Benjamin Bederson, Ben Shneiderman Receive IEEE VIS Test of Time Award

The two emeritus faculty were recognized for their foundational work two decades ago that underlies modern treemap algorithms.
Descriptive image for Benjamin Bederson, Ben Shneiderman Receive IEEE VIS Test of Time Award

Two University of Maryland experts in visualization and visual analytics will be honored in October for academic papers they co-authored 20 years ago.

Benjamin Bederson (left in photo), professor emeritus of computer science, and Ben Shneiderman (right), Distinguished University Professor emeritus of computer science, will be recognized with the IEEE VIS Test of Time Award at VIS2021, considered the premier forum for advances in visualization and visual analytics.

This prestigious award recognizes articles published at previous conferences whose contents are still vibrant and useful today and have had a major impact and influence within and beyond the visualization community.

The UMD duo were recognized by IEEE VIS for two papers: Ordered Treemap Layouts, published in 2001 by Shneiderman and Martin Wattenberg, a mathematician working in private industry; and a follow-up paper, Ordered and Quantum Treemaps: Making Effective Use of 2D Space Display Hierarchies, published by Bederson, Shneiderman and Wattenberg in 2002.

The papers represent foundational work that underlies modern treemap algorithms. Treemaps became a standard feature in Excel in 2013 and are widely used in journalism—especially for economic, business, international trade, and demographic data.

In recognizing the impact of the work by Bederson, Shneiderman and Wattenberg, the IEEE VIS awards committee wrote: “The 2001 paper introduced a method to retain the order of items while also producing rectangles with low aspect ratios, like squarified tree maps. The approach addressed a critical problem of layout stability, where changes in the data set could result in dramatic discontinuous changes in the treemap layout. … Also notable are the introduction of meaningful metrics for assessing layout quality and a systematic and rigorous evaluation of several different treemap algorithms against those metrics; as such, the paper can also be commended as an early exemplar of algorithm quality benchmarking.”

The committee’s notes continued with: “The follow-up journal version paper also introduced the quantum treemap approach suitable for laying out images within the generated rectangles and included a user study to assess human performance benefits of the new algorithms. These two papers in combination have been cited more than 1,000 times and were an important step toward the current widespread adoption of the treemap family of techniques.”

Bederson, Shneiderman and Wattenberg will be formally recognized with the IEEE VIS Test of Time Award in a plenary session during the opening of VIS2021 on October 26.

Go here to view a video of the researchers discussing their work.


In addition to their appointments in the Department of Computer Science, Bederson and Shneiderman both have emeritus appointments in the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies, where each served as director of the Human-Computer Interaction Lab (HCIL). Shneiderman was the founding director of HCIL and provided leadership from 1983–2000; Bederson served as HCIL director from 2000–2006.

In 2013, Shneiderman explored the aesthetic side of treemaps: he framed and mounted 12 of his most visually striking treemaps for an exhibit on the third floor of the Computer Science Instructional Center. 

The artwork was subsequently on display at the National Academies in Washington, D.C., and at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. 


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