The Hyperbolic Tree
inxight.com, Ramana Rao
The Hyperbolic Tree is a novel user interface component for interacting with very large hierarchies. The design of The Hyperbolic Tree rests on great skills we share as humans, like seeing “purple” or “big” or tracking moving objects, rather than on specialized knowledge or painfully acquired skills. It provides a powerful “see and go” interaction style that retains the simplicity of “point and click” interaction, while reducing mechanical and unnatural aspects.
The Hyperbolic Tree maps large hierarchies of objects and their properties into graphical structures with easily perceived elements. By selecting relevant properties of the information and appropriate visual variables to map them, an application designer can enable users to see which objects are important efficiently, before going to and attending to them.
Focus + Context
The Hyperbolic Tree gives more space to a few nodes in the center (focus) while also providing space to many, many more nodes (context). Providing periphery (overview) and center (detail view) allows the user to intelligently shift attention. The Hyperbolic Tree manages the space automatically, expanding and shrinking space with the user’s attention. Thus the user focuses on information itself, rather than mechanical controls like scrollbars, plus/minus controls, close buttons, and hierarchical menus.
Smoothly animating the tree allows the user to connect the before and the after. Transitions are designed to take under one second which is ideal for exploration tasks as suggested by the unprepared response time constant from cognitive psychology.
The Hyperbolic Tree can prominently mark all objects using red diamonds that match a search (or any other kind of test). Thus a user can quickly see the results of a search in the context of the whole, thus understanding much more at a glance about the query, the collection, and the results.
These design elements combined provide a natural and free-flowing interaction with information. Because The Hyperbolic Tree rests on ingrained human skills, learning how to use it is as simple as watching a demo. And like other good tools, The Hyperbolic Tree becomes invisible and attention is focused on the task: it lets you attend to the nail, not the hammer.