Information Design Watch

July 27, 2007, 10:32 am

Map Markup

By Henry Woodbury

The New York Times takes note of internet mapping tools, highlighting the non-expert angle:

“It is a revolution,” said Matthew H. Edney, director of the History of Cartography Project at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. “Now with all sorts of really very accessible, very straightforward tools, anybody can make maps. They can select data, they can add data, they can communicate it with others. It truly has moved the power of map production into a completely new arena.”

Most of the sample maps linked by the article are better described than seen, for the actual visual product is a cookie-cutter hodge-podge — often just a Google or Microsoft Map overlaid with clunky icons. While this is a new way to serve up data, it is not really a new approach to mapmaking. Many local, printed trail guides, for example, benefit from the contributions of non-experts, hikers who annotate U.S. Geological Survey Maps with descriptions of trail markers and landmarks. I remember my dad planning cross-country vacations with end-to-end road maps and highlighters. Anyone always could — and did — make maps, they just couldn’t share them as easily.

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

July 24, 2007, 9:59 am

Visualizing Network Dynamics

By Lisa Agustin

Wikipedia Power Struggle

The submissions from this year’s Visualizing Network Dynamics competition (part of the larger NetSci07 meeting) represent an intriguing collection of the different ways to represent the complex structures of dynamic networks. A mix of both movies and still visualizations covering a wide range of subjects, including citation pathways in BioMed Central, ideological alliances on the Supreme Court, and editing patterns on Wikipedia (above), the entrants all set about to map real world networks that are dynamically evolving over time in response to their usage. This year’s winner was Aaron Koblin’s Flight Patterns Movie, an animation of North American flight travel paths based on aircraft data collected by the Federal Aviation Administration. Set to music, this hypnotic visualization offers insights on multiple levels, including the environmental. According to one of the competition’s judges: “In an age of climatic crisis and carbon footprints, the [patterns] are rhetorically powerful as ecological visualizations showing the almost absurd degree of mobility in the USA.”

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Comments (2) | Filed under: Current Events, Information Design, Visual Explanation

July 20, 2007, 10:37 am

IA and RIAs

By Lisa Agustin

Rich Internet Applications (RIAs) enable a user experience that’s more responsive and sophisticated than traditional HTML. But does crafting the RIA experience differ that much from architecting a traditional web site? Yes and no, says Adam Polansky in the latest ASIS&t Bulletin. Polansky, an information architect for an online travel company, was tasked with producing a trip planning application that had originally taken shape as an exciting proof-of-concept Flash demo, but which had not been scrutinized in terms of scalability, usability, or actual user needs.

Before moving forward, Polansky took a few steps back by employing traditional IA exercises such as wireframing (adapted to a more interactive experience) and usability testing to validate the direction and identify the holes. Besides pointing out the similarities and differences between building web sites and RIAs, he offers a good shortlist of pitfalls to avoid, including the potential for increased revision cycles and building interaction at the expense of content. I would tend to agree with him on both fronts. In our practice, we’ve found that constructing process flows and annotated wireframes are key to keeping everyone on the same page about the intended user experience and the possible trade-offs between vision and feasibility. These activities ease (if not eliminate) any worry of creating interaction for its own sake.

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

July 20, 2007, 9:55 am

Is Marketing the New Finance?

By Henry Woodbury

Here is economist Hal Varian, interviewed by the Wall Street Journal:

WSJ: In the past, promising new economics PhDs who didn’t want to work in government or academia probably aspired to work on Wall Street. In the future, will they aspire to work at companies like Google?

Varian: I think marketing is the new finance. In the 1960s and 1970s [we] got interesting data, and a lot of analytic fire power focused on that data; Bob Merton and Fischer Black, the whole team of people that developed modern finance. So we saw huge gains in understanding performance in the finance industry. I think marketing is in the same place: now we’re getting a lot of really good data, we have tools, we have methods, we have smart people working on it. So my view is the quants are going to move from Wall Street to Madison Avenue.

And it’s all thanks to Google. According to Varian, the business model for search is not much different than the business model for publishing. The difference comes from Google’s ability to manage pricing on a real-time basis and thus transact an enormous amount of data. Here’s Varian again:

Adaptive forecasting, how I revise my forecast to take account of updated information, you use that a lot on Wall Street, where you have time series of stock prices. And some of those things carry over into things that Google is doing, that have this real-time flow of data. How do I detect unusual events, and react to them?

The internet gives us an engine. Now we start figuring out what fuels it.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Business, Marketing, Technology

July 16, 2007, 11:31 am

All Fundraising is Local

By Henry Woodbury

The New York Times provides an interactive visualization of U.S. presidential campaign fundraising. Click on a candidate to see their activity. Click on a time series at the bottom to watch fundraising over the last six months.

Barack Obama's Campaign Finances

The results are not surprising. Every candidate raises a lot of money in their home state: Hillary Clinton and Rudy Guiliani in New York, Barack Obama in Illinois, Mitt Romney in Massachusetts.

But Mitt Romney does better in Utah than Massachusetts and draws well in Michigan, reflecting, I assume, his religious and family connections. Meanwhile Clinton leads all fundraising across the country, but Obama does significantly better in Denver. Denver?

The visualization does not explain. Designed to fit the narrative of fundraising as horse race, it has no revelatory power. What demographics apply to the numbers? How does local fundraising compare on a per-capita basis? What accounts for high points in the time-series data? Is the spike for most candidates at the end of March an artifact of reporting requirements or something else? You can either backfill your own research or wait for the next feature story.

Update: Some editing, addition of an image, and a full rewrite of the last paragraph on July 19, 2007 at 1:00 pm

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

July 13, 2007, 3:50 pm

Graph Design I.Q. Test at Perceptual Edge

By Kirsten Robinson

Stephen Few at Perceptual Edge has posted a Graph Design I.Q. Test. It’s not difficult, but it does make you stop and think about your past sins…. Who among us has not been tempted by Excel’s 3D capabilities?

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

July 10, 2007, 8:50 am

Usability: the New Career Field

By Lisa Agustin

The New York Times recently covered the area of usability/human factors as an up-and-coming career field. The article doesn’t shed much light on the subject for those who are familiar with or work in the area of user experience. But for the broader population, I thought it gave an interesting perspective on the usability profession and its purpose in making technology easier to use: “Sometimes there is a huge disconnect between the people who make a product and the people who use it.”

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