At first, when a new technology is developed, the only goal is to make it work. The new technology isn’t designed to be easy to use, and generally is only used by a small number of people with specialized skills and knowledge. As the product morphs into widespread use, the growth of user interfaces and visualizations become the major evolutions. As competition grows for competing products, the end-user experience often becomes (even more so than technological capability) the best predictor of what products will succeed.
One of the major functions of visualizations and user interfaces is to aggregate increasingly large and complex amounts of information, and make them so that users can better comprehend and navigate through them. Computer spreadsheets and games, cellular phones, the automobile and what is now the intranet, all show growth and mass adoption as their visualizations become key components.
By the time that most people start to utilize a technology, visualization is an integral component, often taken for granted. Technologies that once required massive power and complex controls are now integrated with tremendous computation power, enabling internet connectivity, gaming, emailing, videoconferencing and many other feats. Small, handheld devices possess more than 500,000 times the memory and 1,000 times the computational power as the Apollo 11 guidance computer, the devices that first put an astronaut on the surface of the moon in 1969. Yet, despite all this power, the visualization transforms into a common device, accessible to anyone, and increasingly intuitive and easy to use. This is the promise of visualization – allowing systems to pull together ballooning amounts of information to something that we can quickly and intuitively understand.