Between aesthetics and utility: Designing ambient information visualizations

Tobias Skog*, Sara Ljungblad, Lars Erik Holmquist

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review

92 Citations (Scopus)


Unlike traditional information visualization, ambient information visualizations reside in the environment of the user rather than on the screen of a desktop computer. Currently, most dynamic information that is displayed in public places consists of text and numbers. We argue that information visualization can be employed to make such dynamic data more useful and appealing. However, visualizations intended for non-desktop spaces will have to both provide valuable information and present an attractive addition to the environment - they must strike a balance between aesthetical appeal and usefulness. To explore this, we designed a real-time visualization of bus departure times and deployed it in a public space, with about 300 potential users. To make the presentation more visually appealing, we took inspiration from a modern abstract artist. The visualization was designed in two passes. First, we did a preliminary version that was presented to and discussed with prospective users. Based on their input, we did a final design. We discuss the lessons learned in designing this and previous ambient information visualizations, including how visual art can be used as a design constraint, and how the choice of information and the placement of the display affect the visualization.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationIEEE Symposium on Information Visualization 2003, InfoVis 2003
Place of PublicationPiscataway, NJ
PublisherInstitute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc.
Number of pages8
ISBN (Print)9780780381544
Publication statusPublished - 21 Oct 2003
Externally publishedYes
Event9th Annual IEEE Symposium on Information Visualization, InfoVis 2003 - Seattle, WA, United States
Duration: 19 Oct 200321 Oct 2003

Publication series

NameProceedings - IEEE Symposium on Information Visualization, INFO VIS
ISSN (Print)1522-404X


Conference9th Annual IEEE Symposium on Information Visualization, InfoVis 2003
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CitySeattle, WA


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