Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Science of Diagramming for ICT

Greetings from the CSIRO Discovery Centre in Canberra, where Daniel Moody is presenting on "The Art and Science of Diagramming". Daniel argued that diagramming for ICT is more a science than an art and that many of the guidelines for diagramming are not supported by evidence. He gave the example of the rule that crossing lines should be avoided, which does not improve clarity.

Dr. Moody pointed out that most other professions produce diagrams for viewing within their profession, whereas ICT professionals expect non-experts to understand their diagrams. He pointed to cartographers as a group which makes diagrams for the general public.

There are numerous papers by Dr. Moody detailing the evidence based approach he has taken, to come up with principles for diagrams. There is an early version of the slides for Dr. Moody's presentation available on-line. Those who have some graphic design, accessible web design, user interface design, or document design training will be comfortable with Dr. Moody's approach to diagrams.

Dr. Moody's presentation is part of the Australian Computer Society's Education Across the Nation series. The presentation will be repeated across Australia, including: Melbourne 5 September, Macquarie Park NSW 10 September, Hobart 12 September, Perth 18 September, Bunbury 19 September.

EdXN Branch Forum:
The Art and Science of Diagramming -Communicating Effectively Using Diagrams

Diagrams form an integral part of the “language” of IT practice: they are used in all areas and all levels of IT practice from strategic planning (big picture thinking) to integrated circuit design (under the bonnet thinking). They are the basic tools of our trade, the lingua franca we use to communicate among ourselves and with our customers. For this reason, diagramming is one of the core skills of IT practice.
Despite this, IT practitioners typically receive no training in how to produce “good” diagrams. In the absence of this, they are forced to rely on their intuition and experience (which is often wrong), and make layout decisions that undermine communication.
As a result, most diagrams produced in IT practice today do not communicate effectively. Although they are often intended as a way of communicating with business users and senior management, they act as a barrier rather than an aid to communication.
This presentation describes a set of principles for producing cognitively effective diagrams: diagrams that are optimised for human communication and problem solving. These are summarised in the “fishbone” (Ishakawa or cause-effect) diagram below.

The "Fish of Cognitive Effectiveness”
Importantly, the principles are not based on common sense or experience (like those currently used in practice) but on scientific evidence drawn from a wide range of fields, including graphic design, diagrammatic reasoning, visual perception and cognitive psychology.
The aim of this presentation is to turn diagramming from an art (as it currently exists) into a science. It will change the way you think about diagrams, and more importantly, how you produce diagrams in the future. You will never look at a diagram in quite the same way again…


Dr Daniel Moody
is Director of Ozemantics Pty Ltd, a Sydney-based information management consultancy firm and Adjunct Professor in the Faculty of Business at the University of Twente (The Netherlands).

He is recognised as one of Australia’s leading experts in data modelling and data management and has an international reputation in these fields.
He holds a PhD in Information Systems from the University of Melbourne and has held senior positions in some of Australia’s leading corporations and consultancy firms.
He has conducted consulting assignments in 12 different countries, covering a broad range of industries. He has also published over 100 scientific papers, been a keynote speaker 9 times and chaired several national and international conferences.
He was the inaugural President of the Australian Data Management Association (DAMA), a former Vice-President on the DAMA International Board and is listed in Who's Who in Science and Engineering.
He has lived and worked in 8 different countries, speaks fluent English and can say “hello”, “thank you” and “cheers” in at least 10 different languages.

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