Information Design Watch

June 30, 2007, 12:12 pm

Simple Physics

By Henry Woodbury

A simple, interactive Flash application at thecleverest.com offers a mesmerizing glimpse into classical mechanics. By adjusting the location of two “planets” and the location and angle of two planes you can send a cascade of bouncy balls flying into space — or into orbit.

It’s like the spare, algorithmic, interactive version of this.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Visual Explanation

June 29, 2007, 10:03 am

Defining InfoVis

By Lisa Agustin

Brad Paley of Information Esthetics has set up a series of tests for determining if a program intended for creating data-driven visualizations can be considered a true information visualization tool. While these tests could be used to assess an application, they are just as relevant for examining the image itself. Criteria range from the Basic (“Does it contain data?”) to those that tend to be harder to meet, such as Reliability (“Are the smallest or largest meaningful differences in the subject visible?”) and Operations (“Does it display all relevant data needed to answer a question or complete a given task?”) My favorite: the Parsimony criteria, which evaluate the tool’s appropriateness in terms of its visual attributes, method, and technology: Is this program the right tool for the job, or is there a easier, simpler way to answer the big questions?

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Visual Explanation

June 21, 2007, 9:05 am

The Eisenhower Interstate Highway System

By Henry Woodbury

Driving across country never looked so easy (courtesy of the addictive Strange Maps blog).

Eisenhower Interstate Highway System, Simplified

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

June 20, 2007, 10:48 am

Speciespedia

By Henry Woodbury

Almost three hundred years ago, the great doctor and zoologist Carl Linnaeus published Systema Naturae, an attempt to classify all living things by scientific principles. Linnaeus’ work marks a watershed in the use of a hierarchical taxonomy to name living organisms. Over 13 editions, Systema Naturae grew from an 11 page pamphlet to a dense 3000 page catalog as students and colleagues sent Linnaeus specimens from their travels.

In this spirit of research and collaboration, a group of leading scientific institutions have grouped together to create the Encyclopedia of Life, a Web site designed to identify all living species:

Over the next 10 years, the Encyclopedia of Life will create Internet pages for all 1.8 million species currently named. It will expedite the classification of the millions of species yet to be discovered and catalogued as well. The pages…will provide written information and, when available, photographs, video, sound, location maps, and other multimedia information on each species. Built on the scientific integrity of thousands of experts around the globe, the Encyclopedia will be a moderated wiki-style environment, freely available to all users everywhere.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Scholarly Publishing

June 19, 2007, 10:56 am

IA and the Agile Approach

By Lisa Agustin

Earlier this month, Fastcompany.com plugged the agile development approach that was used to redesign its home page. The approach in a nutshell, according to blogger Ed Sussman: “Vision, release, test, iterate. Repeat. Quickly.Speaking metaphorically, think of design and development as a washing machine, not a waterfall. The organization initially planned to release the new design as part of a larger effort that encompassed new features and functionality. But in the end, they decided against it:

What if we had waited to get it all just right before we released FC Expert Bloggers? We’d still be in the dugout. We’d have been guessing instead of seeing what the market actually thinks. In an effort to make our product perfect, we probably would have been forced to spend loads of money fixing problems that might not have mattered to our readers.

The agile approach is one that certainly has its benefits — it’s flexible and means users get to see the latest features sooner, without waiting for an annual update. But in order to be successful, an agile approach still has to start with stakeholder and user requirements that are validated through an information architecture, design, and development process. Only then can an organization be sure its site’s “killer widgets” are truly meeting the needs of its audience.

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

June 1, 2007, 2:18 pm

In Which No One Knows What They Want

By Henry Woodbury

James Surowiecki writes about feature creep in a recent New Yorker column. He starts by naming the usual suspects: engineers devoted to custom tweaks, marketers enticed by more selling points.

But feature creep goes beyond the failure of the internal audience:

You might think, then, that companies could avoid feature creep by just paying attention to what customers really want. But that’s where the trouble begins, because although consumers find overloaded gadgets unmanageable, they also find them attractive. It turns out that when we look at a new product in a store we tend to think that the more features there are, the better. It’s only once we get the product home and try to use it that we realize the virtues of simplicity.

Thus it falls to designers to aggressively promote simplicity (over everyone’s objections).

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Business, Technology, Usability