Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Why new data visualizations fail to catch on

Eric Hill, a buddy of mine from my old Industry Standard days, sent me a link to a RWW article about a cool new iPad application from Bloom Studio that comes up with an interesting way of visualizing a digital music collection. The app is called Planetary, and here's what it looks like:

Planetary (voiceover) from Bloom Studio, Inc. on Vimeo.

I was impressed with what they've done, but I am afraid it won't go far in the marketplace. At one time I had so much hope for data visualizations changing the way we browse and understand information -- in fact, Eric and I spent a lot of time discussing how Industry Standard site content (news and prediction market data) could be presented in new and potentially useful ways. But in the past several years, after checking out dozens of new interfaces and data visualization schemes, I've come to the conclusion that most will never catch on.

It's not the fault of the designers, but rather the limitations of audiences. For many consumers, simple formats (e.g., longitudinal line graphs, like the inset image of the US$/Euro exchange rate over the past three months) and plain ol' headlines are all they need. I think part of the problem is grokking a new visualization requires new mental models. In my opinion, most people simply aren't willing to expend the effort, especially considering the huge amounts of information out there and limited time that people have to consume it. I've seen so many interesting, creative visualizations out there but most never make it in the marketplace. Planetary is cool, but is a solar system/galactic metaphor for browsing music inherently better than an alphabetically ordered list of artists/albums/songs?

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