Information Design Watch

September 29, 2006, 3:23 pm

We Feel Fine

By Chris Jackson

There’s a bunch of ways to talk about We Feel Fine: It’s Web 2.0, social networking, Flash UI, and several other buzzwords. But the most interesting aspect to me is the synthesis of data from across the Web that makes a diary of Us.

The magic behind We Feel Fine involves a data collection engine, statistical analysis based on information in the blog (feeling expressed, age, gender, date, location, and weather), and a cool interface that presents the results in “movements.” In the first movement, blog entries are represented by dots and squares that swarm. When you click a dot, the other dots move away from it (to represent looking at someone apart from the group) and the “feeling” snippet from that blog appears. The other movements let you look at the data in different ways, each provoking a different way to respond. And you can filter the data: How were other males your age feeling on a rainy day in your hometown?

We Feel Fine Screenshot

Jonathan Harris and Sepandar Kamvar created the site/application as part of their “exploration of humans through the artifacts they leave behind on the Web.” Put together, these blog artifacts give a composite of our collective emotional state, while respecting our individualities (you can click through to the original blogs, and only publicly published data is displayed).

So what can we make of this, other than to admire the concept or spend some (or a lot) of time playing voyeur? What happens when we map the data against specific events such as the 2004 Red Sox Championship or the 2000 Election Complications? How can marketing people use this? What other information can be gleaned from the mountains of data we publish every second? What are we going to do with it?

Today, as a 39-year-old male in Boston on a sunny afternoon, I feel inspired. And a little nervous.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • del.icio.us
  • StumbleUpon

Comments (0) | Filed under: Visual Explanation

September 25, 2006, 9:12 am

Maps as a Tool for Creativity

By Lisa Agustin

social network mappingThe latest edition of BusinessWeek Online’s IN: Inside Innovation offers its picks for seven tools and trends that companies are using to jump-start creativity. Mapping is included in two instances: as a way of diagramming social networks within organizations, and also as a tool for visualizing collaborative work on wikis via IBM’s History Flow tool. While IN suggests that these tools and trends are used to “accelerate the creative process,” I wish they had elaborated on this point, especially with regard to social network mapping–e.g., Does a bigger network generate more (or better) ideas?

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • del.icio.us
  • StumbleUpon

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

September 20, 2006, 4:37 pm

How to Generate New Ideas

By Henry Woodbury

Statistician Seth Roberts, “best selling author and paragon of scientific self-experimentation,” is the feature of a link-rich blog post by Tyler Cowen, titled How to Be Happy. What struck me, upon following several links, was Roberts’ interest in idea generation. The “how to be happy” link leads to an unpublished paper titled “Self-experimentation as a source of new ideas: Ten examples about sleep, mood, health, and weight.” Even better is the first section of this paper: Three Things Statistics Textbooks Don’t Tell You (PDF). Roberts writes:

Statistics textbooks usually discuss graphic displays of data, but the stated goal is presentation, not idea generation (e.g., Howell, 1999). This reflects the statistics literature, where sophistication and enthusiasm about graphics usually concern presentation (e.g., Gelman, Pasarica, & Dodhia, 2002; Schmid, 1983). Tufte’s (1983, 1990) lovely books, for example, are entirely about presentation; nothing is said about idea generation.

What Roberts found through his own experiments should resonate with anyone who communicates visually:

A major reason for graphing ones data [is that a] tiny fraction of ones graphs will suggest new lines of research.

Or, to repeat his quote of statistician John Tuckey:

The picture-examining eye is the best finder we have of the wholly unanticipated.

When developing visual explanations we think in terms of the information we want to clarify, the story we want to tell, the audience we want to engage. What goes unmentioned is the fact that moving from text and numbers to visuals can change the way we think about our overall concept. Sometimes a visual explanation suggests powerful alternatives for further exploration. Sometimes we realize that the data doesn’t support the stated goals of the project and a new approach is needed.

While our own process model involves extensive research and analysis, we have learned to begin drafting visual ideas as soon as we have any applicable information to work with. Iterative thumbnails and sketches do more than illustrate the research. They themselves are analytical tools that help us (and our clients) steer clear of blind alleys and drive toward more persuasive, innovative visual results.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • del.icio.us
  • StumbleUpon

Comments (0) | Filed under: Creativity, Design, Visual Explanation

September 18, 2006, 9:10 am

Video Mash-Up Approval

By Henry Woodbury

YouTube, not yet profitable and a potential target for copyright violation law suits, has signed a big partner:

Under a revenue-sharing deal announced Monday, New York-based Warner Music has agreed to transfer thousands of its music videos and interviews to YouTube, a San Mateo, Calif.-based startup that has become a cultural touchstone since two 20-something friends launched the company in a Silicon Valley garage 19 months ago.

Unlike the notorious music sharing programs, YouTube offers value that entertainment companies want to leverage, not squelch:

Perhaps even more important for YouTube is that Warner Music has agreed to license its songs to the millions of ordinary people who upload their homemade videos to the Web site….

To make the deal happen, YouTube developed a royalty-tracking system that will detect when homemade videos are using copyrighted material. YouTube says the technology will enable Warner Music to review the video and decide whether it wants to approve or reject it.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • del.icio.us
  • StumbleUpon

Comments (0) | Filed under: Business, Technology

September 13, 2006, 12:03 pm

The Magical, Mysterious Design Process

By Lisa Agustin

In this week’s DesignObserver, Michael Bierut muses about how the design process “really” works:

When I do a design project, I begin by listening carefully to you as you talk about your problem and read whatever background material I can find that relates to the issues you face. If you’re lucky, I have also accidentally acquired some firsthand experience with your situation. Somewhere along the way an idea for the design pops into my head from out of the blue. I can’t really explain that part; it’s like magic. Sometimes it even happens before you have a chance to tell me that much about your problem! Now, if it’s a good idea, I try to figure out some strategic justification for the solution so I can explain it to you without relying on good taste you may or may not have. Along the way, I may add some other ideas, either because you made me agree to do so at the outset, or because I’m not sure of the first idea. At any rate, in the earlier phases hopefully I will have gained your trust so that by this point you’re inclined to take my advice. I don’t have any clue how you’d go about proving that my advice is any good except that other people – at least the ones I’ve told you about – have taken my advice in the past and prospered. In other words, could you just sort of, you know…trust me?

While Bierut’s observation is humorous, it touches upon how important it is for design firms to explain what they do in a way that potential clients (presumably non-designers) will understand, even if it does involve an element of the unexplainable. In the end, the process comes down to starting with left-brain activity (e.g., researching and analyzing), mulling over what you’ve learned in terms of business goals and customer needs, and ”transforming” it into a product that will address both.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • del.icio.us
  • StumbleUpon

Comments (0) | Filed under: Creativity, Design

September 13, 2006, 11:04 am

How Not to Sell Something

By Lisa Agustin

Spice AdWhile reading the Sunday paper, I came across this advertisement for McCormick spices. While I don’t have a background in advertising, my general understanding is that ads should:

  • Tell you what the product/service is;
  • Say why you need the product/service;
  • If appropriate, convince you that this product/service is better than the competition;
  • Inspire you to act (buy the product/service or do something else).

The other thing I assume is that, in most instances, all of the above should be accomplished in a relatively short amount of time (after all, this isn’t a PowerPoint presentation).

After my initial read, it was clear the ad was for McCormick Spices and involved figuring out the age of your spices. Other than that, the rest of it had me confused:

  • The ad has two spice containers, and the one on the left is clearly the McCormick brand. My first thought: Is the bottle on the right from a competitor (turned around to hide the name)?
  • But further reading (including looking at the teeny writing on the bottle) indicates that both containers are from McCormick and both are too old. Now what?
  • Is black pepper in a tin older? Or is the age of black pepper impossible to determine?

The text at the bottom clears things up only slightly: it asks me the question that should have been at the top of the ad. But then I’m instructed to visit the URL to calculate the age of my spices (assuming I even have a computer).

Two obvious points that may have improved the message:

  • Why not just come out and say what the web campaign suggests (yes, I gave in): For the Freshest Flavor, TOSS (Toss Old Spices Seasonally)? This is much clearer than this print ad.
  • Why isn’t there a picture of the bottle that I should be buying?

The whole experience made me think: Isn’t there an easier way to explain this concept and get me to buy new spices?

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • del.icio.us
  • StumbleUpon

Comments (1) | Filed under: Marketing, Visual Explanation

September 11, 2006, 3:48 pm

Wikipedia Will Not Restrict Content

By Henry Woodbury

The Chinese government has blocked access to Wikipedia since last October. Founder Jimmy Wales has declared that Wikipedia will not compromise its standards and called for other Internet companies to follow suit:

Wales said censorship was ‘antithetical to the philosophy of Wikipedia. We occupy a position in the culture that I wish Google would take up, which is that we stand for the freedom for information, and for us to compromise I think would send very much the wrong signal: that there’s no one left on the planet who’s willing to say “You know what? We’re not going to give up.”‘

Good for Wales.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • del.icio.us
  • StumbleUpon

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

September 6, 2006, 1:53 pm

Media Entrepreneurs in Training

By Henry Woodbury

The film school at Arizona State University is just over a year old. Instead of competing with established programs that train students in editing, cinematography, writing, and directing, the ASU film and media studies program focuses on the intersection of entertainment with new technologies.

Dr. Peter Lehman explains:

“The digital age, and that 800-pound distribution gorilla, the Internet, is changing everything,” he said. “The technical people and the creative people need to be able to work together, and there is no forum for that now.”

While “entertainment technology” sounds like a reference to digital content creation — that world of three-dimensional animation, game design, and digitized special effects — the ASU program has a much more conceptual approach. Student Alex Baer, an 35-year-old software executive, explains he took the program’s introductory course to “find out what we need to know about the narrative form when presenting it on different screens.”

In a world where Over The Hedge competes with YouTube, that would be a valuable thing to know.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • del.icio.us
  • StumbleUpon

Comments (0) | Filed under: Technology