Basser Seminar Series

The "Physics" of Notations: Towards a Scientific Basis for Constructing Visual Notations in Software Engineering

Speaker: Dr Daniel Moody
Senior Consultant, Ajilon Australia

Time: Friday 28 May 2010, 4:00-5:00pm
Refreshments will be available from 3:30pm

Location: The University of Sydney, School of IT Building, Lecture Theatre (Room 123), Level 1

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Visual notations form an integral part of the language of software engineering (SE). Yet historically, SE researchers and notation designers have ignored or undervalued issues of visual representation.

In evaluating and comparing notations, details of visual syntax are rarely discussed. In designing notations, the majority of effort is spent on semantics, with design of graphical conventions often an afterthought. Typically no design rationale, scientific or otherwise, is provided for visual representation choices. While SE has developed mature methods for evaluating and designing semantics, it lacks equivalent methods for visual syntax. This presentation defines a set of principles for designing cognitively effective visual notations: ones that are optimised for human communication and problem solving. Together these form a design theory, called the Physics of Notations as it focuses on the physical (perceptual) properties of notations rather than their logical (semantic) properties. The principles were synthesised from theory and empirical evidence from a wide range of fields and rest on an explicit theory of how visual notations communicate. They can be used to evaluate, compare, and improve existing visual notations as well as to construct new ones. The presentation identifies serious design flaws in some of the leading SE notations together with practical suggestions for improving them. It also showcases some examples of visual notation design excellence from SE and other fields.

The presentation is based on a paper published as the feature article (Spotlight Paper) in the November-December 2009 issue of IEEE Transactions on Software Engineering:

Moody, D.L. (2009): The "Physics" of Notations: Towards a Scientific Basis for Constructing Visual Notations in Software Engineering. IEEE Transactions on Software Engineering, 35(5): p. 756-777.

Speaker's biography

Daniel Moody is a Senior Consultant with Ajilon Australia in their Sydney Strategy & Architecture consulting practice. He holds a PhD in Information Systems from the University of Melbourne, but his experience spans both research and practice. He has held senior IT positions in some of Australia’s largest private companies and has worked for some of the world’s leading IT consultancy firms. He has conducted consulting assignments in 12 different countries across a wide range of industries, including banking, airlines, law enforcement, television broadcasting, pharmaceuticals, telecommunications, manufacturing, healthcare, education, utilities, transport and forestry. He has also held academic positions at universities in Australia, Norway, Spain, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Iceland, Netherlands, and Brazil. He has published over 100 scientific papers and chaired several international conferences. He is the current President of the Australian Data Management Association (DAMA) and is listed in Who's Who in Science and Engineering. He speaks fluent English and can say "hello", "thank you" and "cheers" in at least 10 different languages.