Despite extensive research on visual query systems, the standard way to interact with relational databases remains to be through SQL queries and tailored form interfaces. This makes the power of relational databases largely inaccessible to non-programmers.
In this talk, I will present my PhD project, a graphical user interface that lets users construct arbitrary database queries using spreadsheet-like interactions. The system is the first to satisfy a number of requirements from the past literature: (1) query specification through direct manipulation of results, (2) the ability to view and modify any part of the current query without departing from the direct manipulation interface, and (3) SQL-like expressiveness. By directly manipulating data displayed in a nested tabular visualization, and using spreadsheet idioms such as formulas and filters, the user can express arbitrary SQL-92 queries while always remaining able to track and modify the state of the complete query.
The system was evaluated with three user studies on a total of 55 users. A controlled study showed our query interface significantly outperforming Microsoft Access 2016 on the System Usability Scale. The prototype software gives the user an experience of responsive, incremental query building while pushing all actual query processing to the database layer.
Portions of this work have previously been published at CHI 2011, InfoVis 2013, and, recently, SIGMOD 2016.
Thesis Supervisor: Prof. David R. Karger