Information Design Watch

November 30, 2006, 11:05 am

Scholarly Publishing Meets YouTube

By Lisa Agustin

One of the challenges in scientific research involves the transfer of knowledge:  explaining, and then understanding and learning laboratory techniques.  This can be a time-consuming process, especially if the techniques are state-of-the-art or experimental.  While written protocols are often quite detailed, even these can be prone to misinterpretation. The newly released Journal of Visualized Experiments wants to address the knowledge-transfer hurdle by offering video-based (“visualized”) biological research studies online.

By presenting research in the form of “video-articles,”  the equipment, samples, and steps taken become transparent.  (Supporting written documentation is also provided.) JoVE is similar to the traditional scientific journal in that researchers are invited to submit their work, which is then reviewed by an editorial board before being posted. In the future, JoVE plans to list their offerings in PubMed and other databases. In the true spirit of the Web, submissions and access to the journal will be free. One only hopes that this model will be able to sustain itself via funding or other means for the benefit of the larger scientific community.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Scholarly Publishing, Visual Explanation

November 29, 2006, 11:56 am

Telling Time in a New Way

By Lisa Agustin

Looking for a unique holiday gift?  Then you may be interested in a watch by Japanese company Tokyo Flash, whose specialty is creating unique interfaces for telling time. Each watch offers a different kind of visual system: My favorites are the spiderweb-like iPattern, which splits the dial into two halves, the top for hours and the bottom for minutes, or for a real challenge, check out the 1000100101 which–you guessed it–presents time in a binary display. The product page for each watch includes a guide for telling time using your new space-age timepiece.

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Design

November 29, 2006, 10:54 am

Away With the Mouse Click!

By Henry Woodbury

Here’s an example of some very impressive interface design work, if you accept the premise:

http://www.dontclick.it/

You know, I never worried about clicking that much.

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Comments (2) | Filed under: Usability, Web Interface Design

November 27, 2006, 12:12 pm

Paper as an Electronic Storage Media

By Henry Woodbury

Sainul Abideen, an Indian engineering student has created a new data-storing technology in which electronic files are converted to geometric shapes and printed in dense patterns on ordinary paper. These “Rainbow Technology” sheets can then be read via a customized scanner and decoded into the original files. An A4 sheet (8.27 x 11.69″) can store up to 256GB, making this an extremely affordable storage technology — Abideen’s “Rainbow Versatile Disk” has a storage density greater than high-end DVDs, uses less raw material to manufacture, and is biodegradable.

The idea of paper-based storage creates intriguing possibilities for data distribution. Imagine this: You buy a newspaper, tear out an RVD swatch, insert it into a RVD-capable device (an MP3-player, a cell phone, a PDA), and listen to the audio version of the printed text. Or listen to some new music. Or watch movie trailers.

Update: Commenter DD points to a Wikipedia article that casts doubt on the accuracy of the news report summarized above.

As referenced by Wikipedia, here’s Jeremy Reimer’s debunking. He points out that print resolution and scanner technology likely limits the storage capacity of a single A4 sheet to 100MB after error correction. Reimer also illuminates the importance (and limitations) of Abideen’s use of geometric shapes to render data:

The claim that “circles, triangles, and squares” can achieve … extra orders of magnitude can be easily challenged. There is a word for using mathematical algorithms to increase the storage space of digital information: it’s called compression. No amount of circles and triangles could be better than existing compression algorithms: if it was, those formulas would already be in use!

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Comments (2) | Filed under: Technology

November 17, 2006, 1:21 pm

Does Good User Experience Pay Off?

By Lisa Agustin

UX consultants Teehan + Lax have started the Teehan + Lax UX Fund, an investment experiment to see if companies that deliver a great user experience will see it reflected in their stock price.  The group was inspired in part by the Design Council, whose Design Index research project showed that “the share prices of a group of more than 150 quoted companies recognised as effective users of design out-performed the stock market by 200 per cent between 1994 and 2003.”

To be included in the T+L UX Fund, each company needed to meet the following criteria:

  • A demonstrated care in the design of their products and Web site
  • A history of innovation
  • They inspire loyalty in their customer base
  • Doing business with them is a positive experience

The list of companies includes ones you’d expect, like Apple and Target, as well as not-so-obvious ones like Progressive Insurance. As to the question of whether it will pay off, the fund looks like it’s off to a good start: it’s already outperforming the NASDAQ by almost double.

This experiment brings to mind those sticky ROI discussions that are often part of justifying a site redesign and its associated costs. While client stakeholders might agree that a redesigned site could look better and might even lead to a better user experience, the “real” (i.e., monetary) payoff is often hard to assess, partly because each company may have its own measuring stick (e.g., fewer customer calls, more registered users) and partly because you won’t know the results until all is said and done. In the meantime, it will be interesting to watch how the UX Fund progresses, at the very least so those of us in the user experience/design arena can say, “See? It IS worth it.”

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Business, User Experience

November 16, 2006, 11:21 am

AOL Goes Web 2.0

By Henry Woodbury

David Pogue at the New York Times reports on AOL’s embrace of the Web 2.0 bubble and “the business plan known as free”:

AOL had been losing members at a staggering rate, with 300,000 people a month canceling their AOL accounts as they switched to high-speed Internet from their cable and phone companies. AOL now has fewer than 18 million members, down from 35 million in 2002.

So AOL decided to get out of the Internet service-provider game, a dead-end business for a company that doesn’t actually own the wires running to your home.

AOL’s plan is to grow like Google:

Since it went free, AOL has lost 2.5 million paying subscribers — but gained 3 million free members. That’s more people looking at the ads, which AOL figures will attract even more advertisers.

Like Google, AOL is rolling out free goodies, of which Pogue has a nice list.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Business, Technology

November 16, 2006, 10:59 am

Dynamic Diagrams Project Wins eHealthcare Leadership Awards

By Lisa Agustin

Sentara Healthcare, a healthcare organization based in southeastern Virginia, recently received two eHealthcare Leadership Awards for its public-facing web site, Sentara.com.

The site received the awards from eHealthcare Strategy & Trends magazine in the categories of “Best Quality Communication” and “Best Overall Internet Site” for a healthcare system. Dynamic Diagrams partnered with Sentara to create a new information architecture and supporting visual design, with the goal of enabling deeper online interaction between patients and the Sentara organization.

The redesign was also an early step in the organization’s plan for a role-based enterprise portal, which will eventually merge Sentara.com with the organization’s employee and provider intranet sites, and the public site for its health insurance plan, Optima Health.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Dynamic Diagrams News

November 8, 2006, 10:49 am

A Pair of U.S. Mid-Term Election Maps

By Henry Woodbury

Here’s CNN’s take on the Virginia Senate Race:

CNN's map of the 2006 Virginia Senate Race

What’s interesting: Color gradation makes it easy to see each candidate’s regional strengths. In effect, since “Other” did not make a showing, the full gradation is from saturated blue (DEM) through white (tie) to saturated red (GOP). The key could be redesigned to demonstrate this.

What’s missing: Names of cities. Ability to compare the separate “Webb Strength” and “Allen Strength” maps in tandem.

Here’s the New York Times take on the House of Representative races, nation-wide:

New York Times map of the 2006 U.S. House of Representatives races

What’s interesting: The geographical map first displayed morphs to present each congressional district as an equal unit. Click on any state to see the district numbers.

What’s missing: Ability to toggle back to a geographical view.

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

November 1, 2006, 3:15 pm

The One Page Powerpoint of Iraq

By Henry Woodbury

To track the situtation in Iraq, the United States Central Command turns to visual explanation. A slide shown in a recent classified briefing includes a one-dimensional heat map — what the New York Times calls a “color-coded bar chart” — to present an “Index of Civil Conflict”:

Iraq: Indications and Warnings of Civil Conflict

Befitting the news angle, reporter Michael R. Gordon focuses on the indicators that inform the index. From an information design angle, the most interesting part of the graphic is the gray arrow labeled “Last Week.” All it would take to create a two-dimensional line chart out of this graphic is to add a time axis and fill in the historical data.  To create a truly multivariate information graphic, the indicators could be indexed to the map, assuming a coherent algorithm for doing so exists. Of course all that information is classified.

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/01/world/middleeast/01military.html (free registration required)

Update: On my first go, above, I missed an obvious extra variable that should be integrated into the index: geography. Where a time series would illuminate trends, a heat chart overlaid on the map of the country would identify trouble spots. Add in the geographic location of the indicators and you could start seeing holes in the data.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Current Events, Visual Explanation