About Ben Shneiderman

Appointments and Recognition

Ben Shneiderman is a Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Computer Science, Founding Director (1983-2000) of the Human-Computer Interaction Laboratory, and Member of the Institute for Advanced Computer Studies at the University of Maryland at College Park (full resume, Wikipedia article). He has Affiliate Appointments in the Institute for Systems Research, College of Engineering, and the iSchool, College of Information Studies. He has taught previously at the State University of New York and at Indiana University.

He is a Fellow of the ACM (1997), a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2000), and a Fellow of the IEEE (2012). He received the ACM CHI (Computer Human Interaction) Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001. He was elected as a Member of the National Academy of Engineering (2010): "For research, software development, and scholarly texts concerning human-computer interaction and information visualization." Ben Shneiderman received the IEEE Visualization Career Award in 2012 and was elected to the National Academy of Inventors in 2015.

He received Honorary Doctorates from the University of Guelph (Canada, 1995), Univ of Castilla-La Mancha (Spain, 2010), State University of New York at Stony Brook (2015), University of Melbourne (Australia, 2017), and Swansea University (Wales, UK, 2018). Ben Shneiderman's biography appears in Marquis's Who's Who in the World, Who's Who in America, and Who's Who in Science and Technology. He spoke at the TED Conference (1998), is listed among the top 1000 creative people in the USA in the book: 1000: Richard Wurman's Who's Really Who (2002), and was profiled in Scientific American (March 1999). His Google Scholar page lists more than 82,000 citations with an h-index of 116 (June 2018).

He was honored on his 60th Birthday with a Special Issue: Reflections on Human-Computer Interaction, of the International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction, 23, 3 (2007), Guest Editors: Catherine Plaisant, Chris North. While Shneiderman values these recognitions, he is equally proud of the students he has taught and happily satisfied when he can help colleagues in their work. He officially retired in June 2017, but remains active in research, writing, lecturing, and organizing professional events.

Leadership & Partnerships

Ben Shneiderman and Bill Curtis originated the 1982 Gaithersburg, MD Conference on Human Factors and Computing Systems that led to the formation of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) Special Interest Group on Computer Human Interaction (SIGCHI) series of conferences.

He founded the University of Maryland’s Human-Computer Interaction Laboratory in 1983, which became a leading center for research on human-computer interaction and user experience design. He was joined by Research Scientist Catherine Plaisant in 1987 who was a close collaborator for 30+ years, as they co-authored 100+ papers.

Shneiderman was the Co-Chair of the ACM Policy 98 Conference, May 1998 and was the Founding Chair of the ACM Conference on Universal Usability, November 16-17, 2000 as well as Chair of the follow-on 2003 Conference. Ben Shneiderman's interest in creativity support tools led to his organizing the June 2005 National Science Foundation (NSF) workshop and to chairing the June 2007 ACM Conference on Creativity & Cognition.

With Jennifer Preece and Peter Pirolli he ran the pair of NSF workshops on Technology-Mediated Social Participation (www.tmsp.umd.edu) that led to a cover feature issue of IEEE Computer (November 2010), which helped promote dramatically expanded research into social media. Shneiderman chaired the National Academy of Sciences’ Sackler Colloquium: Creativity and Collaboration: Revisiting Cybernetic Serendipity, March 13-14, 2018, Washington, DC, which advanced emerging technologies and integrative methods such as information visualization, citizen science, and social media.


Dr. Shneiderman is the author of Software Psychology: Human Factors in Computer and Information Systems (1980), a groundbreaking book about the application of psychological research methods to computer science problems. His comprehensive text Designing the User Interface: Strategies for Effective Human-Computer Interaction (1st edition 1987, 2nd edition 1992, 3rd edition 1998, Addison-Wesley Publishers, Reading, MA), came out in its 4th edition in 2005 (Pearson Publishers) with Catherine Plaisant as co-author. With additional co-authors, the 5th edition was published in 2010 and the 6th edition in 2016. Translations have appeared in Japanese, Chinese, German, Portuguese, and Greek.

In addition, he has written successful textbooks, edited technical books, published more than 500+ technical papers and book chapters. His 1993 edited bookSparks of Innovation in Human-Computer Interaction collects 25 papers from the first 10 years of research at the University of Maryland. In 1999 he co-authored Readings in Information Visualization: Using Vision to Think with Stu Card and Jock Mackinlay, then in 2003 continued in this direction by co-authoring The Craft of Information Visualization: Readings and Reflections with Ben Bederson.

Ben Shneiderman's vision of the future is presented in his 2002 book Leonardo's Laptop: Human Needs and the New Computing Technologies, which won the IEEE 2003 award for Distinguished Literary Contribution. Leonardo's Laptop has been published in Chinese, Korean, and Portuguese editions. The book Analyzing Social Media Networks with NodeXL: Insights from a Connected World written with Derek Hansen and Marc Smith was published in 2010 (2nd edition, 2019). Shneiderman’s advocacy of new agendas and methods for research is in The New ABCs of Research: Achieving Breakthrough Collaborations (Oxford, April 2016) and an accompanying short book Rock the Research: Your Guidebook to Accelerating Campus Discovery and Innovation (2018) describes 34 ways to change campus culture.

Research Themes: Direct Manipulation

Shneiderman developed the guiding principles of “direct manipulation” in 1982 to describe the emerging forms of interactive user interfaces, with the key publication in the May 1983 IEEE Computer “Direct Manipulation: A step beyond programming languages.” The component principles were:

  1. Continuous representations of the objects and actions of interest with meaningful visual metaphors
  2. Physical actions or presses of labeled interface objects (i.e., buttons) instead of complex syntax
  3. Rapid, incremental, reversible actions whose effects on the objects of interest are visible immediately

Direct manipulation built on air-traffic control systems, simulations, video games, and the emerging notions of What-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) editors, all leading to the widely used graphical user interfaces that drove the success of the Apple Macintosh and Microsoft Windows.

The direct manipulation concept led to many other developments, such as the high-precision touchscreen user interfaces that have become so universally used on mobile devices. Shneiderman’s major contribution was the lift-off design, in which activation occurred when users removed their fingers from the screen. His team applied the lift-off design (1988) was used for home controls, scheduling applications, finger-painting programs, and small (3-inch wide) touchscreen keyboards. Users would place their fingers on the screen, producing a cursor that could be moved around the screen, with selection occurring on lift-off. At a time when most touchscreen applications required inch-square buttons, this was an astonishing breakthrough, which one journal reviewer didn’t believe was possible until seeing the video demonstration.

A 3-inch wide touchscreen keyboard

A 3-inch wide touchscreen keyboard. The cursor above the user’s finger
showed the current selection, but activation occurred only on lift-off

Direct manipulation principles also led to the design of the PhotoFinder system for managing, annotating, and searching through photo collections. In addition to actions such as dragging photos, users could drag a name from a list of family and friends onto the photo just below the face of people in the photo. This process was astonishing to early users, earning US Patent 7,010,751, which became the basis for many future tagging systems.

A screenshot of PhotoFinder. A picture of a group of people with their names tagged near them.

Tagging of people in photos was introduced in the PhotoFinder system


communications of the acm Communications of the acm terminal

The direct manipulation concepts led Ben Shneiderman and his students to develop the interface for the hyperlink. Originally called "embedded menus" empirical evaluations appeared in the International Journal of Man-Machine Studies in January 1986 and in the Communications of the ACM in April 1986. These projects led to the commercially successful Hyperties hypermedia system, which was produced by Cognetics Corp., Princeton Junction, NJ. Hyperties was used to produce the world's first electronic journal, the July 1988 issue of the Communications of the ACM. The ACM sold 4000+ copies under the title Hypertext on Hypertext.

Hypertext on Hypertext: World’s first electronic journal for CACM, July 1988

This electronic journal was cited in Tim Berners-Lee's Spring 1989 manifesto http://www.w3.org/History/1989/proposal.html for the web as the source of the "hot spots" or links idea. Berners-Lee even used our recommended light blue colors for links, which our user studies demonstrated had the best balance of visibility without disrupting reading.

Wikipedia entry for the University of Maryland showing light blue highlighted links

Wikipedia entry for the University of Maryland showing light blue highlighted links

Shneiderman's 1989 book, co-authored with Greg Kearsley, Hypertext Hands-On!: An Introduction to the New Way of Organizing and Accessing Information, contains a hypertext version on two disks. According to our cataloguer friends at the Library of Congress, it was their first electronic book.

Hypertext Hands-On! book published in 1989, including two disks for electronic hypertext version

Hypertext Hands-On! book published in 1989, including two disks for electronic hypertext version

Information Visualization

Since 1991 Shneiderman has focused on information visualization, beginning with his dynamic queries and starfield display research that led to the development of Spotfire (Christopher Ahlberg, CEO).

He was a Member of the of the Board of Directors (1996-2001). Spotfire grew to 200 employees and during Summer 2007 was bought by TIBCO.

Spotfire showing 15,000 birth records with red for girls and blue for boys

Spotfire showing 15,000 birth records with red for girls and blue for boys, multiple coordinated windows, range sliders, and details-on-demand window

Dr. Shneiderman developed the treemap concept in 1991 which continues to inspire research and commercial implementations. The University of Maryland's Treemap 4.0, developed in cooperation with Catherine Plaisant, was licensed by the HiveGroup. Dr. Shneiderman was a Technical Advisor for the Hivegroup and a Computer Science Advisor (1999-2002) to Smartmoney whose MarketMap treemap technology for stock market analyses is now used for the FinViz Financial Visualization.

Treemap from early TreeViz program Treemap from early TreeViz program

Treemap from early TreeViz program, and a million node treemap show a large hard drive

He developed an Information Visualization Mantra: “Overview first, zoom and filter, then details-on-demand” for a keynote talk at the 1996 Advanced Visual Interfaces Conference and then a refined version in the keynote at the 1996 IEEE Symposium on Visual Languages. The paper on “The Eyes Have It” has almost 5,000 citations on Google Scholar.

Later information visualization work includes the LifeLines project for exploring a patient history, and its successor project, PatternFinder, which enables search across Electronic Medical Records (EMRs). He introduced the Align-Rank-Filter approach to temporal event data exploration and added group analysis features in LifeLines2.

Interface development for medical professionals was supported under the SHARP project to track lab test results, facilitate medication reconciliation (TwinList), reduce wrong patient errors, etc.

Searching for patterns in numerical time series data was enabled by three versions of TimeSearcher, which was applied for stock market, auction, genomic, weather, and other data. The Hierarchical Clustering Explorer supports discovery of features in multi-dimensional data, especially for gene expression data, using the powerful rank-by-feature framework.

Hierarchical Clustering Explorer

Hierarchical Clustering Explorer showing dendrogram, mosaic plot, scatterplots, parallel coordinates, and detail views

Recent projects focus on network visualization: Network Visualization by Semantic Substrates, SocialAction, and NodeXL. NodeXL attracted more than 600,000 downloads and now has a growing set of academic, government, and commercial customers.

NodeXL display with Edge list and network display

NodeXL display with Edge list and network display, showing polarization of voting in the U.S. Senate

These tools are being applied for citation analysis and social network analysis, especially for the iOpener project, Action Science Explorer (ASE), STICK (Science Technology Innovation Concept Knowledge-base), and ManyNets (explore & visualize many networks at once) projects.

Shneiderman worked on applying social media to national priorities such as the 911.gov article in Science, which led to work on emergency and disaster response: Community Response Grids. Raising awareness of the need for expanded research was accomplished by the April 2009 meeting that led to the iParticipate report and then two U.S. National Science Foundation supported workshops on Technology-Mediated Social Participation.

Recent research projects include EventFlow to explore temporal event sequences, such as electronic health records that contain patient histories, so as to discover patterns of treatments or medications that lead to desired outcomes. EventFlow has powerful tools such as event searching, global search and replace, event merging, hierarchical aggregation, and macro facilities to enable analysts to sharpen their analytic focus.

EventFlow screenshot

EventFlow screenshot showing event categories, overview and detailed timeline

The EventFlow software has a regular distribution to 50+ groups who use it to make actionable insights about their data. For example, collaborators at UM-Baltimore School of Pharmacy used EventFlow to study radiation treatment patterns for prostate cancer and the impact of warfarin medications. A recent user at the Center for Disease Control & Prevention analyzed 6000 giardia patients to improve guidance on treatment plans. Other applications include social media logs, customer histories, cybersecurity, educational analytics, web logs, and sports.

Work on event analytics continued with CoCo to conduct Cohort Comparison between groups of event sequences, such as found in medical clinical trials. CoCo is an exploratory data analysis tool that carries out large numbers of statistical tests, then provides users with a visual interface to explore the tens of thousands of results. A recent success was a project with Adobe that produced insights about customer behavior patterns. A major paper appeared in the ACM Transactions on Intelligent Interactive Systems (May 2016). CoCo has been licensed by a leading software company so as to include the technology in their products.

Prescriptive analytics to guide event sequence recommendation is the focus of EventAction, which builds on the PeerFinder to offer an interactive visual approach to making important life decisions such as medical treatments or educational choices.

Advisory & Editorial Boards, Consulting

He was Member of the Board of Scientific Counselors Meeting - National Library of Medicine Lister Hill Center, the National Academies Committee on Technical and Privacy Dimensions of Information for Terrorism Prevention and Other National Goals, and the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, Networking and Information Technology Technical Advisory Group (TAG). He was on the State of the USA Product Advisory Group and a member of the Web Science Research Initiative Advisory Committee.

Ben Shneiderman has been on the Editorial Advisory Boards of nine journals including the ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction and the ACM Interactions. He edited the Ablex Publishing Co. book series on "Human-Computer Interaction." He has consulted and lectured for many organizations including Apple, AT&T, Citicorp, GE, Honeywell, IBM, Intel, Library of Congress, Microsoft, NASA, NCR, and university research groups. He testified (Representing USACM) on National ID Cards before House Committee on Government Reform, Subcommittee on Government Efficiency, Financial Management and Intergovernmental Relations.

Early Work

Dr. Shneiderman's early work included database research including performance and index optimization. He is also known in software engineering, especially for his widely used innovation of structured flowcharts, commonly known as Nassi-Shneiderman Diagrams. He teaches popular short courses on information visualization and has organized an annual satellite television presentation on User Interface Strategies seen by tens of thousands of professionals from 1987 to 1997.

Photography Projects

An important component of his work has been related to photography, including development of the Photofinder and PhotoMesa tools. His devotion to photography includes a long history of photographing professional events, which has resulted in the 3300 photos at the ACM SIGCHI PhotoHistory and the Univ. of Maryland Dept. of Computer Science PhotoHistory. The March/April 2007 issue of ACM Interactions has an 8-page portfolio of 100+ photos from the 25-year history of ACM CHI conferences.

During his professional career Ben Shneiderman photographed conferences and colleagues. His MyLifePix archive of 12,000 photos is available with descriptions and indexing by name, date, and location. He has selected a set of key personalities who are leading HCI researchers and developers to profile with text and photos with Encounters with HCI Pioneers: A Personal Photo Journal, which was featured in the New York Times (September 7, 2015). The Computer History Museum features Shneiderman’s photos of 22 key personalities in its exhibit “Computer Pioneers: Photos from the Field”.

Ben Shneiderman's devotion to photography is inspired by his uncle David Seymour (1911-1956), a world-famous photojournalist, who founded Magnum Photos. As executor of Seymour’s estate, Shneiderman manages the archives, works with curators to develop exhibits, and maintains a web site with current information on exhibits and publications. Another family connection is the web site about his parents work, tied to the Univ. of Maryland's S.L. and Eileen Shneiderman Collection of Yiddish Books.

Art Project

Ben Shneiderman explored the artistic side of information visualization in his Treemap Art Project, which was titled “Every AlgoRiThm has ART in it”. Four sets of the twelve large images were produced: (1) for the Computer Science Instructional Center at the University of Maryland, (2) in the collection of the National Academies in Washington, DC , (3) at the University of California-Irvine campus, and (4) in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

Mondrian-inspired design as part of the Treemap Art Project

Mondrian-inspired design as part of the Treemap Art Project