Computer graphics: misunderstood and underutilized. (editorial) David H. Ahl.
Although personal computers are now found on the desktops of more than 10% of the managers in the nation, fewer than 2% claim to use the machine routinely to do any kind of graphics work. Why so few?
Although there are no exhaustive surveys, I suspect there are two major causes. The first is technophobia, the fear of technology, indeed the same fear that prevents the computer from getting to the desktops of many executives at all. However, in this case, users are put off by the seemingly complicated hardware interfacing (to a plotter, light pen, or graphics tablet), the lack of software compatibility (EnerGraphics looks nice, but can I use it with Microplan?), and the concern that learning time might be excessive.
The other cause of not using graphics I believe can be summed up by the statement, "I'm not artistic." Case in point: a sales manager labored hard and long massaging extensive survey data with a spreadsheet and preparing an excellent narrative on a word processor. It was a masterpiece of a sales presentation. One of his competitors had little hard data and very few persuasive words, yet his company kept landing the sales. Why? Because the second presentation had excellent charts and graphs, the meanings of which were quickly grasped and remembered by harried buyers.
I spoke to the first sales manager and asked him why he didn't use graphics in his presentation. "Our art department is too busy and I had to get this out," he said.
"Why not do it on your computer?" I persisted, noting the office had many IBM PCs and Apples around. "Oh, I couldn't do a very good job on charts. I can't even draw a straight line."
But that's exactly the point: with most computer graphics packages you don't have to be able to draw a straight line. Moreover, in contrast to someone in the art department who may spend hours laboring over a single chart, you can re-do things dozens of times in a reasonable amount of time until you get a professional looking chart. Chances are, that you won't have to, since most of the current generation of programs do scaling and fitting automatically. (In case you missed it, we reviewed 23 business graphics packages in the July '84 issue. Had the sales manager mentioned above read this section, he would have found no fewer than, ten packages with which he could easily make bar, line, and pie charts.)
However, I would like to take one step beyond traditional business graphics--mostly charting, statistical, and "slide show" packages--and suggest that business managers should start to become familiar with the next generation of desktop computer graphics. I don't expect to see any great surprises in the graphics techniques themselves--most are currently in use on specialized or large scale machines--however, increasingly they will be available on desktop machines. Like the two sales managers above, the person who is willing to use these new forms of computer graphics will have a major competitive advantage. On The Horizon
Let's look at a few of the coming types of computer graphics starting with what has just been announced and pushing on out into the future.
Interactive Plotting. In a spread-sheet, you can change a single assumption and watch its effects as the sheet is recalculated. Integrated spreadsheets such as Lotus 1-2-3 let you see a graph almost immediately. However, new windowing packages let you change a spreadsheet number in a small window and watch the effects on the graph. Imagine that at your next planning session!
Cartography. Using computers for the production of maps is nothing new; however, overlaying a second or third variable on the map makes it much easier to understand the inter-relationship between geographic location and, say, natural resources, population density, or market potential.
Computer Aided Design (CAD). In CAD, interactive graphics are used to design components and systems of mechanical, electrical, and electronic devices. While sometimes the emphasis is on producing accurate drawings for the construction of the system or subassembly, increasingly the emphasis is on interacting with a computer-based model of the system in order to test its properties or behavior under various circumstances.
Simulation and Animation. As in interactive CAD, you can study models of existing and proposed systems pictorially. Although simulations are generally thought of in conjunction with scientific and engineering processes (hydraulic flow, stresses on an auto suspension, chemical reactions, spacecraft maneuvers), they are also being used in other areas such as population migration, brand loyaltly and shifting behavior, and value analysis of complex systems.
Graphics Communications. Frequently, two or more people not located at the same site must confer about graphics images. At least one system has been announced that allows the same image to be manipulated simultaneously by people at two sites. In the near future, this will be possible with animated images as well.
Easy Art. Anyone who has a Macintosh or knows someone who does has seen the ease with which elaborate type fonts, borders, and little pictures can be done. Indeed, it is a rare Mac owner who hasn't overdone it in the first few weeks--some haven't stopped yet--because it is so easy. For a change, the computer is on your side. Increasingly, these capabilities will be available on other machines. More important, however, is the fact that these capabilities will be integrated with other packages and users will learn (one hopes!) to apply them in appropriate ways. Office posters will be the first thing to take on a new look, but this will be followed soon by memos, letters, and all forms of business and personal communication.
So if you have been resisting--deliberately or unwittingly--using computer graphics, resist no longer. The old saying has it that a picture is worth 1000 words; the same can be said for a computer graphic. But what about an animated 3-D graphic? Surely worth 10,000 words, a closed sale, and a promotion.