact with an interface, is dependent upon the designer’s capability to understand the user psychology.  Interesting enough this topic was discussed in the reading for this week, in which Andrew Dillon and Charles Watson discussed methods of research that are dependent upon the understanding of how users think and what they think about when interacting with technology.  In addition, the particular article from this week also drew upon the point of the researchers establishing a relationship between the mental model of the user and the conceptual design model.  I was able to compare this with what Scneiderman has discovered and researched, in which he was able to reflect upon the users needs and wants, alongside the technical abilities of specific interfaces.

References to my information can be found at:






No comments: