Programming and visualization

This paper raises some interesting points about what interfaces are trying to do – it might seem like they are just trying to create an attractive user experience, but in an ideal world they should allow a user to learn the software through “trial and error” and ultimately come to the correct conclusions about how the software functionality works. Seems like high expectations, but clearly useful to design software for the people who will be using it!

This paper was written a fair time ago. I wonder how many GIScientists and users of GIS have continued to find the developments/improvements in GUI for GIS software fairly unsatisfactory, and turned or returned to spatial analysis through programming? I almost never touch an ESRI product anymore – I’d usually rather work through a problem in a combination of postGIS and R. Yes, partly it’s for automation, but to be honest I do find the software can be unintuitive sometimes. However, teaching postGIS to a computer programmer with no background in GIS (with any “S”) showed me that his grasp of databases and analysis were clearly strong but the lack of visualization really did hinder understanding of the analysis tools and the concept of projections – even in someone with a highly technical background. While programming is incredibly useful in GIS and spatial analysis, the visualization aspect is still crucially important too, even for learning. And (maybe because I was trained visually) I never fully trust my results until I “sanity check” them in a visual way.

Random thought – the “mapping” problem is very interesting and of course relevant to GIS, and it seems like the touchscreen has changed this a lot since it’s so intuitive. I’ve noticed several times anecdotally that very young children can work iPads so early as age 2, while they lack the ability to work a mouse on a regular computer for years. I’ve always assumed it’s an issue of dexterity but maybe it’s more to do with this “mapping.”


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