Robertson, George

Robertson at CHI 1991
Jock Mackinlay, George Robertson, and Stu Card (left to right) at the ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in New Orleans, LA, April 28 – June 5, 1991.

George Robertson is one of the founders of Information Visualization, a field in which users perceive patterns in visual presentations of complex information. He developed several Information Visualization techniques that have become widely-used in the field. Before retiring in 2011, Robertson had been a faculty member in Carnegie Mellon University’s Computer Science Department and worked with Thinking Machines, Xerox PARC, Microsoft Research, and Bolt Beranek and Newman.

Robertson’s work contributed to a wide variety of areas in computer science, including hospital information systems, operating systems, and programming languages. In collaboration with Allen Newell and Don McCracken, Robertson designed the L* programming language, which was interactive, rather than compiler-based. He also designed one of the earliest hypertext systems, called ZOG, in 1972. It was a rapid-response, large-network menu selection system that greatly improved man-machine communication. He was the principal investigator on an ARPA contract investigating system architectures for archival memory, including the design of two file systems. He designed the Accent operating system (predecessor to the GNU Mach) with Rick Rashid and built the first microkernel-based operating system.

Robertson holds three patents on the design of the second generation Connection Machine. He was one of the designers of Diamond, the world’s first multimedia message system, and also did research on distributed systems. He developed a number of visualization and 3-D user interface systems at Xerox PARC and Microsoft Research.

Robertson at INTERCHI 1993
Jim Foley, John Stasko, Piyawadee Sukaviriya, and George Robertson at the International ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in Amsterdam, Netherlands, April 24-29, 1993.

Robertson did pioneering work on animated 3D user interfaces for intelligent information access and was the architect of the Information Visualizer. He invented novel 3-D interaction techniques and a number of visualization techniques, including Cone Trees, the Perspective Wall, the Spiral Visualization, the Document Lens, the WebBook, and the Web Forager.

He served on the Advisory Board of the Department of Homeland Security National Visualization and Analytics Center from 2004 to 2011. He has also served on program committees for a number of conferences. He was Conference Chair of IEEE Information Visualization 2004 and Symposium Chair of ACM User Interface Software and Technology 1997. He served as associate editor for ACM Transactions on Information Systems from 2004 to 2009. He currently serves as associate editor for Information Visualization, an international journal published by Palgrave/Macmillan.

He holds 103 patents on information technology. In 2002, he was elected an ACM Fellow. He was elected to the CHI Academy in 2006 and received the ACM SIGCHI Lifetime Research Achievement Award in 2013.

“George Robertson’s superb design and implementation skills for 3D environments helped create pioneering interactive experiences that were eye-catching and influential. I always respected his contributions, although I sometimes had lively discussions with George when I questioned if 3D was the right approach.  His work remains highly-referenced, and he remains a great colleague.” – Ben Shneiderman


  • Ph.D. equivalent (via CS faculty appointment), Carnegie Mellon University (1977)
  • M.S. in Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University (1978)
  • B.A. in Mathematics, Vanderbilt University (1969)


  • Principal Researcher (2006 – 2011), Partner (2000 – 2011), Senior Researcher (1996 – 2006), Manager of User Interface Research (1996 – 1999), Microsoft Research
  • Principal Scientist, Xerox PARC (1988 – 1996)
  • Senior Scientist, Thinking Machines Corporation (1984 – 1988)
  • Senior Scientist, Bolt Beranek and Newman (1982 – 1984)
  • Research Computer Scientist (1979 – 1982), Research Associate (1977 – 1979), Carnegie Mellon University Computer Science Department
  • Senior Research Programmer (1975 – 1977), Research Programmer (1970 – 1975), Trainee (1969 – 1970), National Science Foundation
  • Systems Programmer, Vanderbilt University Computer Center (1966 – 1969)
  • Programmer, University of Tennessee Biomedical Computer Center (1965 – 1966)
  • Lab Technician, University of Tennessee Biochemistry Department (1964)



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