Developing ideas for visualisation

Developing ideas into something usable can be tricky. Today I created a short page to share an idea I had last year; Cortana Explorer – a UI concept that could help to display complex relational information in a simple to view format. The idea occurred to me as I worked on a few diagrams that explored the functionality of various components of Azure. These diagrams started looking like this:

Developing Ideas - Azure IaaS Storage options
Azure IaaS Storage options

As I developed the idea, I thought it would be better if the framework could be explained, so I developed some different views of how it might look when completed with different information, and then I animated those views.

Developing Ideas - Azure Solutions Explorer concept art
Azure Solutions Explorer concept art

This led me to realise this would be even better if the data was automatically selected, from a data base or search query, and entered into the model for automatic visualisation. Due to the circular design, and some recent interaction with Cortana, I made the whole thing appear to be a Cortana button that could expand with various search terms and additional layers of information presented that the view may not have realised were relevant to their original search query – which leads them to follow the information in different paths. All the while allowing the information to be dynamically added and visually represented in the most appropriate way.

The example I used was a simple search term: Dinosaurs

Developing Ideas - Cortana integration for solution exploring
Cortana integration for solution exploring
Developing Ideas - Cortana Explorer showing a T-Rex
Cortana Explorer showing a T-Rex

This is a pipe dream as I have no skills or experience in turning something like this into an actual application, but the thought is there and I would love for someone to discover it and help it along the journey.

What I thought  I would share here is a bit more details about the methods I used to actually create the visualisations, using only Microsoft Office tools:


  1. Plumbago

    This is a recent addition to my toolset for the initial sketches created when developing ideas: its a free product, created Microsoft Research as a garage project, that allows for easy sketching using a touchscreen and digitized pen (like on a Surface Pro, or Surface Book – and many others). The output is designed to be more like using actual paper, and there are settings to control the amount of smoothing done to make your handwriting and sketches more legible. Another feature is the ability to storyboard – each page takes a full screen, and there are 25 pages in board. I’m a big fan of OneNote too, but this works differently, so I use both.

  2. Visio

    My tool of choice for most of my creative work, more will be shared on this site over the coming weeks and months.

  3. PowerPoint

    This is a powerful story telling tool that has been misused by many business professionals in the past – “Death by PowerPoint” and “Bullet points from hell” to name a few thoughts that occur when someone wants to show you their work. There are some great resources available to find smarter designs and ideas on how to present your ideas using this tool. The latest version even has built in capabilities to help recommend layout options for you images and text. Don’t worry about how many pages you use, just consider your audience and how they will consume the information. PowerPoint isn’t only useful for a projector screen in a meeting – it also makes for a great alternative to Word documents, especially if you want to include more visual elements (like I do), and if your audience will most likely read the content on their own screen, which will be in landscape mode (word documents are usually in portrait orientation) – landscape allows for more screenspace to be dedicated to a whole page view. You can save the output as an animated slide deck, and PDF document, or even as a video file (mp4 and wmv).

  4. Snipping Tool

    This is a screen capture tool that comes with Windows and is very easy to use. You can find it by hitting the Windows key then typing Snip. One of it’s great features is the ability to set a delay timer to allow you to open menus before it freezes the screen. More information on how to use it can be found here.

  5. MS Paint

    Still one of the greatest tools for quick cropping and minor touch ups of any images before pasting them into PowerPoint, or blog posts 🙂

I hope this helps you develop some of your own ideas. Let me know if you have any questions about my techniques, or the idea itself.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.