– Are there any people in the organization that I would benefit from getting to know?

– I need a piece of advice, but the person I would normally call on this topic is away for the rest of the week. Whom should I contact?

These are typical questions for knowledge workers in large organizations, and they are mostly handled by informal networks and word-of-mouth information. There is nothing wrong with this, but the quality and satisfaction of everyday work could be improved by providing information about unknown, but relevant and interesting, colleagues.

Image: Initial overview
Pinpoint is a visualization demonstrator addressing this challenge. The basic idea is that it presents the user (here: Jennifer Zimmerman) in the middle, surrounded by the people who are closest to her in terms of work contents and professional interests. Jennifer probably knows some of the people appearing around her, whereas others are new acquaintances.

Image: Person closeup
Jennifer explores people around her with the mouse, showing contact information, interests and communication patterns. Note that these are the sixty people in the organization closest to Jennifer, selected from many hundred people in the whole organization.

Image: New person center
When Jennifer centers a new person (Lasse Ivarsson), the visualization changes to show the people most closely related to him. The text tags represent concepts chosen by Lasse (top row) and concepts generated by the system (bottom row) to characterize his work contents and professional interests.

Image: Tag filter
Text tags serve as filters on the visualization. Here, Jennifer used the tag Project Management to show people around Lasse interested in – project management. Some people disappear from the floor and others appear. Next, she clicked the tag Process Improvements to highlight people tagged with both Project Management and Process Improvements.

Image: Search
There is also a text field for searching among all people in the system. Again, results are presented based on how close they are to Lasse in terms of work contents and professional interests.

Feel free to try out the demonstrator. Unfortunately, it runs quite slowly on some computers. If you find it to be too slow, there is also a short movie of the demonstrator in action.

What do users think?

The demonstrator was tested in four sessions with intended users, each of whom were asked to construct two task based on their current work situation. One of the tasks should be to identify a short list of previously unknown people whom the participant would want to contact. The other task entailed identifying a current work-related dilemma and use the demonstrator to find a person to ask for advice.

The test version of the demonstrator was seeded with information about some people that the test participants knew, to make the experience of using the demonstrator more relevant.

To summarize, all participants wanted the real system and claimed that they would use it if it was deployed. However, we found that the conceptual model of the visualization was unfamiliar and there were a couple of misleading design decisions, including the graphic appearing on the floor after filtering or searching, which gave the false impression that a person's exact position on the floor, rather than merely the distance from the center, carries meaning. Another source of misunderstandings was the presentation of user and system tags in two orderly lines, suggesting a hierarchical structure, rather than as a conventional tag cloud.

A test report in Swedish is available, detailing the procedure and findings of the user tests.

Academic publication

The work is published in:
Forsén, G., Lundin, T., Löwgren, J. (2010). Pinpoint: A design study in interactive visualization for finding people in a large organization. Information Visualization, 9:141–151. Online access. The article was selected as the cover story of the journal issue.


Concept design and demonstrator development by Gunnar Forsén and Thomas Lundin of IKEA IT AB, together with Jonas Löwgren of Malmö University.

Creative input and criticism by Tord Espersson, Anna Gamalielsson, Tobias Larnemark, Åsa Lundquist, Eva Persson and Niklas Wendel of IKEA IT AB.

Administrative and creative project management by Jonas Löwgren.

Löwgren's work was funded by the Knowledge Foundation.