Spreadsheets as User Interfaces

A. Dix1,2, R. Cowgill3, C. Bashford4, S. McVeigh5 and R. Ridgewell6

1 School of Computer Science, Universty of Birmingham, UK
2 Talis, Birmingham, UK
3 University of Huddersfield, UK
4 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA
5 Goldsmiths, University of London, UK
6 British Library, UK

Paper presented at AVI2016, International Conference Advanced Visual Interfaces, Bari, Italy, 7-10 June 2016.

Download final draft (PDF, 936K)
Formal copy at ACM: do:10.1145/2909132.2909271


Spreadsheets are ubiquitous, familiar, often overlooked, and embody vast financial and human investment, not least in their user interface. This paper shows how spreadsheets can be used as an integral part of interactive processes, for activities from simple data entry, to more complex grouping and linking of datasets, both as fully functional prototypes and as part of a final system.  They reveal artful digital and physical end-user appropriation; exemplify key design principles including 'appropriate intelligence', ensuring 'smart' technology fits the complete human–computer process; and expose further design issues such as the importance of 'exception' sets.

Keywords: Spreadsheets; appropriation; musicology; digital humanities.


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Figure 1. Printed spreadsheet for working
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Additional Images


Close up of paper annotations
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Complex fields in spreadsheet
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Spreadshet for authority file matching
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Links shown with provenance
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Alan Dix 9/4/2016