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User Interface Design in Capital markets September 19, 2008

Posted by newyorkscot in Markets, Visualization / UX.

I attended an Edward Tufte course yesterday in New York, with a number of colleagues from Lab49. I had read the first 3 of his books, but not Beautiful Evidence, and was looking to see how we can further apply his ideas and principles to our work in building advanced user interfaces for traders, etc.

Overall, it was great to hear from the man himself on how he approaches visualizing data and how one can achieve information density: showing causality, focusing on the information to be presented over the form of production, to integrating different form of production (text, image, graphs), etc. I enjoyed the specific references to the visualization work (and thus principles), that Gailileo used almost 400 years ago. Specifically, the use of intuitive graphics that portray meaningful data inline with text (just as sparklines can), is a very powerful concept that I think will become a dominant form of communication especially when those graphics are driven off live data.

ET gave his usual amusing powerpoint (PP) bashing routine, most of it very much merited. In general, PP is a bad communication medium, and does encourage slovenly thinking of the material being presented. I liked his comment on how PP is simply a “projector-management” system.

In general, I agree with most of Edwards thinking with respect to the cleanliness and density of content on the visualization – and it is particularly true on printed media. However, I felt that more could be done to update the ideas for the monitor display form ( see his commentary on the iPhone here).  We all use pretty high-res monitors, and traders tend to have the very best, if not HD. Monitors are becoming increasing pervasive and a lot more thinking can and should be done in optimizing information density and clarity on trading applications. Once full touch screens are available, new opportunities for interactivity will present themselves and thus drive the engraining of the medium. 

So, with that said, I feel that many of the principles of visualization data in general, as well as some of his ideas for maximizing content (over admin junk such as scroll bars, buttons, navigation, etc.) are well founded. The advice that no more than 10% of the screen should be for non-content is also a very good sanity check.

BUT, in capital markets there are a number of scenarios where the visualization of high-frequency and complex data do  not have elegant solutions (other than some of the ideas at Lab49 🙂 ) . Yeah, sparklines are nice and have tremendous information density for showing a lot of linear ticking data and showing absolute and relative trends. I wonder how E.T. would approach some of the situations we have to deal with like: a) full market depth view of fragmented markets in real-time, b) multi-dimensional pricing and risk (e.g. diversified portfolios that need to be viewed across asset, geography, industry, company dimensions, for example), c) credit risk of a portfolio of structured products ?


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