Everyone in finance faces dozens, perhaps hundreds, of them every working day, but usually without a second thought, unless they are really awful.
They are the user interfaces on desktops, tablets and phones. Designing them well requires people who can combine a knowledge of data, computers and design.
Mike Lee, a principal in user experience design at Eikos Partners, a leading New York financial services consulting firm, said a designer needs to have an eye for art in the first place. When he is evaluating a designer he looks at five things — layout, spacing, color, their use of size and their style.
“I want to see how people put things together on the screen, the location of objects, looking for people who can identify the easiest place to reach. On the desktop, corners are very important because it is easy to throw your mouse over to them, while on phones, if you can reach it with one hand, that would be on the bottom, so I look for people who put actionable items on the bottom of the screen.”
The screen can’t look cluttered, he added, so he wants to see good use of negative space “even though traders like to put a lot on the screen so they can see everything, but that can get confusing. Studies show that comprehension improves if you put a lot of margin between paragraphs.”
“Contemporary style is for a flat look, like Windows 10 and Metro,” he added. “In Windows 95 or XP you see a lot of chrome, buttons have texture and that’s very distracting. Some people make fun of the flat look, saying it looks like Fisher Price, but it shows up well.”
Lee has been interested in art since childhood.
“In high school I got into Web design and I have always loved to draw. Web design is a fusion of computer and design and I decided on computer rather than go to art school.”
At the Stevens Institute of Technology, in Hoboken, NJ across the Hudson River from Manhattan, he studied computer science, so he knows what computers can do and understands data.
That combination is what companies are looking for in web application development and mobile application development, to judge by the entries under Data Visualization on LinkedIn. There requests for backgrounds in computer studies run about 2:1 ahead of graphics arts backgrounds. Among the skills in demand are expertise in data visualization tools like Tableau, QlikView, Omniscope or MicroStrategy and the ability to use Java, D3, R, SAS and Python.
“In the old days, the people who could make data visual were in the graphics department,” said Jock Mackinlay, vice president of visual analysis at Tableau. “Nowadays we have this new interactive media where we can look at interactive data views in the browser.”
Tableau may be one of the easiest tools for data visualization and it has a free version on its Web site that anyone can use to prepare presentations.
Amit Dua, vice president for advanced markets at Infosys in London, said bankers at Canary Wharf spend $1,000 of their own money to buy their own Tableau licenses if the bank doesn’t provide them because it makes their presentations look so much better.
“Tableau desktop is a free-form desktop for answering questions with data,” explained Mackinlay. “It is very visual — a simple drag and drop interface. We build into it the ability to create beautiful views of data and views that are easy for people to look at.”
Some of the solutions in data visualization involved programming, he added.
The University of Washington, in Seattle which is home to technologically adept companies such as Microsoft, Amazon, Nordstrom, Starbucks and Boeing, has a department of Human Centered Design and Engineering which includes an undergraduate class in visualization that doesn’t require a programming background. Viet nam software outsourcing companies like S3 Corp. are also investing in improving their design team.
“The tools are getting easy to use, so programming is not as necessary,” Mackinlay added. “But analytical thinking is necessary, and business schools teach that. We see a slow, steady trend of visualization being picked up by more and more people who don’t need computer science to do it.”