Data Visualization — Then and Now

Guest post by Peter Eades, Research Professor at the University of Sydney, Australia

It’s interesting to reflect on the early days of graph visualization. In my own case, the motivation came from a couple of research contracts that I did in the 1980s: one from a telecommunications and another from a mining company. Both wanted to make pictures of graphs. The telco company wanted to draw finite state automata so that they could visually check for deadlock and livelock in some protocols. The mining company merely wanted to draw their organisation charts. This was in the days when computers cost a fortune, and the grand challenge of computer graphics was synthetic photorealism. Both companies realized that their visualization problems were not addressed by the usual computer graphics researchers.

My aim at that time was just to get a picture of a graph that was not a terrible tangled mess — it was a layout problem. I tried to make the picture beautiful. I didn’t think about interactivity; in fact, both these companies wanted output on large sheets of paper (via pen plotters), not on a screen.

Nowadays, we understand that good interactivity is a key function. The current challenge is to get a good set of interactive operations that allow a user to explore a large data set. A company can get a competitive advantage by creating better interactivity tools.


About Peter Eades

Peter Eades is a Research Professor at the University of Sydney. His interest in graph visualization began in the early 1980s, and since then, he has centered his research around graph drawing. Over the past 25 years, Eades has written over 100 papers and co-authored the book “Graph Drawing: Algorithms for the Visualization of Graphs.” In addition, he has performed consulting projects for the government and a number of industries, including Bioinformatics, Defense, Financial Services, and Software Engineering. His most recent work discusses ambient visualization and interactive methods for graph drawing.