Information Design Watch

October 16, 2007, 3:53 pm

(T)AXI

By Henry Woodbury

For those interested in logo design, the New York Times City Room blog is offering an extended design revew of the city’s new taxi logo.

New York City Taxi Logo

The first post describes the design process and features the comments of designers Michael Bierut and Michael Rock; additional posts provide additional designer and reader responses. From the second installment, here’s the take of designer Sam Potts:

The central T is obviously a reference to the subway — too obviously if you ask me — but that is strategically a mistake, as the T.L.C. is separate from the M.T.A. Why equate them visually?

To have the “NYC” touch is, to me, poor craftsmanship, especially with such a blocky typeface. Additionally, as this goes whizzing by, clumped-together letters just get clumpier.

Having said that, my first reaction to this was, “There’s a logo for the taxis?” In fact, the logo is a secondary element in the branding of the taxis — I imagine very few notice the logo but everyone knows what the yellow signifies. I’d even say that the Crown Vic is a more powerful brand identifier (in the parlance) than whatever logo they had or adopted.

Both Potts and fellow designer Oscar Bjarnason note the ill-conceived reference to the city subway logo, a legendary brand we have mentioned before.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Branding, Current Events, Design, Marketing

October 5, 2007, 10:38 am

Stories and Sticky Ideas

By Lisa Agustin

I’ve been reading Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, in which authors Chip Heath and Dan Heath explore the commonality behind memorable ideas of all kinds including famous advertisements, political campaigns, and even urban legends. Why do certain ideas thrive while others languish? According to the authors, one reason is that “sticky” ideas have a Story behind them. (The other characteristics of a sticky idea include: Simplicity, Unexpectedness, Concreteness, Credibility, and Emotions.) If an idea has a story behind it, people can interpret it in the context of their experience, recall it more easily, and thus use it as a reference point for making decisions in the future. For example:

Firefighters naturally swap stories after every fire, and by doing so they multiply their experience; after years of hearing stories, they have a richer, more complete mental catalog of critical situations they might confront during a fire and the appropriate responses to those situations. Research shows that mentally rehearsing a situation helps us perform better when we encounter that situation in the physical environment. Similarly, hearing stories acts as a kind of mental flight simulator, preparing us to respond more quickly and effectively.

From our perspective, the stories don’t always have to be words on a page, either. A visual story can make an idea (especially a complicated one) both more engaging and easier to understand, increasing the odds that it will be remembered and referred to later on.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Books and Articles

October 4, 2007, 1:28 pm

Visualizing Digg

By Lisa Agustin

Digg ArcMaking sense of the activity on Digg is the mission behind Digg Labs. The Labs offer four different views of Digg data: Arc (shown at left), BigSpy, Stack, and Swarm. Like the Digg site itself, each visualization tracks similar information, including the newest stories that users “digg,” story popularity (number and frequency of “diggs”), and the names of “diggers” themselves. Best of all, the visualizations are in real-time, making the energy and behavior of the Digg community a palpable one. But while the tools give a new perspective on Digg activity, they fall short on helping users see any obvious patterns or draw specific conclusions. Some critics even consider them confusing. Despite the criticism, these data visualizations have provided direction on how to improve the Digg user experience, according to Digg creative director Daniel Burka:

“After seeing users congregate around stories and examining their relationships, we’ve tweaked our algorithms to take [content] diversity into account when determining how popular a story really is,” Burka says. This allows a wider range of subjects to show up on the home page, for example. “Many of the lessons we’ve learned in the Labs are also influencing future feature development and the general direction of the site.”

An article in Technology Review offers further details on Digg Labs: http://www.technologyreview.com/Infotech/19079/?a=f

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

October 4, 2007, 1:08 pm

Charts, Graphs, and Narrative

By Henry Woodbury

In an interview in Inside Higher Ed, economist Robert Frank discusses the problem of teaching the fundamental concepts of his discipline. Researchers found that students coming out of an introductory economics class scored worse on an applicable exam than those who had never take any economics courses whatsoever. So Frank, with co-author Ben Bernanke, wrote a new standard text.

While economics is the pivot for the interview, Frank offers many insights about how people gather and use information:

The narrative theory of learning now tells us that information gets into the brain a lot more easily in some forms than others. You can get information into the student’s brain in the form of equations and graphs, yes, but it’s a lot of work to do that. If you can wrap the same ideas around stories, around narratives, they seem to slide into the brain without any effort at all. After all, we evolved as storytellers; that’s what we’re good at. That’s how we always exchanged ideas and information. And if a narrative has an actor, a plot, if it makes sense, then the brain stores it quite easily; you can pull it up for further processing without any effort; you can repeat the story to others. Those seem to be the steps that really make for active learning in the brain.

Then there’s this pithy definition of behavioral economics:

One of its founders, Amos Tversky, was a psychologist at Stanford. He liked to say his colleagues study artificial intelligence; he prefers to study natural stupidity — the cognitive errors people are prone to make. It’s not that we’re stupid, but we use heuristics, we use rules of thumb, and the heuristics work well enough on average across a broad range of circumstances, but unless you really understand the logic of weighing costs and benefits, it’s very easy to be fooled into making the wrong decision.

Sounds like usability research, no?

Frank is also author of The Economic Naturalist: In Search of Explanations for Everyday Enigmas and periodic essayist for the New York Times.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Cognitive Bias, Scholarly Publishing

October 4, 2007, 12:31 pm

Access Control Poster

By Henry Woodbury

Model Access Control Poster, DetailI was discussing a new project with a colleague yesterday, one in which we need to turn a preliminary framework into a detailed process model, when I realized that a past project might help us out.

Back in 2002, we designed a Modeling Access Control Poster for that year’s ASIS&T Information Architecture Summit. We intentionally challenged ourselves to explain web-based access control systems on a conceptual level, rather than show a particular case.

This approach now helps us, internally, to define the appropriate requirements-gathering baseline for a newly conceived system.

The printable poster is here: Modeling Access Control Poster (PDF, 287K).

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Information Architecture, User Experience, Visual Explanation