Microsoft Scientists Use Visualization to Bring Information to Life

PORTLAND, Ore. — April 5, 2005 — This week, computer scientists from Microsoft Research labs worldwide will share the results of more than 25 research papers at the CHI 2005 conference, a leading forum for the exchange of ideas and information about human-computer interaction (HCI) sponsored by the Association for Computing Machinery’s Special Interest Group on Computer-Human Interactions (ACM SIGCHI). Three of the papers are Best Paper Award nominees.

The bulk of the work presented by Microsoft Research focuses on the study of information visualization and can potentially change the way businesses, software developers and consumers process and organize information. The work is the result of collaboration with computer research scientists at more than 16 universities and several corporations from around the globe.

At the event, Senior Microsoft Researcher Susan Dumais will be inducted into the CHI Academy for her substantial contribution to the study of HCI and the leadership role she has played in shaping that field. More information about Dumais is available in her profile at

Innovation That Builds on a Decade of Work in Information Visualization

People today are inundated with information, from e-mail and instant messages to images, documents and search results. Scientists at Microsoft Research recognize that as technology continues to advance, giving people access to even more information, tools are needed to help users comprehend and process that information in order to identify what pieces of data are most important to them.

Information visualization takes the digital bits of information stored on a computer, personal digital assistant (PDA) or Microsoft® Window Mobile (TM) -based Smartphone — such as documents, Web pages, e-mail messages and schedules — and displays them visually, rather than as text. This technology benefits users by exposing patterns and trends in the torrent of data they work with daily, so the most important information becomes automatically visible.

“Information visualization is a hot topic today because computer system and graphics capabilities have reached a point where the visual representation of information can come to life,” said George Robertson, senior researcher at Microsoft Research. “We can now experiment with information visualization technologies that we’ve been developing in the lab over the past 10 years and expand on them for the benefit of users and the research community.”

Microsoft Research studies have shown that information visualization can reduce the amount of time people spend deciphering which pieces of information are important, thus helping them be more productive. The technology has practical applications in numerous daily activities including managing e-mail, navigating information on small devices, and effectively organizing family events and communicating in the home.

Visualization Tools Bring Useful Insights to Businesses, Consumers and Developers

Information visualization tools will help businesses better manage the vast amounts of data they are accumulating on customers, products, employees, production requirements and more. The technology also is expected to change how information workers process e-mail1 by presenting it in a “glanceable” graphical manner that is nondisruptive, yet able to signify urgent and important communications. Ease-of-use improvements for mobile devices include tools for one-handed thumb navigation,2 more-effective browsing functions such as zooming and scrolling,3 and preservation of Web page layouts designed for viewing on a PC.4 Microsoft Research found that better preservation of page layout helped participants locate content in Web pages about 41 percent faster while having to scroll 51 percent less. For mobile workers, this translates to greater efficiency because they can quickly find information that is meaningful without having to scroll through multiple screens of text.

Information visualization tools benefit software developers as well. Visualization technologies will simplify the viewing of schemas, making it possible for users to effectively focus on the most relevant items while de-emphasizing or removing items of no relevance for a particular interaction.5 Visual representation also will change how software developers and other information workers design timelines,6 because it allows users to specify the relative ordering and causality of events without specifying exact times or durations. These capabilities will help streamline the project development process by simplifying planning and execution.

Microsoft researchers are also exploring the consumer applications of information visualization tools in the home, specifically, how to effectively keep families organized and connected. For example, they have developed a method of presenting digital photo collections in a visual manner that makes photo organization and retrieval significantly easier:7 study participants were able to find photos 45 percent faster in their personal photo collections averaging 4,000 items. Researchers also created an electronic “bulletin board” that allows family members to send text messages from their mobile devices to a centrally located message board displayed in the home.8

“To date, technology for the home has focused on entertainment and security systems, and the development of smart homes that know when to turn on the oven for dinner or provide automatic lighting,” said Alex Taylor, a researcher with the Interactive Systems Group at Microsoft Research in Cambridge, England. “We’re studying the real, day-to-day concerns of ordinary households, including how families interact, share information, prioritize their schedules and delegate responsibilities. Our goal is to develop in-home technologies that assist family members with tasks such as scheduling, bill paying and delegating household responsibilities, while accommodating the rich and diverse ways in which individual families organize their homes.” Taylor’s research into organizing the home is presented in the paper “Artful Systems in the Home,” a Best Paper nominee at the conference.

CHI 2005 Best Paper Award Nominees

Three Microsoft Research papers are nominated for the Best Paper Award at the CHI 2005 conference. The Microsoft Research nominated papers are as follows:

“Artful Systems in the Home”
9 introduces the idea of organizing systems in the home through the use of calendars, paper notes, to-do lists and more. It discusses general implications for designing information technology for the home and accommodating the rich and diverse ways in which people organize their homes.

“AppLens and LaunchTile: Two Designs for One-Handed Thumb Use on Small Devices”
2 focuses on interfaces designed to support one-handed thumb navigation of mobile devices. AppLens and LaunchTile work with a traditional cell phone keypad as well as a PDA-style device with a touch-sensitive display.

“Snap-and-Go: Helping Users Align Objects without the Modality of Traditional Snapping”
10 covers snapping, a widely used technique that helps users position graphical objects precisely. Snap-and-go simplifies the user interface by eliminating the need for deactivation, introducing snapping to application scenarios in which traditional snapping is inapplicable.

The 23rd annual CHI conference runs through Thursday, April 7, at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland. More information about CHI 2005 can be found at

About Microsoft Research

Founded in 1991, Microsoft Research is dedicated to conducting both basic and applied research in computer science and software engineering. Its goals are to enhance the user experience on computing devices, reduce the cost of writing and maintaining software, and invent novel computing technologies. Researchers focus on more than 55 areas of computing and collaborate with leading academic, government and industry researchers to advance the state of the art in such areas as graphics, speech recognition, user-interface research, natural language processing, programming tools and methodologies, operating systems and networking, and the mathematical sciences. Microsoft Research employs more than 700 people in six labs located in Redmond, Wash.; San Francisco; Silicon Valley, Calif.; Cambridge, England; Beijing; and Bangalore, India. More information can be found at

About Microsoft

Founded in 1975, Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT”) is the worldwide leader in software, services and solutions that help people and businesses realize their full potential.

1 “Info-Lotus: A Peripheral Visualization for Email Notification,” Leizhong Zhang, Microsoft Research Asia (China); Nan Tu, Tsinghua University (China); David Vronay, Microsoft Research Asia (China); April 2005

2 “AppLens and LaunchTile: Two Designs for One-Handed Thumb Use on Small Devices,” Amy K. Karlson, University of Maryland (U.S.); Benjamin B. Bederson, University of Maryland (U.S.); John SanGiovanni, Microsoft Research (U.S.); April 2005

3 “Learning User Interest for Image Browsing on Small-Form-Factor Devices,” Xing Xie, Microsoft Research Asia (China); Hao Liu, Chinese University of Hong Kong (China); Simon Goumaz, Microsoft Research Asia (China); Wei-Ying Ma, Microsoft Research Asia (China); April 2005

4 “Summary Thumbnails: Readable Overviews for Small Screen Web Browsers,” Heidi Lam, University of British Columbia (Canada); Patrick Baudisch, Microsoft Research (U.S.); April 2005

5 “Visualization of Mappings Between Schemas,” George G. Robertson, Microsoft Research (U.S.); Mary P. Czerwinski, Microsoft Research (U.S.); John E. Churchill, Microsoft Research (U.S.); April 2005

6 “Flexible Timeline User Interface Using Constraints,” Kazutaka Kurihara, University of Tokyo (Japan); David Vronay, Microsoft Research Asia (China); Takeo Igarashi, University of Tokyo (Japan); April 2005

7 “Time Quilt: Scaling up Zoomable Photo Browsers for Large, Unstructured Photo Collections,” David Huynh, MIT CSAIL (U.S.); Steven Drucker, Patrick Baudisch, Curtis Wong, Microsoft Research (U.S.); April 2005

8 “TxtBoard: From Text-to-Person to Text-to-Home,” Kenton O’Hara, Richard Harper, Microsoft Research Cambridge (U.K.); Axel Unger, IDEO (Germany); James Wilkes, Bill Sharpe, Marcel Jansen, The Appliance Studio University Gate (U.K.); April 2005

9 “Artful Systems in the Home,” Alex S. Taylor, Microsoft Research (U.K.); Laurel Swan, Brunel University (U.K.); April 2005

10 “Snap-and-Go: Helping Users Align Objects without the Modality of Traditional Snapping,” Patrick Baudisch, Microsoft Research (U.S.); Edward Cutrell, Microsoft Research (U.S.); Ken Hinckley, Microsoft Research (U.S.); Adam Eversole, Microsoft Research (U.S.); April 2005

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