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Finance 3D
by Juan C. Dürsteler [message nº 78]

In this issue we review some advanced financial visualisation systems that can enlighten us about the future of this speciality.

We already saw that finance, the traditional home of spreadsheets, has begun to become full of ways of visualisation that exceed the typical pie or bar chart, like, for example Treemaps. But the work on novel experimental systems that go far beyond that is still going on, although without a widespread implantation. 

Lisa Strausfeld, Harvard graduated architect turned information designer after working at MIT Media Lab between 1993 and 1995 is the person behind Financial Viewpoints, a 3D representation of 7 mutual funds. In this representation each fund is laid out on a plane, parallel to those of the other funds. 

There are seven information categories, that lay on planes perpendicular to the former ones, in a way that allows you to see the value of each category for any fund. Moreover you can look at the evolution of the last 10 years. In fact it is certainly an interactive 3D spreadsheet. It’s worth seeing the 1995 artícle where this system was presented.

Financial ViewPoints, by Lisa Strausfeld.
(Click on the image to enlarge it))

What makes Strausfeld’s work so interesting is the elegance and clarity of the representation. The underlying idea is that you can move freely in a 3D space where you are floating, surrounded by information that you can look up. You can move freely within the space looking up the details. 

Financial Viewpoints uses conventional elements, like bar charts and photos of the managers combined with techniques of 3D spatial design along with dynamic objects, transparency and other computer graphics techniques in order to achieve the experience of being immersed in information.

Financial Viewpoints saw the light in 1995 and stands there as a visualisation experiment, whose base continues to be present in Lisa Strausfeld’s work, now principal of Information Arts.

Another much more recent work of an extremely creative nature is the so calledRoots”, designed and programmed by the New York company UnifiedField for the Goldman Sachs Training Center

According to Cesar Martin, the art director of the project, the goal was to obtain a representation of the stock exchange that would serve as an inspiration and motivation for the people attending the training center. 

roots high_5x7_1.gif (81874 bytes) roots high_5x7_2.gif (49983 bytes)
Roots: In this view you can appreciate the grid that serves as reference. The spheres represent sectors and cones are subsectors. Notice the labelling on the bases of the cones. 
Courtesy de UnifiedField.
(Click on the image to enlarge it)
Roots: A view at the reference grid level allows us to see the Z axis scale, that represents volatility.

Courtesy de UnifiedField.
(Click on the image to enlarge it)

Roots summarises 30 years of the U.S. market stock exchange quotation in an imaginative and elegant representation made up of a set of spheres and cones floating in space.

Each sphere represents one sector (capital, energy, services, raw materials…). The size of the sphere is proportional to the volume of exchange.

Within the spheres lie several cones that represent the particular sub sectors or industries (gas, electricity, oil, for example, are included in the sphere of energy) properly labelled in the cone. 

At the base of the representation lies a grid on the XY plane that serves as reference. The Z axis represents volatility, so the spheres move up and down, some of them quickly, others slowly according to their volatility index.

Roots is not a tool, just a representation, where you don’t get to see the values of particular stocks. Nevertheless it lets you get an intuitive idea of the evolution of the stock exchange on a per sector and per industry basis, in these last 30 years.

For those who have an acceptable speed connection, you can take a look at some interesting videos about Roots (Real Player required)

The future of financial visualisation is already being forged in some advanced circles. Nevertheless we will have to wait for some time until it solidifies in daily use products before we see it in our offices.

We are grateful to Cesar Martin for his help in writing this article and in providing the illustrations.

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