Catherine Plaisant


Other pictures


Contact information


Tel: +1 (301) 405-2768

Surface mail address: 2117C Hornbake South Wing, 4130 Campus Dr. University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742, U.S.A.

Coming to visit? see directions to HCIL


See Resume
or you can also look for early online versions of the papers by searching for “plaisant” in the HCIL Tech Report database


book cover showing people using computers and mobile devices

6th Edition (2016)
Publisher website

and our website

Book cover

Inspired EHRs: Designing for Clinicians (2014)
by Belden, Patel, Lowrance, Plaisant et al.

Journal Special Issues

State of the Field and New Research Directions, Information Visualization, 10(4), 2011. Guest Editors: Catherine Plaisant, Andreas Kerren, Stasko

Evaluation of Visual Analytics, IEEE Computer Graphics and Applications (May/June 2009).
Guest Editors: Catherine Plaisant, Jean Scholtz and Georges Grinstein

Special Issue in Honor of Ben Shneiderman’s 60th Birthday: Reflections on Human-Computer Interaction,
International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction, 23, 3 (2007),
Guest Editors: Catherine Plaisant, Chris North


Editor of the HCIL Video Report Series (1991-2006).

Some (including the 2000 retrospective) are also available in the Open Video Project (a pioneer of video digital libraries).

Later videos are included in the project pages.

Catherine Plaisant is a Senior Research Scientist at the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies and Associate Director of Research of the Human-Computer Interaction Lab. Catherine Plaisant earned a Doctorat d’Ingenieur degree in France (similar to a Industrial Engineering PhD). In 1988 she joined Professor Ben Shneiderman at the Human-Computer Interaction Laboratory where she now enjoys working with multidisciplinary teams on designing and evaluating new interface technologies that are useful and usable. She was elected to the SIGCHI Academy in 2015.

Catherine Plaisant has over 140 published papers, on subjects as diverse as information visualization, medical informatics, universal access, digital humanities, technology for families, and evaluation methodologies. With Ben Shneiderman she co-authored the 4th, 5th and 6th Editions of Designing the User Interface, one of the major books on Human-Computer Interaction.Research contributions range from focused user interaction techniques (e.g. Excentric Labeling) to innovative visualizations (such as LifeLines or EventFlow for the analysis of temporal records or SpaceTree for hierarchical data exploration) and interactive search interface techniques such as Query Previews. Those interaction techniques have been carefully validated with user studies and are finding applications in industry, government information systems and digital libraries.

Need (a lot) more? Resume

Selected projects (starting with most recent ones)

CATT lab projects: I now participate in the Center for Advanced Transportation Technology (CATT lab) design activities. See the CATT lab portfolio.

CoCo (short for COhort COmparison) helps analysts compare the event sequences found in 2 groups of records e.g. patients.

EventFlow: for exploration of temporal patterns in sequences of events. Builds on LifeLines2 and Lifeflow, but now with interval data and enhanced search and simplification capabilities. [Video by Megan Monroe]

SHARP-C: Novel user interfaces for clinicians: Novel user interfaces for clinicians. We are looking at the problems of medication reconciliation, missed labs and wrong patient selection. Our Maryland project is part of the National Center for Cognitive Informatics and Decision Making in Healthcare (NCCD) led by The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. E.g. VIDEO of Twinlist for medication reconciliation

Treeversity: Visualizing Changes Over Time Using Dynamic Hierarchies. Users can analyze relative and absolute change over one variable in each node, as well as created and removed nodes. They cab also compare non-inherently hierarchichal datasets, by grouping them by attributes.

Community Analysis and Visualization for “Nation of Neighbors”: looking at social network analysis

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LifeFlow: for summarizing temporal sequences of events. Applications to Electronic health records, transportation incidents, web logs etc.

LifeLines2, Patternfinder (and now Patternfinder in Azyxxi): Interfaces for searching temporal categorical data, visually explore results and look for potential cause and effect. Our focus is on Electronic Health Records. [Video by David Wang]

FeatureLens: we worked with literary scholars to develop a tool for exploring patterns of repetitions in text collections. This is part of the larger MONK project.

Visual Analytics Evaluation : The NSF SEMVAST project seeks to develop benchmarks datasets and metrics for evaluation. To encourage researchers to work on realistic problems and test the tools they develop, I co-chair the VAST 2010 Challenge, which follows the 2009 Challenge, 2008 Challenge, and the 2007 and 2006 contests, all organized in conjunction with the IEEE Visual Analytics symposium .

VAST challenge

MONK is a large multi-institution project whose goal is to design and develop a digital environment helping humanities scholars discover and analyze patterns in the large collections of texts they study, using data mining and visualization. It continues the the NORA project. See JCDL paper nominated for Best Paper award (or the related HCIL project highlight ) or the FeatureLens and BasketLens projects

TreePlus, for browsing graphs using a tree layout, with an emphasis on readability. It was used to display social networks and food webs. [Video]

NetLens for iterative querying of bipartite graphs such of bibliographic data or email collections. [Video]

TimeSearcher for exploration of time series.

Information Visualization Benchmarks Repository and the InfoVis CONTESTS we ran in 2003 and 2004.


Integration of Data and Interfaces to Enhance Human Understanding of Government Statistics: A collaborative project with University of North Carolina. Our motto: “Find what you need, understand what you found”. We worked on diverse topics but my main focus was on new methods for helping novice users get started with complex interfaces, dealing with missing data, and improving accessibility to blind users (see the project below)

GOVSTAT project: Finding what you need, understanding what you found

iSonic: making georeferenced data accessible to users with visual impairments [Video by Haixia Zhao]
Highly coordinated table view and map view of Maryland counties

Interliving: New Technology for Families: In particular we developed and evaluated to share calendar information between intergenerational family members, using digital pen technology.

Photo of two grandparents using a computer

Treemap 4: New development in hierarchical information visualization with Treemap


SpaceTreea scalable and searchable hierarchical information browser. VIDEO

A story telling robot for children in rehabilitation.storytellingrobot

PhotoFinder: Personal Photo Libraries

Excentric Labeling for Information Visualization

User interfaces for highway traffic managementIn collaboration with the Center for Advanced Transportation Technology.

Dynamic Queries and Query Preview Interfaces: Looked at how to avoid zero-hit queries with dynamic previews of the data available. In collaboration with NASA EOSDIS. Later on some of those ideas were applied in the user interfaces of the Global Land Cover Facility, and influenced the development of faceted search now common in many interfaces.


Learning Histories for Simulation-based engineering education environments

LifeLines for Visualizing Medical Patient Records (and other personal histories) [VIDEO]


User Interfaces for the Library of Congress National Digital Library: How to “bring treasures to the surface” in the design of Digital Libraries.

See also WebTOC: a Tool to Visualize and Quantify Web Sites using a Hierarchical Table of Contents


User Interfaces for the Visible Human Project

(1992-93) Cancer Atlas: Dynamic Queries on a choropleth map [6:43 on the video]

High precision touchscreens, Information Kiosks, Home Automation (Summary) e.g. [Video] of the Scheduler

Touchscreen ON/OFF switches (see HCIL touchscreen research summary) [VIDEO]

Hypertext research (my first project at HCIL in 1987!)


Role Management as a guiding concept for the next generation of user interfaces (Summary)

User interfaces for Youth Services Information Systems

Network Management (Summary)


(coming soon) May 26th, 2016: As part of the HCIL Symposium we are organizing a workshop on Temporal Event Sequence Analysis + EventFlow and CoCo user group meeting. Join us on May 26!

Feb 2016:
Early work on touchscreen heavily cited in legal documents leading to invalidation of Apple “Slide to unlock” patent (see Ars Technica story)

Spring 2016:
the 6th edition of Designing the User Interface should be in  bookstores near you in April/May 2016.

Fall 2015:
Happy to be included in Ben Shneiderman’s “Encounters with HCI pioneers: a personal photo journal”.

: Story on our Twinlist prototype for medication reconciliation appears in User Experience, the Magazine of the User Experience Professionals Association.


12/2014: I was elected to the SIGCHI Academy, an ACM award. Thank you to all students and colleagues who made it possible, in particular Ben Shneiderman, my close partner for 28+ years.

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