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Contact Information

Dr. Ben Shneiderman
A. V. Williams Building
Department of Computer Science
University of Maryland
College Park, MD 20742
Tel: (301) 405-2680
Fax: (301) 405-6707

Papers of Ben Shneiderman

Career Review

Research Project Summaries

Early work on database systems

Ben Shneiderman's 1973 dissertation research presented a graph-theoretic model of data structures covering optimum multi-level index design, searching strategies, and a convenient model for describing data structures. The most widely referenced results were in "Optimum Data Base Reorganization Points" (Communications of the ACM 16, 6, June 1973, pp. 362-365) which opened up a subtopic in physical database design.

Programming textbooks

Ben Shneiderman co-authored two books with Charles Kreitzberg -- The Elements of FORTRAN Style: Techniques for Effective Programming (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1972, 121 pages) which was the first of the programming style guides and FORTRAN Programming: A Spiral Approach (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1975; Second Edition 1982, 437 pages) which was the best selling book for introductory FORTRAN for several years. The spiral approach was copied by at least a half dozen authors.

Structured flowcharts

Structured flowcharts, refined with fellow graduate student Isaac Nassi, (ACM SIGPLAN Notices 8, 8, August 1973) have had a dramatic impact in many commercial programming organizations. Software to produce the charts (popularly called Nassi-Shneiderman Diagrams or structograms in Germany where it is very widely used) has been written by 8-10 organizations, at least two dozen textbooks use this method, and there are well over 200 references, plus many proposed extensions and variants. A 1996 survey showed 35% of business colleges in the US teach Nassi-Shneiderman Diagrams.

Early work on human factors

Dr. Shneiderman continued to do mathematical models of data structures and implement database software during the 1970s, but his emphasis shifted towards human performance with computers. He collaborated with experimental psychologists, and developed scientific methods involving empirical techniques to improve the design of programming languages, database query facilities, and user interfaces. His landmark book Software Psychology: Human Factors in Computer and Information Systems (Little, Brown and Co., 1980, 320 pages) was the monthly selection of both the McGraw-Hill and Macmillan Library of Computer and Information Science Book Clubs. A Russian edition of 15,000 copies received good reviews and sold out in a few weeks.

Influential papers included a cognitive model of programmer or user behavior, "Syntactic/semantic interactions in programmer behavior: A model and experimental results" (International Journal of Computer and Information Sciences 7, June 1979, also reprinted in Bill Curtis, Editor, Human Factors in Software Development, IEEE, 1981). His paper on "Control flow and data structure documentation: Two experiments" (Communications of the ACM 25, 1, January 1982, pp. 55-63) provided an empirical demonstration that the contents of the documentation is more important than the form (graphics vs. textual) and supported earlier results that detailed flowcharts (Communications of the ACM 20, 6, June 1977, 373-381) are not that helpful. All these efforts were influenced by and contributed to a theoretical framework for analyzing user interface issues: semantics of the task domain, semantics of the computer concepts, and syntax for expressing the semantics.

Direct manipulation

Ben Shneiderman's most important paper is probably "Direct manipulation: A step beyond programming languages" (IEEE Computer 16, 8, August 1983, pp. 57-69) which offered a new vision of interactive systems (Reprinted in Nikkei Computer (Japanese), Auerbach Report Series, ACM Press and IEEE collections). Direct manipulation systems provide a visual representation of the objects and actions of interest; rapid, incremental, and reversible actions; immediate presentation of the multiple impacts of a change; selection instead of typing; and an emphasis on task domain representations that produce low demands for syntactic and computer knowledge. These systems usually are rapid to learn, have low error rates, produce high user satisfaction, and are easy for users to retain over time.

Hypertext research and development

Ben Shneiderman has led the interdisciplinary Human-Computer Interaction Laboratory since 1983. Its most influential development was the embedded menu method for selecting highlighted words in context to jump to another page (Communications of the ACM 29, 4, April 1986, 312-318). This approach to hypertext became widely imitated and is the interface basis for the wildly successful World Wide Web. The Hyperties hypertext system was licensed for the commercial purposes in 1988 to Cognetics Corporation (Princeton Jct., NJ) for IBM PCs, and was implemented on the SUN workstations for research projects for NASA, NCR, AT&T, etc. He received the 1987 award with R. Potter for Outstanding Innovation by the University of Maryland Office of Technology Liaison for the finger mouse touchscreen strategy. Over twenty empirical studies were conducted, including controlled laboratory studies and field studies in three museums. Two computers using this strategy on a Hyperties database were installed at the Smithsonian's Natural History Museum in March 1988, and traveled for 18 months.

The ACM published a Hyperties disk with the full text of the July 1988 Special Issue of the CACM on hypertext, plus additional information added by Dr. Shneiderman in his role as Hypertext Editor. In September 1988 Addison-Wesley published the world's first commercial electronic book titled Hypertext Hands-On! written by Ben Shneiderman and Greg Kearsley.

Designing the User Interface textbook

His 1987 book, Designing the User Interface: Strategies of Effective Human-Computer Interaction (Addison-Wesley Publ., had a profound impact as an educational and professional text. It appeared in Second edition in 1993, Third edition in 1998. For the Fourth edition in 2005, Catherine Plaisant joined as a co-author and the Fifth edition appeared in 2009. Editions have been published in Japanese, Chinese, German, and Portugese, extending its worldwide influence.

Information Visualization

During the 1990's Ben Shneiderman created information visualization methods to give users visual overviews of large databases, including the starfield (scattergram with zooming, filtering, and color coded items) and treemaps (two-dimensional space-filling representation of trees with thousands of nodes). User control over these displays is accomplished by filtering out unwanted items with dynamic queries using double-boxed range sliders for numeric values, alphasliders for nominal lists, and buttons for categorical variables. Highly cited papers on these issues include Ahlberg, C. and Shneiderman, B., Visual Information Seeking: Tight coupling of dynamic query filters with starfield displays, Proc. of ACM CHI94 Conference, April 1994, 313-317 + color plates, and Shneiderman, B., Dynamic queries for visual information seeking, IEEE Software 11, 6, 1994, 70-77. These strategies became refined and successfully commercialized in 1997 by Spotfire, which was acquired by TIBCO in 2007.

Medical visualizations included the Visible Human Explorer for showing anatomical image data and LifeLines for presenting a personal medical history. Recent work on LifeLines2 expands the visualization with operations to search, align, rank, and filter millions of electronic health records consisting of temporal event sequences.

An influential project was the treemap visualization to represent hierarchical data with a space-filling set of rectangle that could be color and size coded to represent leaf node attributes (Tree visualization with tree-maps: A 2-dimensional space filling approach, ACM Transactions on Graphics 11, 1, January 1992, 92-99). The large number of derivative research projects and commercial implementations have made this visualization widely used on the web (most notably Smartmoney’s Map-of-the-Market), in the New York Times, as well as in corporate and government projects.

To promote understanding of the potential for information visualization Ben Shneiderman worked with Stu Card and Jock Mackinlay to produce a highly successful collection of “Readings in Information Visualization: Using Vision to Think”(Morgan Kaufmann Publ., 1999) that included 60,000 words of introduction and commentary.

Additional work on numerical time series led to the TimeSearcher software tools, and extensions such as the Shape Searcher Edition to find spikes, sinks, rises, etc. The Hierarchical Clustering Explorer applied advanced statistical tools to find clusters, relationships, outliers, gaps, and other features in high-dimensional numerical data.

Integrating statistics and visualization became the driving concept for network analysis in SocialAction, where the systematic yet flexible framework proved valuable in four Multi-dimensional In-Depth Long-term Case Studies. Another concept for network visualization was by attribute based layouts, called semantic substrates. This concept was incorporated in the NVSS tool, which had successful application in several extended citation analysis projects. Some of the ideas in SocialAction and NVSS have been included in the NodeXL tool, which is available as an open source project.

Technology-Mediated Social Participation

Starting with disaster response ideas, published in Science under the title "", Dr. Shneiderman became a strong advocate of using technology-mediated social participation to support national priorities such as healthcare, energy sustainability, education, disaster response, community safety, and environmental protection.

Societal Benefits and Policy Engagement

Dr. Shneiderman's deep concern for the proper utilization of computing has led him to consider social, ethical, and philosophical issues in a multiply reprinted paper “Human values and the future of technology”. Because of these efforts he was given an honorary doctorate of science by the University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada. He initiated the Conference on Society and the Future of Computing and the ACM Policy 1998 Conference, and chaired the 2007 ACM Creativity & Cognition Conference. Dr. Shneiderman is a member of USACM and was a member of the National Academies Committee (2006-2008) on Technical and Privacy Dimensions of Information for Terrorism Prevention and Other National Goals, which produced the influential report “Protecting Individual Privacy in the Struggle Against Terrorists: A Framework for Program Assessment". He is a member of the Board of Scientific Counselors – National Library of Medicine Lister Hill Center and regularly speaks out on increasing the societal benefits of computing at national and international forums.

Professional Outreach

An important part of Ben Shneiderman's work has been bringing research ideas to the professional community, through lectures and consultations with corporations (Apple, AT&T, GE, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, etc.) and government agencies (Library of Congress, Library of Medicine, Census, etc.). Professional courses at the University of Maryland's Center for Adult Education attracted large and appreciative audiences and he has given courses at UCLA and UC Santa Cruz, as well as internationally in Brazil, England, Singapore, Australia, Japan, Switzerland, and Israel. Between 1988 and 1997 he conducted an annual satellite TV course on User Interface Strategies that was seen by thousands of professionals. Video segments remain available on the web.

His efforts to reach still wider audiences include publication of Leonardo’s Laptop: Human Needs and the New Computing Technologies (MIT Press, 2002) (, which won the IEEE book award for Distinguished Literary Contribution.


Dr. Shneiderman was made a Fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery Fellow (1997) and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2001). He was made a Fellow of the ACM CHI Academy and received the ACM SIGCHI Lifetime Achievement Award (2001). He also received the ACM SIGCAS Making a Difference Award (2001).

Dr. Shneiderman's work received recognition with the publication of a special issue of the International Journal of Human- Computer Interaction in honor of his 60th birthday during 2007. Available at:

In May 2008, he received the Distinguished Faculty Award from Board of Visitors of the University of Maryland College of Computing, Mathematics, and Physical Sciences.