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Display Design Techniques to Convert Data to Information


Much has been made over the need in graphic display design to show information, not just data. Like many things, this is easier said than done. A recent study (Drews , F.A. and Alexa Doig, A., Evaluation of a Configural Vital Signs Display for Intensive Care Unit Nurses, Human Factors : The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, May 2014,56: 569-580) examined the impact of providing more information and provided an example of how the same data can be represented in different ways.

Current ICUs have displays with numerical presentation of the patientís vital signs (heart rate, blood pressure, and blood oxygen). Trends of these can be obtained with the push of a button. The authors created the display below, which expands on existing patient vital signs displays .

The current display data is retained in the middle portion of the display (numeric data). The current trend data is now permanently in view. They added the right-hand side, showing both the current state of pulse and blood pressure (X and Y-axis ) by the orange box, along with its variability over time (the white box shows the area covered by the current box over the last hour). The grey box is the target zone, such that the orange box inside the grey box equals good. Clearly this person is not doing well.

ICU Display Example

A study with 42 ICU nurses revealed statistically significant improvement of both speed and accuracy for four different patient conditions (normal plus three patient issues), with improvements along both metrics of approximately 30%. So what? There are some very different ways to present data that result in far better performance. We need not constrain ourselves to digital, analog bar, or trend as our only options. Developing and quantifying the benefits of new options is a focus of the Center for Operator Performance (

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