I want to design a web application which would show whether a person is busy or not. For this, I already have data with the user-name, the busyness factor and the time stamp. I have data for 10 people every 10 minutes. I am a student and it is for my department. We have a big display in the common area and the visualization would be displayed there.

The basic criteria of the visualization are

1) It should not require user interaction
2) It should be able to display data for around 15-20 users
3) Should be easily understandable

There are around 20 people on the floor.

I thought about how to represent the data but only came up with a row of pulses for each user. This is how I could accommodate 15-20 users on one page.

Can anyone please suggest any visualization technique which would suit the purpose?

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    $\begingroup$ What does "busy" mean? What is a "pulse"? What information do you especially want to convey to readers--who is "busy," when they are busy, who is busier than whom, what the trends are over time, something else? Do you want readers to be able to assess this information quantitatively or is a gross qualitative depiction sufficient? Must the visualization be updated in real time? $\endgroup$ – whuber Aug 5 '13 at 16:30
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    $\begingroup$ Is the intention to visualize whether or not someone is busy/available now, or the history of how occupied they have been over some recent period? $\endgroup$ – David Marx Aug 5 '13 at 19:32
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    $\begingroup$ @whuber - i am calculating a factor which would fall in a range of 0-10(10 being most busy). By pulse i meant something like a sparkline. I want the readers to know - who is busy/free and what time in the day he is busy/free. Since all the users would be on the same page then the trends could be seen. A Gross qualitative depiction is sufficient. It would be better if it updates in real time. $\endgroup$ – Dan Aug 5 '13 at 21:34
  • $\begingroup$ @David - Yes, the intention is to visualize whether someone is busy/free now as well as for the past 2-3 days. I have a separate history page where i show the busy/free visualization for the last week. $\endgroup$ – Dan Aug 5 '13 at 21:36

You could use sparklines or something like that, but instead I'd recommend presenting your data overlaid on top of a table of people's names, or perhaps a seating chart to add the additional information of where they are.

Assuming you just need to visualize whether or not someone is busy now, you could fill the box surrounding each name with a solid color on a scale depicting how busy they are. If someone is available: green or white. If someone is busy: red. You could use yellow as an intermediate color if you want. This way someone could look at the board and immediately know who's busy and who's not.

Current "busyness":

enter image description here

You could add a time component to this visualization technique as well: divide the box containing a person's name into six (or fewer/more) sequential segments. Color each segment in accordance to how busy they were during a particular time period, such that the current time is the rightmost box and how busy they were an hour ago is the leftmost box.

Activity over last hour (or whatever period you want, really):

enter image description here

If you use this alternate technique, you may want to exaggerate the "now" box somehow, perhaps making it larger than the others or darkening the color of the historical boxes to make the "now" box brighter. This would have the added effect of probably making people look like they were historically busier than they actually were, so you probably don't want to go that route: I'm just providing you with ideas you can work with.

These are just some rough mockups I threw together in excel to demonstrate my idea. I'm sure you could make this look much better: I'd suggest adding some padding between each box. Also, you don't really need a border around each name. But I"ll leave these design considerations up to you.

UPDATE: Regarding your history page, something else you could have would be an aggregate trends page (since this is clearly something you are interested in) where you visualize each persons busyness by each day of the week, perhaps since the beginning of the semester or over the last two weeks. So each person in the department would get a separate graph like this (showing which days and at what times they are busy:

enter image description here

Image via: http://unsupervisedlearning.wordpress.com/2012/09/26/who-is-rwashingtondc-part-1-daily-activity-usage/

  • $\begingroup$ For the history page this is fine. But for the current busyness i am looking for something that would relate to the real world. The color coding red for busy and green for free is nice but it is too basic. I am not sure but for an example i can say - there can be 3 intervals say - busy, free and intermediate. So maybe for busy status i could show a cheetah running, for a free i could show a tortoise and intermediate maybe a deer or something. $\endgroup$ – Dan Aug 7 '13 at 20:03
  • $\begingroup$ I know the example i told won't work for 20 users since showing these for all users will take a lot of space. Maybe you get the track in which i am thinking. If i don't get any cool idea then i would go for the color coding that you have suggested. $\endgroup$ – Dan Aug 7 '13 at 20:03
  • $\begingroup$ How about this: instead of using animals (which might look tacky and limits the degree of quantization you can use and would also hinder immediate interpretability) how about just using a door. If someone is free, their door is open. If they're busy, their door is closed. This also allows you to have the degree with which the door is open correspond to how receptive they are to visitors, which is easy to interpret. It would also allow you to combine in/out of the office, since if they're not in, they're as good as busy, and your visualization could show a closed door. $\endgroup$ – David Marx Aug 7 '13 at 20:15

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