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2 months ago

Would you dare to make your software product as visual as Targetprocess?

In June-July 2015 we conducted a Customer Survey in order to understand our customers’ perspective on the key differentiators of Targetprocess as a tool to manage Agile projects. It was gratifying to hear that one of the key factors why the customers love Targetprocess is its visualization capabilities, i.e. the functionality it has for managing projects and various processes visually.

It was gratifying for us because it sounded like one big dream came true: we did want to enable people to see and to change things that are not visible on the surface or at the data level, but can be visualized for insights and actionable conclusions. That’s actually the motto of Targetprocess: “See. Change”.

On our path to accomplishing this, in 2014 we launched the development of a side product for a deeper focus on information visualization. As a result, today we would like to publicly present Taucharts which is a free, open source, data-friendly and beautiful javascript charting library.


Taucharts is still a young library but can be already used as a foundation for custom graphical reports. Check it out at, try to visualize your data and get a bit closer to the bar set by Targetprocess for visual, more effective project management! 😉

If you haven’t yet used Targetprocess, jazz up your project management, get a free trial account!

1 year ago

UX: Why Lists Save Time

Any information in the world falls into one of the 2 categories: it requires some action on our part, or it wants to be consumed (or browsed). The job of a UX designer or an infoviz/dataviz specialist, then, is to create UIs or pages with one of these goals in mind. If we want to subtly nudge users to browsing more pages in a passive mode, the design logic needs to be built just for that. If we want to help users act and save their time, rather than make them hang out on a web page,  then the page layout or user interface has to take that into account. I will show the difference between these two kinds of logic based on the  list and grid infoviz patterns from a news hub and from a project management tool.

It’s quite common nowadays to display news as a grid of tagline+image sets, maybe with a mouseover text. Here’s one such grid:

news grid

If we think about it, this image+headline+mouseover layout is used with one major goal: engage users. Make them spend more time browsing the news, move mouse over images, check a few headlines, click on an image. Once a mouseover text is displayed, it’s an easy-lazy thing to get to the full view of the news, with advertisements, videos and social comments. The grid layout, thus, appears to eat more of users’s time, luring them with this ease to click and to browse. In general, if we lay this whole “engagement” thing aside, reading news is a passive online activity, and it can be completed rather quickly. So, if someone wants to scan the news, rather than get stuck in them, they wouldn’t want to hover mouse over those pieces, checking for the clues. The grid layout in the news appears to be more “engaging”, as they call it, but it loses in terms of time spent vs. value gained. I mean, what if I don’t have time to move mouse over those snapshots to find out what’s behind a headline? Busy readers will likely want to just scan the news and headlines. They don’t even need those large image thumbnails. That’s why a list layout scores higher on the time spent/value gained scale. Check this out:

news list

This layout allows  to scan many headlines+summaries in one look. Readers are able to decide faster, if they want to click on some news or not, without mouseovers. Apparently, I would want to read more about the cleanup from storms, which left three dead, and I don’t have to hover mouse over an image, as in a kid’s game, to find out what the cleanup from storms entails. That’s why I like the list layout better: it is more respectful of my time. I must give credit to the UX designers of this news portal, though. They have provided users with an option to choose between a list and a grid.

That was the case with passive browsing. A few “active” things available to users on a news web-site would be clicking on an ad (the more time they spent there, the more likely they are to do that), posting a comment and/or sharing news in social networks. That’s the logic behind the grid design in case you were wondering why such a draining layout — that’s how it looks to me — should ever be used in the news. Another handy example of grid slowing us down is… our desktop. Often I just save stuff to my desktop, files, snips or images, and when I want to find something, it takes more time and effort to move eyes between thumbs, as compared to using a list or search.

Let’s now consider the logic behind the list and grid/board layouts in a project management tool. The UI of such a tool must encourage users to spend time productively. It might seem a stretched parallel, but in some ways board/grid is less efficient for project management as well. Lists will work better when it gets to managing bugs, for example:

list view inline edit 1

If someone in charge, a QA manager, or anyone else, will want to create a living display of bugs, tailored for hands-on work, it would be such a list. Apart from the compact layout, the list has inline edit for most of the fields, and it’s like with processing fish: bug details can be updated faster than in a grid view. Besides, the very columns in this list are customizable; one can choose which column they want to see and which not. Now, what if this person in charge were to work with bugs displayed as a grid? Check this out:

board view mouse over

As with the news portal grid, one has to move mouse over bugs for more details, e.g. to check on a bug’s severity. This grid layout would be a plus if I had time to leisurely contemplate which card might mean what, but if I want to change a bug’s status, assign people, or update tags, I need to dive further in *sigh*, click on the bug card and work there. The grid layout does not allow for quick scanning of the bugs and quick editing/updating. But it would be optimal for changing states as they do on a Kanban board. Thankfully, this project management tool allows users to switch between views when they want to do whatever they want :)

I hope these examples helped reveal some logic behind designing information layouts for various purposes.

Related articles:

How Visualize: Board, List or Timeline?

Visual Management Software

How Timelines Help Project Managers Track Progress

1 year ago

My Favourite Ways to Visualize Ideas

We write a lot in the Edge of Chaos blog about visualization, and how helpful it is for project management, problem-solving, strategic thinking and learning. No matter if you’re an executive who wants to contemplate a business challenge from various perspectives, a software developer, or a strategizer, nothing can be as handy a tool as a pen and paper (or, in some cases, a digital screen) to hone your ideas and give them a finished touch. Visualizing ideas helps to drive the point home not only with yourself, but with the others, if you want to make sure that they understand what you mean.

Let me share some of my favourite ways to visualize ideas.

#1. An XYZ Coordinate System

I like this way of visualizing as it helps to build mental models that show how 3 factors might influence one another. Yes, they have 2D coordinate systems, X and Y, and I do use them, too, but in the complexity of today’s world where more than two factors often have to be taken into account, 3 D visualization might work out better. Here’s the image that I used in one of my articles to explain how backlog management can be done with 3D thinking, as opposed  to 2D (backlog and work in progress).  X-axis is work, Y-axis is progress, the X-Y plane is any work in progress AND Z-axis is any other 3d dimension, or a lens, through which one can filter the backlog or work in progress. The red lines in the Z-plane against the X-Y plane represent those various influences, or filtering criteria. The artistic execution might be far from perfect, but this image did help me express my idea better and pass it on to the readers:


#2. 4 Quadrants

I used this visualization to explain a decision-making technique. While the XYZ coordinate system provides some kind of 3D space to a concept, making it concrete, the 4 quadrants can be used to break abstract concepts into pieces.  It might be helpful, for example, to write out 4 major areas of concern about a problem or a challenge, look at them and drill them down to smaller resolvable issues. This technique helps to think clearly.

Cartesian 4 Decision-Making Quadrants


#3. Overlapping Circles

I somehow feel that this pattern have been overused to visualize a very simple overlap of 2 concepts, e.g. one circle stands for “good”, the other stands for “bad”, and the overlapping area is  the mixture of good and bad, which is kind of obvious without using circles. So, I’m not very fond of this practice, because it looks a bit trite, but I did use it several times, e.g. to show that business meetings are made up of 3 essential components mixed as in a bowl:


#4. Mind Maps

They work well to connect the idea nodes and summarize the concepts that someone already knows well. I’ve written the Mind Maps in Cognition article which suggests some points on when it makes sense to use mind maps, and when not. Here’s the mind map that I sketched as a summary of knowledge that software product owners need to have:


#5. Custom Spatial Objects

That’s the visualization that I used to explain the idea of a new paradigm for project management tools. I had a sketch of this idea on paper, but this time someone helped me with a nice image:


This molecule glues the core paradigm to the other paradigms, rotating and gaining various momentums, depending on where they find themselves in space at any given point of rotation. The rotation is a symbol for changing goals and organizational environments, and the way they influence project management tools.

#6. Sketches in Moleskine notebooks (no grid lines)

I find this especially inviting when a sheet of paper has no grids. This freedom of paper space somehow encourages the freedom of thinking. An A4 sheet of paper does not do this trick for me, because a Moleskine notebook has pages, that can be flipped, and they can be kept for future use as a collection. Also, for some reason I like to start sketching on the right side of the double-page spread, and then continue on the left one, same way they do when they write in Arabic. I do idea sketches for my articles this way sometimes. Here’s the idea sketch for my recent article Visualization: Why the Fusion of Arts and Tech Matters:

an idea sketch

Related articles:

Visualization: Understated or Overrated?

Visualization and 5 Senses

Visualizing Music

Why Visualize?

Mind Maps in Cognition

1 year ago

Visualization: Why The Fusion of Arts and Tech Matters

When we speak of visualizations or visual management in technical or project management domain, visual arts hardly come to our mind. Information visualization, or data visualization is one thing, and visual arts is quite the other one. However, there’s a certain point where those two intersect, and in this write-up I will show how visually appealing displays of data or information differ from dull graphs, tables or reports.

There are two basic environments where any visual display can possibly exist: time and space. For visual arts, space is the environment. Arts come into the picture (no pun intended) as we look to portray a physical object or a group of objects on a painting, or as a sculpture, which is also a visual, albeit tangible. This might sound like a paradox, but ethereal visual arts are more down-to-earth than they appear as they can’t live if there’s no tangible 3D object that has to be rendered into a visual. This powerful painting depicts a very dramatic event happening in the physical world, as people try to save their lives and face the ruthless ocean and skies which however bring a tinge of hope with warmer colors.


The emotions that this painting evokes  help it leave a certain footprint in our minds and hearts. Like, even in the hardest times the hope is always there. The painter uses art to make this very important message go home with us.

How is then a visualization different from a painting? Visualizations deal with abstract concepts as opposed to physical objects. Ironically, the dry technical reports are supposed to bring the ethereal and non-tangible things to being tangible. Timelines, as a method for visualization, represent a time-oriented display of concepts or data. Other ways of visualizing concepts and how they connect with each other include mindmaps, lists and boards (or dashboards). Think of to-do’s and to-do lists and various ways that we have to visualize them. A to-do, a task or a project is an abstract concept as well.

Why should this matter at all? John Dewey has something to say on that in his essay “Art as Experience”:

Art appeals directly to sense and the sensuous imagination, and many aesthetic and religious experiences occur as the result of energy and material used to expand and intensify the experience of life.

Of course, we are not talking about religious experiences here. But all of us are looking for the ways to make our intuition and creative abilities work at their best as we are search for a solution to a technical or an organizational problem. The cutting edge of brilliant performance with data insights and analysis is so elusive and so sought after that we hopelessly give up, thinking that it’s not us, but someone else who has this ability to take a brilliant decision backed by intuition. Look into this quote from the John Dewey’s essay closer. The key is: appeals directly to sense and sensuous imagination.  If a timeline, or a list, or a dashboard is visually appealing, then an analyst or a stakeholder will not simply spend less time on grasping the overview, but will be more likely to generate a crucial insight or take a well-rounded decision as the visual nicety will contribute to that by itself. I’m sure there is some scientific research nowadays that backs up this argument in terms of neuroscience. The bottomline is: there’s more pragmatism in art than one can imagine. If we surround ourselves with artful things, be it in our office space, or in our digital space, we’re more likely to perform better as decision-makers, stakeholders, or analysts, or as developers and QAs, or anyone else who uses visualizations in their work.

Related articles:

Visual Specifications

Visual Management Software

Visualization: Understated or Overrated?

Visualization and 5 Senses

Enterprise UX: Why the Paradigm Shifts

Visualizing Music

How Timelines Help Project Managers Track Progress

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