Lessons learned from the design and evaluation of visual information-seeking systems


Designing information-seeking systems has become an increasingly complex task as today’s information spaces are rapidly growing in quantity, heterogeneity, and dimensionality. The challenge is to provide user interfaces that have a satisfying usability and user experience even for novice users. Although information visualization and interaction design offer solutions, many information-seeking systems such as online catalogs for libraries or web search engines continue to use outdated user-interface concepts developed decades ago. In this paper, we will present four principles that we identified as crucial for the successful design of a modern visual information-seeking system. These are (1) to support various ways of formulating an information need, (2) to integrate analytical and browsing-oriented ways of exploration, (3) to provide views on different dimensions of the information space, and (4) to make search a pleasurable experience. These design principles are based on our experience over a long period in the user-centered design and evaluation of visual information-seeking systems. Accordingly, we will showcase individual designs from our own work of the past 10 years to illustrate each principle and hence narrow the gap between the scientific discussion and the designing practitioner that has often hindered research ideas from becoming reality. However, most of the times search is only one part of a higher level user activity (e.g. writing a paper). Thus future research should focus on the challenges when regarding search in such a broader context. We will use the final two chapters to point out some of these challenges and outline our vision of an integrated and consistent digital work environment named Zoomable Object-oriented Information Landscape.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. 1

    Ahlberg, C., Shneiderman, B.: Visual information seeking using the filmfinder. In: Plaisant, C. (ed.) CHI Conference Companion, Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, pp. 433–434. ACM, Boston (1994)

  2. 2

    Bates M.J.: The design of browsing and berrypicking techniques for the online search interface. Online Rev. 13(5), 407–424 (1989)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3

    Bederson B.B., Clamage A., Czerwinski M.P., Robertson G.G.: Datelens: a fisheye calendar interface for pdas. ACM Trans. Comput.-Hum. Interact. 11(1), 90–119 (2004)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4

    Bier, E., Popat, K., Good, L., Newberger, A.: Zoomable user interface for in-depth reading. In: JCDL ’04: Proceedings of the 4th ACM/IEEE-CS joint conference on Digital libraries, pp. 424–424. ACM, New York (2004)

  5. 5

    Borgman C.L.: Why are online catalogs hard to use? lessons learned from information-retrieval studies. J. Am. Soc. Inf. Sci. 37(6), 387–400 (1986)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6

    Borgman C.L.: Why are online catalogs still hard to use. J. Am. Soc. Inf. Sci 47(7), 493–503 (1996)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. 7

    Borgman C.L.: Designing digital libraries for usability. In: Buttenfield , B.P., Van House N. (eds) Digital library use: social practice in design and evaluation, pp. 85–118. ACM, Cambridge (2003)

    Google Scholar 

  8. 8

    Buering Thorsten, Gerken Jens, Reiterer Harald: Usability of overview-supported zooming on small screens with regard to individual differences in spatial ability. In: AVI’ 2006: Proceedings of the 8th International Conference on Advanced Visual Interfaces. ACM Press, May (2006)

  9. 9

    Buering T., Gerken J., Reiterer H.: User interaction with scatterplots on small screens—a comparative evaluation of geometric-semantic zoom and fisheye distortion. IEEE Trans. Vis. Comput. Graph. (Proceedings Visualization/Information Visualization 12, 829–836 (2006)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10

    Collins D.: Designing Object-Oriented User Interfaces. Benjamin-Cummings Publishing Co., Inc., Redwood City (1994)

    Google Scholar 

  11. 11

    Cutter C.A.: Rules for a Dictionary Catalog. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC (1876)

    Google Scholar 

  12. 12

    Demarmels, M.: Konzeption und Entwicklung einer Visualisierung für mehrdimensionale Daten. Bachelor-thesis, University of Konstanz (2007)

  13. 13

    Fowler, R.H., Wilson, B.A., Fowler, W.A.L.: Information navigator: An information system using associative networks for display and retrieval. Technical report (1992)

  14. 14

    Fruchterman T.M.J., Reingold E.M.: Graph drawing by force-directed placement. Softw. Pract. Exper. 21(11), 1129–1164 (1991)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15

    Furnas G.W.: Generalized fisheye views. SIGCHI Bull. 17(4), 16–23 (1986)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. 16

    Gerken, J.: Evaluation eines Metadatenbrowsers—Liste versus Leveltable. Bachelor-thesis, University of Konstanz (2004)

  17. 17

    Gerken, J., Demarmels, M., Dierdorf, S., Reiterer, H.: Hyperscatter—modellierungs—und zoomtechniken fr punktdiagramme. In: to appear in Mensch & Computer 2008: Viel mehr Interaktion, vol. 8. Konferenz fr interaktive und kooperative Medien, Oldenbourg Verlag (2008)

  18. 18

    Good, L., Popat, A.C., Janssen, W.C., Bier, E.: A fluid interface for personal digital libraries. In: ECDL ’05: Proceedings of the 9th European Conference on Research and Advanced Technology for Digital Libraries, pp. 162–173. Springer, Berlin (2005)

  19. 19

    Gruen, C., Gerken, J., Jetter, H.-C., König, W., Reiterer, H.: Mediovis—a user-centred library metadata browser. In: ECDL 2005: Research and Advanced Technology for Digital Libraries, Proceedings of the 9th European Conference on Digital Libraries. Springer, Heidleberg (2005)

  20. 20

    Hasan, M.Z., Golovchinsky, G., Noik, E.G., Charoenkitkarn, N., Chignell, M., Mendelzon, A.O., Modjeska, D.: Browsing local and global information. In: CASCON ’95: Proceedings of the 1995 conference of the Centre for Advanced Studies on Collaborative research, p. 27. IBM Press (1995)

  21. 21

    Hassenzahl, M., Platz, A., Burmester, M., Lehner, K.: Hedonic and ergonomic quality aspects determine a software’s appeal. In: Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on Human factors in computing systems, pp. 201–208. ACM Press, New York (2000)

  22. 22

    Hearst M., Elliott A., English J., Sinha R., Swearingen K., Yee K.-P.: Finding the flow in web site search. Commun. ACM 45(9), 42–49 (2002)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. 23

    Marti, A.H.: Tilebars visualization of term distribution information in full text information access. In: CHI ’95: Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on Human factors in computing systems, pp. 59–66. ACM Press/Addison-Wesley Publishing Co, New York (1995)

  24. 24

    Jetter, H.-C.: Informationsarchitektur und Informationsvisualisierung für die Post-WIMP Ära. Master-thesis, University of Konstanz (2007)

  25. 25

    Jetter, H.-C., Gerken, J., König, W.A., Christian, G., Reiterer, H.: Hypergrid—accessing complex information spaces. In: HCI UK 2005: People and Computers XIX—The Bigger Picture, Proceedings of the 19th British HCI Group Annual Conference. Springer, Heidelberg (2005)

  26. 26

    Jones S.: Vquery: a graphical user interface for boolean query specification and dynamic result preview. Int. J. Digit. Libr. 2, 207–223 (2003)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. 27

    Kahlbach, J.: Designing for information foragers: a behavioral model for information seeking on the world wide web. internetworking, December (2000)

  28. 28

    Kaptelinin V., Czerwinski M.: Beyond the Desktop Metaphor: Designing Integrated Digital Work Environments. MIT Press, Cambridge (2007)

    Google Scholar 

  29. 29

    Karger D.R., Jones W.: Data unification in personal information management. Commun. ACM 49(1), 77–82 (2006)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. 30

    Klein, P., Reiterer, H.: The circlesegmentview—a visualization for query preview and visual filtering. In: SPIE 2005: Visualization and Data Analysis, Proceedings of SPIE, vol. 5669, pp. 327–338. IS&T/SPIE (2005)

  31. 31

    Kohonen T., Kaski S., Lagus K., Salojarvi J., Paatero V., Saarela A.: Self organization of a massive document collection. IEEE Trans. Neural Netw. 11, 574–585 (2000)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. 32

    Kuhlthau C.C.: Seeking Meaning: a Process Approach to Library and Information Services, vol. 2nd edn. Libraries Unlimited, Englewood (2004)

  33. 33

    Limbach, T., Reiterer, H., Klein, P., Müller, F.V.: A visual metadata browser. In: Interact 2003: Proceedings of the Ninth IFIP TC13 International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction, pp. 993–996. IOS Press (2003)

  34. 34

    Makri S., Blandford A., Cox A.L.: Investigating the information-seeking behaviour of academic lawyers: From ellis’s model to design. Inf. Process. Manage. 44(2), 613–634 (2008)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. 35

    Mann, T.: Visualization of Search Results from the World Wide Web. phdthesis, University of Konstanz (2001)

  36. 36

    Marchionini G.: Information Seeking in Electronic Environments (Cambridge Series on Human-Computer Interaction). Cambridge University Press, London (1997)

    Google Scholar 

  37. 37

    Müller-Prove, M., Ludolph, F.: Dueling interaction models of personal-computing and web-computing. In: Proceedings of the Workshop on Methodic and Didactic Challenges of the History of Informatics (MEDICHI). Österreichische Computer Gesellschaft (2007)

  38. 38

    Mußler, G.: Retrieving Business Information from the WWW. phdthesis, University of Konstanz (2002)

  39. 39

    Nikolai, R., Kramerand, R., Steinhaus, M., Felluga, B., Plini, P.: Genthes: a general thesaurus browser for web-based catalogue systems. In: Proceedings of IEEE Meta-Data’99 (1999)

  40. 40

    North C., Shneiderman B.: Snap-together visualization: can users construct and operate coordinated visualizations?. Int. J. Human-Comput. Stud. 53(5), 715–739 (2000)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. 41

    Perlin, K., Fox, D.: Pad: an alternative approach to the computer interface. In: SIGGRAPH ’93: Proceedings of the 20th annual conference on Computer graphics and interactive techniques, pp. 57–64. ACM, New York (1993)

  42. 42

    Perugini, S., McDevitt, K., Richardson, R., Pérez-Quinones, M.A., Shen, R., Ramakrishnan, N., Williams, C., Fox, E.A.: Enhancing usability in citidel: multimodal, multilingual, and interactive visualization interfaces. In: JCDL ’04: Proceedings of the 4th ACM/IEEE-CS joint conference on Digital libraries, pp. 315–324. ACM, New York (2004)

  43. 43

    Raskin J.: The Humane Interface: New Directions for Designing Interactive Systems (ACM Press). Addison-Wesley Professional, Reading (2000)

    Google Scholar 

  44. 44

    Reiterer H., Tullius G., Mann T.M.: Insyder a content-based visual-information-seeking system for the web. Int. J. Digit. Libr. 5(1), 25–41 (2005)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. 45

    Rexhausen, S., Demarmels, M., Jetter, H.-C., Heilig, M., Gerken, J., Reiterer, H.: Blockbuster—a visual explorer for motion picture data. In: INFOVIS ’07: Proceedings of the IEEE Symposium on Information Visualization (INFOVIS’07). IEEE Computer Society, Nov (2007). [Summary of contest entry for InfoVis Contest 2007. Awarded with 3rd place]

  46. 46

    Rüger, M., Preim, B., Ritter, A.: Zoom navigation exploring large information and application spaces. In: AVI ’96: Proceedings of the workshop on Advanced visual interfaces, pp. 40–48. ACM, New York (1996)

  47. 47

    Schaefer, A., Jordan, M., Klas, C.-P., Fuhr, N.: Active support for query formulation in virtual digital libraries: a case study with daffodil. In: ECDL ’05: Proceedings of the 9th European Conference on Research and Advanced Technology for Digital Libraries, pp. 414–425. Springer, Berlin (2005)

  48. 48

    Shneiderman B.: Designing the User Interface, 3rd edn., vol. 7. Addison-Wesley, Reading (1997)

  49. 49

    Shneiderman B.: Leonardo’s Laptop: Human Needs and the New Computing Technologies. MIT Press, Cambridge (2003)

    Google Scholar 

  50. 50

    Spoerri, A.: Infocrystal: a visual tool for information retrieval. PhD thesis, Cambridge, MA (1995)

  51. 51

    Trumble K., Marshall R.M.: The Library of Alexandria. Clarion Books, New York (2003)

    Google Scholar 

  52. 52

    Wang, J., Agrawal, A., Bazaza, A., Angle, S., Fox, E.A., North, C.: Enhancing the envision interface for digital libraries. In: JCDL ’02: Proceedings of the 2nd ACM/IEEE-CS joint conference on Digital libraries, pp. 275–276. ACM, New York (2002)

  53. 53

    Williamson, C., Shneiderman, B.: The dynamic homefinder: evaluating dynamic queries in a real-estate information exploration system. In: SIGIR ’92: Proceedings of the 15th annual international ACM SIGIR conference on Research and development in information retrieval, pp. 338–346. ACM Press, New York (1992)

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Harald Reiterer.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Gerken, J., Heilig, M., Jetter, H. et al. Lessons learned from the design and evaluation of visual information-seeking systems. Int J Digit Libr 10, 49–66 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00799-009-0052-6

Download citation


  • Human-computer interaction
  • Information visualization
  • Visual information-seeking
  • Interaction design
  • Search
  • Design principles
  • Semantic zooming
  • Digital libraries