Tactile Data Analysis

By Robin Stewart, for the Vizable Blog

Robin here. I’m a research scientist at Tableau and I designed and built the prototypes that Vizable is based on. I thought you might enjoy a peek into how some of the early prototypes evolved to become the features they are today.

One of the pillars of Vizable’s design is its rich, real-time interaction that makes data analysis a tactile experience rather than a purely cognitive process. To make that work, we need animations and transitions that feel natural and responsive. One of the early interactions I experimented with is swiping to change fields. Especially when there are only a few fields, it’s more convenient to swipe through them than to always have to pick from a list.

The simplest transition is a cross-fade, so I tried that first as a baseline. 

Vizable Prototype

It looks smooth, but it doesn't help clarify what the gesture is doing. Because the whole chart transitions uniformly, we don’t see the specific effect of changing a categorical field.

One of the more unusual possibilities I tried was this:

Vizable Prototype

I settled on a combination that moves all of the category labels along with the swipe gesture but also cross-fades the rest of the chart. This enhances the motion of the swipe gesture, calling attention to what is being changed while leaving the bars intact.

Vizable Prototype

A principle emerged that now informs the design of new animations: bars should behave themselves. Good bars stay attached to their axis and maintain their lengths proportionate to their siblings. Animations that have intermediate states in which the bars do not follow those rules are likely to be more distracting than helpful.

But the best part is that you don’t need to notice or remember any of this. If the design is successful, it simply makes data analysis seem more natural and obvious. So you can focus on your data and get on with your day.