VisTool: A user interface and visualization development system

Shangjin Xu

    Research output: Book / Anthology / Report / Ph.D. thesisPh.D. thesis


    Although software usability has long been emphasized, there is a lot of software with poor usability. In Usability Engineering, usability professionals prescribe a classical usability approach to improving software usability. It is essential to prototype and usability test user interfaces before programming. However, in Software Engineering, software engineers who develop user interfaces do not follow it.
    In many cases, it is desirable to use graphical presentations, because a graphical presentation gives a better overview than text forms, and can improve task efficiency and user satisfaction. However, it is more difficult to follow the classical usability approach for graphical presentation development.

    These difficulties result from the fact that designers cannot implement user interface with interactions and real data. We developed VisTool – a user interface and visualization development system – to simplify user interface development. VisTool allows user interface development without real programming. With VisTool a designer assembles visual objects (e.g. textboxes, ellipse, etc.) to visualize database contents. In VisTool, visual properties (e.g. color, position, etc.) can be formulas that compute appearance values, access records from the database, etc. This is a new way of development different from programming. So the designer does not program an object-relational mapping layer, which requires in-depth knowledge about programming and database. He directly maps relational data to user interface objects and properties.

    We built visualizations such as Lifelines, Parallel Coordinates, Heatmap, etc. to show that the formula-based approach is powerful enough for building customized visualizations. The evaluation with Cognitive Dimensions shows that the formula-based approach is cognitively simpler than the state-of-art tools. Usability test shows that VisTool is accessible to designers. Furthermore, it indicates that expert designers can do faster than with other tools. Our comparison with the traditional rapid development approach shows that VisTool reduces development time about 80%. A performance test shows that VisTool performance is adequate.
    Original languageEnglish
    PublisherIT-Universitetet i København
    Number of pages207
    ISBN (Print)978-87-7949-280-6
    Publication statusPublished - 2013


    • user interface development
    • graphical presentation
    • visualization
    • usability
    • the formula-based approach


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