Friday, June 20, 2008

A Visualization of Few Words

Stephen Few's name is started to mentioned in hushed tones, much in the same way that Edward Tufte's name is now evoked. Stephen's website and blog are mandatory reading for those who are interested in visualizations. Few has a wonderful sense of aesthetics, and always seems to ask the hard questions about visualizations.

It was more than interesting to learn that Few had set his sights on Panopticon in a new article that is available from his website.

Panopticon hosted Few at their Stockholm headquarters for a few days. This is a fact that Few is up front with at the beginning of his article, thus removing the perceptions of a paid-consultancy-for-favorable-review. Among other things, Few reviewed a visualization that Panopticon came up with called a Horizon Chart.

Few relates the genealogy of his encounter with the Horizon Chart, from initial puzzlement to an appreciation of the visualization. I have to admit that, when the Panopticon guys demoed the Horizon Chart to me, I was similarly befuddled. It seems like it is something of an acquired taste, but as you get more used to it, the visualization of the Horizon Chart becomes more compelling.

The only thing that I would like to see for this particular visualization is the ability to better organize the vertical axis. For example, instead of just listing the 50 stocks vertically, I would like to be able to group the stocks by sector or by supply chain or by trading pairs, so I can quickly compare how one stock did against its peers.

Panopticon is striving for new and interesting ways to do visualizations for the financial industry. They started off with Ben Schneiderman's heatmap, and have started to progress outwards. Heatmaps are becoming more standard in the industry, and I am sure it won't be long before .NET charting vendors start to come out with their own variations of the heatmap theme.

Panopticon needs to continue to push the envelope and come up with compelling visualizations for the capital markets industry. I am anxious to see what fruit is borne out of Stephen Few's consultation.

©2008 Marc Adler - All Rights Reserved.
All opinions here are personal, and have no relation to my employer.

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