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User-Centered Information & Diagram Design: How to Make Lasagna Instead of Spaghetti From Infocamp 2008, day 2, Seattle WA


Chapter 1: Diagrams and Complexity

User-Centered Information & Diagram Design

How to Make Lasagna Instead of Spaghetti

Noah P. N. Iliinsky

InfoCamp Seattle September 27th and 28th, 2008

Spaghetti and Lasagna Diagrams (Linkbat, n. d.; UNL, n. d.; Vittlesvamp, n. d.)


= ?

A Simple Diagram (USNS Niagra Falls, n.d.)

Why is more complexity dicult? there are a nite number of visual properties to

use to encode knowledge encoding more knowledge makes selecting

properties more dicult

Why are qualitative relationships dicult to represent? fewer conventions than with quantitative

relationships the author must convey metaphor as well as


Intentional choices are superior to arbitrary choices.

How do you make good, intentional choices?

Your Goals

[Dierent Goals Require Dierent Methods] Their Needs

[Audience Brings Context With Them] What to Include

[Principle of Information Availability] Where to Put It

[Principle of Semantic Distance] How Does it Look

[Principle of Informative Changes]

The Diagram Design Process Denition of goals and needs Selection of content Encoding and placement of content

axes nodes links

Your Goals

[Dierent Goals Require Dierent Methods] Inform / Educate

Broad overview? Focused detail?

Persuade Get a raise? Protest war?

Dierent goals require dierent methods

(Werschkul, 2004)(Votemaster, 2008)

You Them

=Their Needs

[Audience Brings Context With Them]

Their Needs

[Audience Brings Context With Them] accounts for the needs of the diagram user the design of the diagram must address its use

Understanding context is critical facilitates learning and acceptance applies to every phase of the diagram design process includes inherent and learned contexts

What to Include

[Principle of Information Availability] only present necessary information redundant encoding is good more detail can be good or bad extraneous decoration is usually bad

Redundant Encoding (Community Mesh, 2003)

No Redundant Encoding



Where to Put It

[Principle of Semantic Distance] people ascribe meaning to location relative placement matters absolute placement matters lines & boxes join or divide groups

Axes give you information for free!(and it contributes in two dierent ways)

Lack of axes gives you spaghetti!

Abstracted spatial relationships (Moscow Metro Map, n. d.)

Implications: Consistency! establish patterns and stick with them things that are the same should look the same things that are dierent should look dierent preserve order in placement and lists

How Does it Look

[Principle of Informative Changes] people will detect patterns, and ascribe meaning to patterns and pattern violations

Consistent, dierentiable encodings

A diagram with arbitrary design choices

A diagram with intentional design choices

no clear goal doesnt consider my needs

too much information arbitrary placement semi-consistent encoding

(Poyser, n. d.)

Community Mesh. (2003). Community Mesh diagram. Retrieved February 7, 2005, from

Horton, W. (1991). Illustrating Computer Documentation: the Art of Presenting Information Graphically on Paper and Online. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Kosslyn, S. M. (1994). Elements of Graph Design. New York: W. H. Freeman and Co.

Leiper, Q. (2003). ICEngineering Knowledge. Retrieved September 16, 2004, from Strategy.pdf

Linkbat. (n. d.). Entity Relationship Diagram. Retrieved November 18, 2004, from /Linkbat/Development/ERD.png

McNamara, T. P. (1986). Mental representations of spatial relations. Cognitive Psychology, 18, 87-121.

Minard, C. J. (1861). Figurative chart of the successive losses of men of the French Army in the countryside of Russia. Retrieved February 8, 2005, from

Poyser, M. (n. d.). Wall Street Follies diagram. Retrieved February 22, 2005, from

UNL Lancaster. (n. d.). spaghetti.jpg. Retrieved March 16, 2006, from

USNS Niagra Falls. (n. d.) ORG CHART.JPG. Retrieved January 13, 2006, from

Vittlesvamp. (n. d.). lasagna.jpg. Retrieved March 16, 2006, from

Votemaster. (2008). Electoral Votes Cartogram. Retrieved September 27, 2008, from

Votemaster. (2008). Electoral Votes Map. Retrieved September 27, 2008, from

Werschkul, B. (2004). Election Results Graphic. Retrieved September 27, 2008, from

Williams, T. R. (2000, August). Guidelines for Designing and Evaluating the Display of Information on the Web [Electronic Version]. Technical Communication, 47, 383-396.

Winn, W. D. & Holliday, W. G. (1982). Design Principles for Diagrams and Charts. In D. Jonassen (Ed.), The Technology of Text (pp. 277-299). Englewood Cliffs: Educational Technology Publications.

Thank you!Full thesis available at

Please send thoughts, questions, or interesting data sets to gmail: iliinsky