Information Design Watch

March 14, 2012, 1:29 pm

Eulogy for a Dinosaur

By Henry Woodbury

The venerable Encyclopedia Britannica has ceased print publication:

In an acknowledgment of the realities of the digital age — and of competition from the Web site Wikipedia — Encyclopaedia Britannica will focus primarily on its online encyclopedias and educational curriculum for schools. The last print version is the 32-volume 2010 edition, which weighs 129 pounds and includes new entries on global warming and the Human Genome Project.

Given the well-known collaborative editing model of Wikipedia, Gary Marchionini, the dean of the School of Information and Library Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, makes an interesting claim about not only the competitive difference, but about the nature of knowledge itself:

The thing that you get from an encyclopedia is one of the best scholars in the world writing a description of that phenomenon or that object, but you’re still getting just one point of view. Anything worth discussing in life is worth getting more than one point of view.

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Comments (4) | Filed under: Business, Scholarly Publishing, Technology

March 7, 2012, 3:42 pm

The Scientists Sketch

By Henry Woodbury

Data visualization consultant Lee De Cola has assembled a neat cross section of sketches by famous scientists. Here, for example, is a literal back-of-the-envelope sketch by Henri Poincaré:

Henri Poincaré's back-of-the-envelope calculations

Sadly, many of the images are small, or culled of context. Consider them a teaser. Galileo’s sketch of Saturn is a minor doodle compared to the visual storytelling found in this page from his notebook on Jupiter:

Moons of Jupiter, from Galileo's Notebook

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Comments (2) | Filed under: Art, Charts and Graphs, Diagrams, Illustration, Information Design, Maps, Scholarly Publishing, Visual Explanation

February 20, 2012, 2:18 pm

Logo Evolution, the Forecast

By Henry Woodbury

A few years ago we posted  a history of technology company logos. Now, Stocklogos has taken a similar set of logos and created a future version of each. For fun. Here’s an example:

IBM Logo Trend

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Comments (3) | Filed under: Branding, Design

February 14, 2012, 9:47 am

Big Data in the House

By Henry Woodbury

The New York Times Sunday Review highlights Big Data. Big Data is that rapidly backfilling reservoir of web analytics and real-world sensor data. It is also a million rivulets of meandering incident, logged at its portages and tracked by its jetsam. The projected revolution starts with the ability to find meaning from it all:

Most of the Big Data surge is data in the wild — unruly stuff like words, images and video on the Web and those streams of sensor data. It is called unstructured data and is not typically grist for traditional databases.

But the computer tools for gleaning knowledge and insights from the Internet era’s vast trove of unstructured data are fast gaining ground. At the forefront are the rapidly advancing techniques of artificial intelligence like natural-language processing, pattern recognition and machine learning.

Unfortunately, the examples in the article are not inspiring. There is a difference between real scientific discovery and arbitrage opportunities and other than engineering-driven examples such as Google’s robot-driven cars, most of the focus is on arbitrage opportunities.

Case in point is the invocation of Moneyball. I am a big fan of baseball sabermetrics, and, among those paying attention, the work of Bill James and other analysts has revolutionized the way people evaluate baseball players. But this is work on the margins. It doesn’t trump the expression of true talent that anyone can spot, and it doesn’t void the enormous impact of chance. Hubris may be more dangerous than confusion:

Big Data has its perils, to be sure. With huge data sets and fine-grained measurement, statisticians and computer scientists note, there is increased risk of “false discoveries.” The trouble with seeking a meaningful needle in massive haystacks of data, says Trevor Hastie, a statistics professor at Stanford, is that “many bits of straw look like needles.”

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Comments (2) | Filed under: Sports, Technology

February 7, 2012, 10:11 am

The Tube as Watershed

By Henry Woodbury

Cartographer Daniel Huffman has taken Harry Beck’s map of the London Underground and applied it to river systems. The results are beautiful and illuminating:

Mississippi River Watershed

Huffman explains:

I wanted to create a series of maps that gives people a new way to look at rivers: a much more modern, urban type of portrayal. So I turned to the style of urban transit maps pioneered by Harry Beck in the 1930s for the London Underground. Straight lines, 45º angles, simple geometry. The result is more of an abstract network representation than you would find on most maps, but it’s also a lot more fun. The geography is intentionally distorted to clarify relationships. I think it helps translate the sort of visual language of nature into a more engineered one, putting the organic in more constructed terms. Not every line depicted is navigable, but all are important to the hydrological systems shown.

Part of a continuing series:

(Via Greg Pliska, LearnedLeague.)

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Art, Information Design, Maps

January 30, 2012, 10:49 am

“a tougher, more defined panther”

By Henry Woodbury

After 15+ years in the league, the NFL’s Carolina Panthers are changing their logo.

In a press release the team proclaims:

[The identity] has been designed to provide a more aggressive, contemporary look to the logo while making it more three-dimensional for ever-increasing digital use.

Carolina Panthers Logotype

I’m not sure how three-dimensionality relates to digital use, other than the fact that all the other kids are doing it.

Will Brinson at CBS Sports has some design review fun:

…this cat’s a little less hairy — the whiskers are significantly reduced from the old version, and the eyebrows (Panthers have eyebrows right?) are reduced as well.

It’s a more streamlined cat and, frankly, a little more ferocious and realistic looking of an animal. The team’s calling it “a tougher, more defined panther” and that’s an accurate assessment.

The Panthers typeface is also different: it’s no longer written in 80′s hair-metal font. Or cat scratch font. Or whatever.

Click through to the Brinson article to see the old logo for comparison.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Branding, Design, Marketing, Sports

January 21, 2012, 11:23 am

Metadata in Action

By Henry Woodbury

Doing a comparative analysis of search functionality, I came across an interesting interactive diagram at the National Archives of Australia. Using simple rollovers the diagram explains the metadata hierarchy used within the Commonwealth Record Series (CRS) System. To see the diagram, start at the Search the Collection page, click “Search as Guest”, then click the “RecordSearch – Advanced search” tab. Here’s a screenshot:

Commonwealth Record Series Metadata Diagram

Compare this to the boxes-and-arrows diagram used in the 4700-word CRS Manual.

Commonwealth Record Series Structure

What gives the interactive chart its punch is the use of verbs to describe the connections between the elements. Verbs like “contain”, “create”, “perform” are contrasted with “are part of”, “are created by”, “are performed by”. These words identify the relationship between subjects and objects in a much more informative way than lines with arrowheads.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Diagrams, Information Architecture, Information Design, Language

January 18, 2012, 11:53 am

SOPA Day

By Henry Woodbury

Wikipedia (English) is blacked out.

Wikipedia (English) Blacked Out

Wikipedia is just one of many. Other sites, including Google, are acknowledging the protest.

Kirby Ferguson explains.

Update: This is off-topic for this blog, but it is important to note that free use is not just about the internet. On Wednesday the Supreme Court failed to overturn a 1994 Congressional act that removes thousands of musical texts from the public domain.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Current Events, Design, Infographics, Social Media, Technology

January 13, 2012, 12:59 pm

The Cost of Research

By Henry Woodbury

As the rumble between intellectual property and free speech advances into the ring drawn by SOPA (the Stop Online Piracy Act), Michael B. Eisen draws attention to a fight on the undercard. Eisen, professor of molecular and cell biology, critiques The Research Works Act which, in his words:

…would forbid the N.I.H. [National Institutes of Health] to require, as it now does, that its grantees provide copies of the papers they publish in peer-reviewed journals to the library. If the bill passes, to read the results of federally funded research, most Americans would have to buy access to individual articles at a cost of $15 or $30 apiece. In other words, taxpayers who already paid for the research would have to pay again to read the results.

Supporters of the bill include many traditional publishers of medical research (ironically, one of its sponsors, Darrell Issa, Republican of California, is one of SOPA’s most prominent opponents).

Dynamic Diagrams has a long history of working with scientific publishers going back over 15 years. We worked with major journals like Nature and JAMA to bring them fully online; we’ve also worked with research aggregators such as HighWire and Publishing Technology. We’re well aware of the technology and information management demands required just for online presentation, let alone the physical and specialist costs of creating a print publication. Now consider the editorial investment required to guide content to a publishable state (even if, as Eisen points out, peer review is provided voluntarily, often by researchers at publicly-funded institutions). Just for example, at a tactical level, most journals require an access-controlled transactional web space for authors and editors to exchange drafts.

This is not to take sides in the argument, but to draw attention to the real costs associated with managing and presenting electronic information. These should not be disregarded. At Scientific American, the comments section to Michelle Clement’s call for opposing the bill offers some back-and-forth (hopefully Clement won’t follow through on her threat to delete those comments she doesn’t like), including a link to the Association of American Publisher’s competing point of view.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Current Events, Scholarly Publishing, Technology

December 28, 2011, 12:06 pm

What’s This Mobile Thing For, Again?

By Lisa Agustin

With more and more folks jumping on the smartphone bandwagon, and clients asking for mobile as part of their redesign projects, it’s not unusual to see articles on how to make your site mobile, or the latest design trends for mobile apps. How to develop for mobile is one of the forefront concerns of many web designers. But how about the Why? What are the specific advantages of mobile other than its ability to keep you distracted (productive?) while standing in line? Back in 2008, author and former Nokia executive Tomi Ahonen expounded on the unique opportunities of mobile as the “7th mass media channel” (print is the first, and Internet is the sixth). Conveniently, there are also seven unique capabilities of mobile media, which he summed up this way:

1 – The mobile phone is the first personal mass media
2 – The mobile is permanently carried media
3 – The mobile is the only always-on mass media
4 – Mobile is the only mass media with a built-in payment mechanism
5 – Mobile is only media available at the point of creative inspiration
6 – Mobile is only media with accurate audience measurement
7 – Mobile captures the social context of media consumption

These are not necessarily unique observations. But Ahonen’s perspective is one that puts mobile in the context of the media that preceded it, showing just how far technology has come. As an example, consider his first point, that mobile is the “first personal mass media”:

Never before was any mass media assumed to be private. Books and magazines are shared. Movies watched together. Radio we can have the whole family in the car listening at the same time. Records are played to a roomfull of wedding guests by the DJ. TV is watched together by the family. The internet is semi-personal, but often the PC is shared by the family or business employees. Our secretary or IT tech support (or Human Resources staff) may read through our emails. At home our parents often “snoop” what the kids do on the family PC etc. The internet is not a personal media, even if it often seems like it. But mobile. That is mine, and only mine.

Although the stats and facts are a little dated (the iPad had yet to make its debut), his post is a good read, and a reminder of why mobile represents an exciting opportunity in terms of creating innovative user experiences. It’s not just about Angry Birds.

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Comments (2) | Filed under: Business, Technology, User Experience