Information Design Watch

April 20, 2006, 3:06 pm

The PowerPoint Minimalist

By Henry Woodbury

We recently came across Garr Reynolds Presentation Zen, a superb blog on presentation design. With entries like “Learning from the World of Judo” and “2-D or not 2-D? (That is the question)”, Reynolds offers a wealth of quirky but eminently usable advice.

As his blog title suggests, Reynolds is an advocate of clarity and restraint. In one of his popular posts, “What is good PowerPoint design?” he examines how simplicity in design must be driven by context, not formula:

Simplicity is often used as a means to greater clarity. However, simplicity can also be viewed as a consequence. A consequence, that is, of our careful efforts to craft a story and create supporting visuals that focus on our audience’s needs in a clear and meaningful way.

In another post, Reynolds contrasts the presentation styles of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, in amusing form:

Mr. Gates needs to read Cliff Atkinson’s Beyond Bullet Points, ironically published by Microsoft Press…

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Information Design

April 20, 2006, 3:00 pm

Media, Money, and Demographics

By Henry Woodbury

Based on the principle that democracy requires a knowledgeable citizenry, the Carter Center, FOCAL (Canadian Foundation for the Americas), and the University of Calgary have created Mapping The Media, a visual mapping tool that combines demographic data with information about media ownership and political financing:

The map, which will be ‘virtually’ housed and easily accessible on the Internet, also will illustrate connections between media ownership and the networks to which they belong, making evident at a glance if some portions of the country are served by only one media owner or news network or are served by multiple media outlets with the same political affiliation.

Unfortunately the application is astonishingly difficult to use. Compared to Google Maps, the zoom and pan interface is clunky and slow to respond. If you show more than one or two layers of data, the jarring combination of colors, patterns, and icons turns the map into a visual cryptogram.

Part of the problem is the ambition of the project. By differentiating so many separate data layers, only an experienced user will know which ones relate. Data that deserves per-capita presentation, such as campaign dollars, is given in gross figures. The fact that population density is offered as its own layer doesn’t help. The result is likely to encourage misreading of data, confusion between coorelating and unrelated factors, and casual invention of causal relationships.

Completed maps include Canada, Peru, and Guatemala.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Maps, Visual Explanation

April 20, 2006, 2:47 pm

A Cartogram Portfolio

By Henry Woodbury

Using a population diffusion algorithm, a team at the University of Sheffield, along with Mark Newman of the University of Michigan, have been creating a compelling series of data-driven cartograms. Each shows a world map with territories reshaped to represent a different data set. The math is complex, but apparently highly versatile:

A recent development by Mark Newman and Michael Gastner (described in their paper Gastner and Newman 2004 [http://aps.arxiv.org/abs/physics/0401102/]) has led to the creation of this website; they recognised that the process is essentially one of allowing population to flow-out from high-density to lower-density areas, and hence borrowed the linear diffusion method from elementary physics which describes this process. The algorithm used to create the maps on Worldmapper is a variant of the Gastner and Newman one.

The site contains several dozen cartograms and hopefully more are on the way. Good design decisions, such as using similar colors for regional groups of territories, help with interpretation of the most distorted maps, such as this map of Net Out-Tourism.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Maps, Visual Explanation

April 14, 2006, 9:13 am

New York Times Redesign

By d/D

The New York Times has redesigned its Web site with a new look and better integration of multimedia content with articles. One of the more interesting additions is a JavaScript-driven widget for tabbed viewing of classifieds and “most popular” articles. More importantly, from an information architecture point of view, are subtle improvements to overall site navigation:

We have expanded the page to take advantage of the larger monitors now used by the vast majority of our readers. We’ve improved the navigation throughout the site so that no matter what page you land on, you can easily dig deeper into other sections or use our multimedia.

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/02/business/02ednote.html

There are few off-key notes. Articles in the “Most Popular: Blogged” list don’t have trackbacks to actual blogs. Times Select still requires pay-per-view for most opinion columns. But the Times’ biggest worry should be too many people agreeing with media critic Jack Schafer:

“Hello, New York Times? I’d like to cancel my subscription today….I’m canceling because the redesign of your Web site, which you unveiled yesterday, bests the print edition by such a margin I’ve decided to pocket the annual $621.40 I currently spend on home delivery.”

http://www.slate.com/id/2139278

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Information Architecture, Web Interface Design