The use of information visualization in the field of "business intelligence" is interesting to me, as it ostensibly represents an area where a large community of non-experts (with regard to visualization) are actively making use of information visualization, in the form of information dashboards, market maps, and other financial analysis tools. Somewhat curiously, despite their reliance on visualization systems, innovation in the visual design of these systems has evidently been lacking. Daniel Buenza has recently written about this in a blog post titled "Is there room for art in financial visualization?" I found this paragraph particularly telling:
[The lack of innovation] is surprising, because existing visualizations do not support profitable trading strategies. Indeed, most systems are based on timely news and time series of stock prices and volume. And yet, we know from basic financial economics that both past prices and news are a bad predictor of future stock prices. As for the ticker… the animated display of selected stock prices is a low-bandwidth visualization born in the era of the telegraph. That’s right: 19th C. Nowadays, information can travel much faster, and one does not need to wait for “my stock” to come up on the ticker.
As the rest of the post describes, there is a conflict between the design of new visualization strategies and the reluctance of their users to let go of what "works well enough." While this is obviously an issue with any type of software design (or just an issue with "change" in general), it is particularly surprising to see in an area that so clearly relies on visual displays to do business.
I think this emphasizes two important points related to the design of "popular" visualization: First, obviously, we should pay special attention to that "final step" of getting new systems deployed in the field. While designers can produce useful systems based on theory (or even user-centered testing), the tools are only useful if they can be successfully be delivered to a user "in the wild." While it might be a logistical issue not related to the quality of the product, this final step may require special consideration at the design level.
Second (although I already gave it away), we need to be aware of the specific usage patterns of the people using (or not using) visualization tools. A design that looks good (haha) on paper may simply not integrate well within a users existing "workflow." Also not a particularly profound point, but one that often gets ignored in visualization design (even in "casual" systems).
As far as business intelligence goes, I'm excited to hear Stephen Few speak at InfoVis in a few days, as he is well known for his analysis of visualization in that field. Again, it strikes me as an interesting test-bed for popular visualization design (also, I am particularly intrigued by the use of symbology and semiotics in dashboard design, but that's a topic for another post), so I'm anxious to learn about the theoretical and methodological design strategies employed by designers in that particular sector.