Information Design Watch

August 30, 2007, 10:50 am

Dance Notation Bureau Rebounds

By Henry Woodbury

Satyric Festival Song NotationAfter flirting with insolvency in 2005, the Dance Notation Bureau has new funding and a broader mission, including the digitization of its entire collection of “scores, films, videotapes, photographs, programs and posters.”

Students of visual explanation may be familiar with the concept of dance scoring through the works of Edward Tufte. The Dance Notation Bureau uses Labanotation, a particularly specialized system:

Rudolf van Laban, a Hungarian-born choreographer and dance theorist, developed his system of notation in the 1920s. (Systems have existed since the 15th century, but Labanotation and Benesh notation, developed in Britain in the 1950s, are the two types most used today.) Like music notation it uses graphic symbols on a staff. But the extreme complexity and detail needed to represent timing, direction, impulse and dynamics make it the province of very few specialists.

The debate about the usefulness of the visual tool is interesting. Dance notator Sandra Aberkalns contrasts the “nuance and depth” of a score to the “dancer’s interpretation” presented in video or photographs. Some choreographers have doubts:

“The notation is based on an agreed-upon form of moving, which I believe is misleading,” Mark Morris said after his “All Fours” was staged from a score at Ohio State University last year. “It’s nearly impossible to accurately communicate dynamics and phrasing, although I grudgingly admit that it was a far better tool than I had anticipated.”

The Dance Notation Bureau web site is here.

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

August 23, 2007, 2:04 pm

Mood Music

By Lisa Agustin

Musicovery treeI’ve been having some fun with Musicovery, an interactive radio with a basic premise: What are you in the mood for? Users can zero in on what they like (single or multiple genres across a narrow or broad timeframe), but they can also use the remote control-like interface to select their mood within a matrix ranging from “Dark” to “Positive” and “Calm” to “Energetic.” The result of these intersecting parameters is a customized playlist presented in a interconnected web, where each song can be played or purchased unobtrusively through eBay, iTunes or Amazon. The site is intuitive for the most part, but the resulting music web needs some minor presentation tweaks: songs sometimes show up on top of each other, requiring the user to pick a hidden song in order to see its name; and the vertically-oriented webs are sometimes larger than the browser window, requiring some dragging. It would also be nice to see a complete browseable catalog of all the albums (although admittedly this might take away some of the serendipity of hearing something new.)

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Web Interface Design

August 23, 2007, 11:03 am

How Google Works

By Henry Woodbury

Cond√© Nast Portfolio offers this “infographic” on How Google Works. (The text version is here.)

Interesting stuff, and nicely visualized — especially step 3 on “The Cluster”.

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

August 20, 2007, 11:04 am

People Scroll

By Henry Woodbury

In a Boxes and Arrows article titled Blasting the Myth of the Fold, Milissa Tarquini runs through research that shows that browser users really do scroll down long pages. Here’s just one of her examples:

In [a report available on ClickTale.com], the researchers used their proprietary tracking software to measure the activity of 120,000 pages. Their research gives data on the vertical height of the page and the point to which a user scrolls. In the study, they found that 76% of users scrolled and that a good portion of them scrolled all the way to the bottom, despite the height of the screen. Even the longest of web pages were scrolled to the bottom.

My question is this: If people scroll, do we need “back to top” links?

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Usability, User Experience, Web Interface Design

August 13, 2007, 11:27 am

Timeline and Timeplot: Open Source Tools from MIT

By Mac McBurney

Two cool ways to display events and overlay data on a timeline, from the SIMILE group at MIT. Just add XML.
“Timeline is a DHTML-based AJAXy widget for visualizing time-based events. It is like Google Maps for time-based information.” Be sure to check out the filtering and highlighting functions in the Dinosaurs example.

http://simile.mit.edu/timeline/

Timeplot is newer (maybe buggier) and allows additional data to be plotted on a timeline.

http://simile.mit.edu/timeplot/

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Information Design

August 13, 2007, 11:11 am

Many Eyes

By Mac McBurney

This project from IBM’s Alphaworks is like Flickr for information visualizations. Warning: Contents may be addicting (especially for readers of Information Design Watch).

From the site: “Many Eyes is a bet on the power of human visual intelligence to find patterns. Our goal is to “democratize” visualization and to enable a new social kind of data analysis.”¬† Hear, hear!

Post a data set, then choose one of the predefined visualization types. Or, let other users find clever ways to graph the data. Browse “topic hubs,” post comments and ratings, save your favorites to a watch-list. You get the idea. On the horizon: ordinary users can post visualizations, not just data. The possibilities are even more dazzling than the work so far.
http://services.alphaworks.ibm.com/manyeyes/home

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Comments (2) | Filed under: Information Design

August 5, 2007, 5:57 pm

Around the Bases — 500 Times

By Henry Woodbury

I’ve often been critical of New York Times interactive graphics, but this one works for me, a chart of home runs by age for the 22 Major League Baseball players who have hit 500 or more. Hank Aaron’s line in bold red is the default. A mouse rollover on any other line highlights it and identifies the player responsible.

Paths to the Top of the Home Run Charts

For followers of baseball, the most statistically-minded of sports fans, each line on the chart tells a story: the injuries that cut down the output of Mickey Mantle; the lost years of Ted William’s career when he served in WWII; the late start of Mike Schmidt; the early decline of Jimmie Foxx; the extraordinary consistency of Hank Aaron.

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

August 4, 2007, 3:14 pm

A Beautiful Orbit

By Henry Woodbury

A foam boomerang with LED lights creates a beautiful visual explanation showing the path and rotation of the device from launch to landing. The picture accompanies a Popular Mechanics article on the sport and science of boomerang throwing.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Illustration, Sports, Visual Explanation

August 3, 2007, 9:47 am

Are Pixels Better Than Piecharts?

By Lisa Agustin

Afterlife infographic “The Way We Live Now: Eternity for Atheists” in last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine included an infographic illustrating what Americans believe will happen to them after they die. Is this just a trendy twist on the piechart, or are we meant to glean more information from this technique? Presumably the main advantage of the pixel view is that each square represents a known quantity with which the viewer can estimate the actual number of people. A good idea, except there’s no key telling us what a pixel represents (or even a total number of people surveyed so we can extrapolate numbers ourselves). And what does the white rectangle in the middle represent — agnostics? The brightness of this shape makes me focus on it, rather than the data surrounding it.

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Comments (2) | Filed under: Visual Explanation

August 1, 2007, 2:07 pm

2007 IDEA Awards Announced

By Lisa Agustin

Eclipse 500 Instrument PanelThis year’s International Design Excellence Awards (IDEA) show was the latest evidence that design is a discipline that involves more than just aesthetics. Awards were won for service innovation in banking, creating broad corporate and brand strategies, bolstering sustainability via electric cars, and remaking hammers and wrenches in new, better forms. (Shown at left: The instrument panel for the Eclipse 500 jet, whose design team created a user interface that is considered more intuitive, less cluttered, less fatiguing and more motion efficient.) Run by the Industrial Designers Society of America and sponsored by BusinessWeek, the competition boasted a highly international contingent (20 countries total), as well as an increase in the number of student-developed submissions. One particular trend was the rise in environmentally-friendly design, which included some unlikely product categories (green sportscar, anyone?)

A slide show of entrants:
http://images.businessweek.com/ss/07/07/0720_IDEA/index_01.htm

A highlights walkthrough by BW’s Bruce Nussbaum:
http://images.businessweek.com/ss/07/07/0723_idea_awards/index_01.htm

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