Information Design Watch

September 25, 2008, 3:48 pm

The Wire Meets 43F

By Tim Roy

One of my all-time favorite television series is “The Wire” and one of my all-time favorite blogs is Merlin Mann’s 43 Folders.  Imagine my joy at finding that Merlin has written an extensive posting on “The Wire” as a close-to-perfect example of how a story arc should be constructed.

Here at Dynamic Diagrams, we spend a lot of time talking with our clients about visual story-telling.  Part of this involves developing a narrative arc that allows an audience to connect to the story being told. Cognitive issues come into play here — establishing tension and then release, as well as providing the necessary “rests” so as not to create information overload.

Merlin writes: “…you very much do have the power to design the arcs you make, starting today. And even if you haven’t figured out how your final episode ends, consider how the pieces you want to lay down might fit together. And how the string that you gather might crack a case you hadn’t expected.”

If your own work is missing a narrative arc, take a look at The Wire: Writing Into Your Arc.

To quote Omar: “I’ll do what I can to help y’all. But, the game’s out there, and it’s play or get played. That simple.”

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

September 18, 2008, 3:34 pm

Test Your Color IQ

By Kirsten Robinson

See if you can arrange the color chips in order by hue. This reminds me of one of the exercises from the “Dynamics of Color” class I took at the DeCordova Museum.

Color chips

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Comments (3) | Filed under: Color

September 17, 2008, 10:22 am

Personal Visualization Project

By Kirsten Robinson

Flowing data held a contest for the best “personal data visualization.” Here’s one example:

Giving up Coke

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Visual Explanation

September 16, 2008, 1:50 pm

Why Kids Have Tantrums (Visualization)

By Kirsten Robinson

The New York Times has published a time series of brain scans, colorized to show how a child’s brain matures from age 4 to 21. This appealed to me as a parent, cognitive science enthusiast, and information designer.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Visual Explanation

September 12, 2008, 2:46 pm

12 Beanbags for Nine Planets

By Maia Garau

Nine Planets Wanted installationIf every person on Earth generated as much CO2 as the average North American, our planet’s carbon emissions would reach nine times the sustainable level — hence Nine Planets Wanted, the title of a striking installation designed by Zago for the United Nations Lobby in New York. The installation marks the launch of the United Nations Development Programme’s One Planet, One Chance campaign on climate change and social inequality.

Manuel Toscano and his team at Zago have taken a thoughtful and provocative approach to visualizing data from this year’s UNDP Human Development Report. Twelve giant bean bags spread throughout the hall capture the comparative emissions of different countries, while offering visitors soft, comfortable seats on which to take it all in. The largest is the one that represents the United States per person per capita yearly emissions — it is 30ft in circumference!

Present at the inauguration, the President of the General Assembly Father Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann said that the great problems facing humanity need more than words — they need novel means of communication that will enable people to absorb and respond to information in new ways.

The installation runs until October 5th. More information is available at http://nineplanetswanted.org/

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Visual Explanation

September 5, 2008, 10:16 am

Political Word Clouds

By Henry Woodbury

McCain Word Cloud

Both The New York Times and the Belmont Club blog have a feature today on the frequency of certain words in recent political speeches in the U.S. presidential race. Richard Fernandez at Belmont Club compares Sarah Palin’s Republican Convention speech to John McCain’s while the Times compares Democrats to Republicans with an additional breakdown of key words by politician.

The word count analysis reveals a few surprises, such as the fact that the Democrats were more likely to mention their opponent’s name than the Republicans. But word count analysis lacks context. If an opponent’s name is not mentioned, it may be because the opponent is better known, or referenced in other ways. It is, perhaps, the combination of words that matters, as indicators of key themes and rhetorical style.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Current Events, Information Design, Language

September 5, 2008, 8:31 am

Google Chrome Comic Overshadows Product?

By Kirsten Robinson

It seems like everyone’s talking about the Google Chrome announcement — yeah, that’s right, the announcement, maybe more so than Chrome itself! In case your network connection has been down the last couple of days, the announcement is in the form of a comic book illustrated by Scott McCLoud, author of Understanding Comics. Here’s a sample:

Google chrome comic original

And, in the “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” department, the spoofers (warning: adult content) weren’t far behind:

Google Chrome comic spoof

Anyway, it’s the first time I’ve read most of a 38-page product announcement in a long time. Although, I would have put the information with broadest appeal first (about the UI) and the developer-focused information last. And a progress indicator (“page 1 of 38″) wouldn’t hurt.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Comics, Current Events, Illustration, Information Design

September 4, 2008, 3:16 pm

Visual Storytelling in the Great White North

By Tim Roy

Having just returned from a two week car trip in Canada, I wanted to post my observations that information design challenges seem to be just about everywhere.  My time in Montreal created some interesting experiences with regard to the balance between French and English signage (especially exciting while on a six lane congested highway trying to decide if this is the right exit).

Leaving the city and moving into the Province of Ontario saw a reversal of the same — English signs became dominant with a secondary nod towards French. Finally, arriving at the obligatory visit to Niagara Falls, it became clear that even here, presenters of information struggle with the fundamental principles of communication.  In this case, the info-graphics seem to do a reasonable job of telling the story, but they certainly do not convey a message of “unusual.”

ice-sign.jpg

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Visual Explanation

September 4, 2008, 10:31 am

There Will Be Visualizations

By Lisa Agustin

Arctic Gold Rush Oil MapGiven the impact of rising fuel prices on, well, nearly everything, it’s not a surprise to see some oil-related visualizations cropping up online.

Portfolio magazine offers a starting point, with an interactive map of gas prices around the world. View the spectrum of prices worldwide, or zoom into a given region to see how individual countries rank (good for putting gas-pump gripes into perspective — I’m glad I don’t live in Turkey).

Other visualizations focus on mapping sources of oil.  The Sierra Club’s campaign to discourage new off-shore drilling includes a map of existing leases in the U.S. The map is a good start, but it could be improved by showing the gap between what’s been drilled and what’s leased but remains untouched (68 million acres, according to SC). Science Daily reported on Durham University’s mapping of disputed Arctic territories and who may lay claim to untapped oil resources (see left).  Showing how the Arctic cap might be divided is no easy task, thanks to a combination of international law and geography.  Take Russian claims (in green), for example:

“Russian demands relate to a complex area of law covered by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea Convention (UNCLOS). Under that law, any coastal state can claim territory 200 nautical miles (nm) from their shoreline (Exclusive Economic Zone, EEZ) and exploit the natural resources within that zone. Some coastal states have rights that extend beyond EEZ due to their continental shelf,…the part of a country’s landmass that extends into the sea before dropping into the deep ocean. Under UNCLOS, if a state can prove its rights, it can exploit the resources of the sea and the seabed within its territory. Russia claims that its continental shelf extends along a mountain chain running underneath the Arctic, known as the Lomonosov Ridge. Theoretically, if this was the case, Russia might be able to claim a vast area of territory.”

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

September 2, 2008, 12:20 pm

Site Maps: Helpful Tool or IA Cop-out?

By Lisa Agustin

I’ve been following with some interest UIE’s series on what it considers web design “cop-outs,” such as site maps. According to Jared Spool, a good information architecture should eliminate the need for a site map, since the map itself doesn’t “give off scent,” or clues for finding desired content:

“It’s only in the absence of anything else that gives off scent that users start to think it’s a likely help. Therefore, the real problem is the pages that lead to the site map are missing important scent. Fixing the scent issues on those pages will eliminate the need for the site map. However, deciding to improve the site map doesn’t fix the scent problem — it’s only a cop-out.”

I do agree that redesigning a site map is not the way to address findability issues, but it’s a drastic move to get rid of the site map altogether, even if there are only a few people that use them. We look at the site map not as a back-up option for locating content, but rather as the single-page view of what the whole web site offers. When done well (ideally as a single static page of links that doesn’t go deeper than 2-3 levels in the hierarchy), the site map is not a crutch, but a complementary navigation tool.

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Comments (2) | Filed under: Information Architecture, User Experience

September 2, 2008, 9:00 am

How-to Comics

By Kirsten Robinson

Ever wondered how to make a pair of stilts or spring-loaded chopsticks? Kim recently discovered a site called Howtoons that illustrates these how-tos and more, in comic form. This is especially interesting to us at Dynamic Diagrams, as we’re currently developing our first comic-inspired web-based training project for one of our clients.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Comics, Illustration