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Professor Robert Spence

Imperial College, London

I certainly appreciate the honour that has been assigned to me.

Bob Spence is Professor Emeritus of Information Engineering and a Senior Research Investigator at Imperial College London. An unusual schoolboy hobby of constructing telephone exchanges was followed by a PhD from Imperial College which, in his words, "was fun, but had little influence on the Earth’s movement around the Sun".

After research in the USA he returned to Imperial College in 1962, initially concerned with circuit design and manufacture. But during the 1960s he saw the potential that the newly emerging interactive computer graphics could have for engineering design, and began research into its application to electronic circuit design. That research and development culminated in 1985 when Bob became the founding chairman of a company successfully marketing the first interactive-graphic tool for circuit design.

As a result of this work he was a pioneer in the field of Human-computer Interaction and, in that context, was the co-inventor of the fisheye lens, a new notation for interactive systems, a tool for circuit design exploiting optimization algorithms, and techniques for Rapid Serial Visual Presentation. He is said to have pioneered the notion of ‘envisionment videos’ that disseminate ideas for which technology is not yet available. As he remarked in that context, “If you can’t make it, fake it”. In the last couple of years he designed a novel interface for a hand-held device supporting the self-management of Type-1 diabetes.

His undergraduate teaching, which he enjoys, has resulted in twelve books, and he regularly presents workshops on Design for Information Visualization in Italy, Portugal, The Netherlands and elsewhere.

Bob’s research has led to the award of three higher doctorates: in Circuit Theory (University of London, 1984), Interaction Design (Royal College of Art, 1995) and Interactive Visual Artefacts (Imperial College, 2018). He was elected to Fellowship of the Royal Academy of Engineering in 1991.