The analysis, assessment and evaluation of vast quantities of data that is now feasible makes visualisation complementary to statistical or algorithmic approaches to data handling and number crunching. It also provides an easy-to-understand presentational layer after all the hard work has been done.
This, in turn, reinforces a point made by many contributors to the Foresight 2020 Report, namely that in the future, 4D rather than 3D information will be considered the norm by analysts … a view that is summed up by the following quote:
“Digital visualisation provides a powerful medium in which to abstract and to analyse, and it is “visual analytics” that is fast becoming the cutting edge…” [Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis at UCL London]
All of which highlights that the stage is set for the emergence of a new breed of communications centred on “Digitally Aware Creatives”. These skills are already well developed in the media with tools such as infographics that make large volumes of information easy to digest.
In a geographical context, ‘Understanding the World. The Atlas of Infographics’ by Sandra Rendgen and Julius Wiedemann is a seminal work that summarises the many facets of our world in a series of clear and insightful infographics. This is an approach to which we can all aspire, and one that is well within our grasp with the tools now available.
Making tools fit for the future
The need for greater focus on managing the end-user’s experience was reflected in a number of contributions to the Foresight 2020 Report. In particular, Mike Brown from Nottingham University examined the realm of GIS and focused on all aspects of the Human-Machine Interface. As well as making the case for a sharper focus on the outputs of GIS analysis, his considered view is that the structure and usability of many proprietary and Open Source GIS tools are poorly engineered to meet the needs of non-expert users … a shortcoming that will become more evident as lightweight solutions are used by an ever-wider audience.
He expressed the need for a much greater focus on the customer experience to improve the usability of such tools to the point where they can capitalise on increased data processing capabilities and be used effectively by this wider audience to obtain analytical insights. This is one of the more important insights contained in the Foresight Report as it emphasises that we – as GI specialists – are no longer typical users of the many of the technologies we are developing.
Putting the user centre stage
The importance of User Centred Design is important as it not only delivers tangible P & L benefits, but it also enhances usage and the development of a long-term user community. Mike Brown used the Taarifa Platform (an Open Source web API that consolidates citizen inputs alongside a more formal GIS infrastructure) as an example of an early prototype that could be used to drive progress.
Overall, many Foresight 2020 Report contributors challenged the existing framework within which we assemble, process and, most importantly, communicate information. The good news is that many practitioners of GI and GIS, such as the UKMO, are already working at the frontiers of large-scale data management and evolving a range of tools and techniques to improve the communication of information. Many of the constituents of this work are likely to form a source of competitive advantage for astute practitioners of GI and GIS over the next few years.
To see a summary of the Foresight 2020 report or to download the full version, please go to www.agi.org.uk/foresight