Design Pattern: PM(5) Overview and Detail


Within his area of responsibility and authority, the human operator needs to comprehend sets of incoming alarms displayed by alarm displays. He would like to explore the overall alarm information space and getting more detailed information without loosing track of the current position of key alarm data.


The human operator needs to keep a high level overview of the status of the controlled process without loosing context of the most relevant alarm information.


Display simultaneously the different levels of detail, each in a distinct presentation space. Usually the high-level view is at the left of the interface and the secondary levels are on the right. In any case, try to keep both levels visible for quick iteration. The high-level view serves as a selectable index or map. When the operator selects an element in it, details about that element appear on the other side.

Known uses
Fig1. ASM overview and detail. The first level of detail is framed in red and the secondary level of detail is framed in green
Fig2. AggreGate Network Manager is a monitoring tool for power supply systems. A geographical overview of a power grid infrastructure (right side) is displayed simultaneously with an alarm list (left side)

Overview and detail has been characterized as a highly effective method to deal with complexity. (Card, S. K., Mackinlay, J. D., & Shneiderman, B. (1999). Readings in information visualization: Using vision to think Morgan Kaufmann Pub.)