Information Design Watch

December 29, 2008, 9:17 pm

Visualization Takes Its Toll

By Lisa Agustin

Sometimes too much visualization is not a good thing. Just ask xkcd.com.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Charts and Graphs, Comics

December 29, 2008, 3:20 pm

The Year in Pictures

By Henry Woodbury

Almost every newspaper web site has a mesmerizing show.

The New York Times arranges their collection by category. I prefer the chronological order — and startling juxtapositions — of The Boston Globe’s collection (part 2, part 3).

Sports, politics, war, and disaster predominate, but some of my favorite pictures are those of science and nature, such as this photo from The Boston Globe:

The Chinese Shenzhou-7 manned spaceship

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Art, Current Events, Photography, Sports

December 17, 2008, 11:03 am

Rivermap Visualization by Kerr | Noble

By Lisa Agustin

Rivermap

The recently announced breakup of design studio Kerr | Noble prompted me to revisit some of their work, including “Rivermap” from 1999, in which the meandering contours of the River Thames are depicted using the John Banck’s poem from 1783, “A Description of London.”  The map uses the Caslon font, which was designed at the same time that the poem was written.  Lovely.

See the London Design Museum’s site for an interview with the duo, including samples of their work.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Art, Current Events, Information Design, Maps, Visual Explanation

December 15, 2008, 1:56 pm

Manipulating the Historical Web

By Lisa Agustin

Zoetrope web crawler

You may be familiar with the Internet Archive (a.k.a. the WayBackMachine), an Internet library of 85 billion web pages that lets you search for a specific web site (including ones that are now defunct) to see how it looked on a given date in the past.  But while these historical views are interesting, their usefulness is limited since they only provide single, unconnected snapshots frozen in time.  Enter the Zoetrope web crawler, a system created by Advanced Technologies Lab at Adobe Systems.  With Zoetrope, users will be able to manipulate earlier versions of the web and generate visualizations of web data over time.  “Time lenses” can be used in different regions of a page, to see specifically how data in that section has changed over a specific period of time.  These lenses can even be combined to see the interrelation of data sets, enabling the user to explore cause-and-effect hypotheses (see the Zoetrope demo for an example of this).  Intended for the “casual researcher,” it’s easy to see how data junkies could spend hours with this application. Zoetrope’s creators expect to release the application for free next summer.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Current Events, Technology, Web Interface Design

December 12, 2008, 12:17 pm

Creating Guideposts for the Visual Design Process

By Lisa Agustin

Droid SansA web site’s design is the marriage of the analytical and the aesthetic. The analytical side involves sifting through the front-end research (strategic documents, content inventories, user interviews, etc.), and translating these into a positive and engaging user experience.  Coming up with the architecture is a creative activity, but it has its roots in research activities that most clients understand and accept.

Developing the site’s visual design is usually the bigger challenge, since this is when subjective concerns like personal preference may come into play. Personal opinions about design may put the project at risk (read: endless review cycles) if these are not managed correctly.  With our projects, we frame design discussions in the context of project goals and best practices.  Conversations about the site’s desired look and feel are as specific as we can make them: Are there corporate brand guidelines?  Does the site have to complement other sites and collateral?  Are there sites you like/don’t like and why?  This approach has served us well. Still, there have been exceptions where we’ve created a visual design concept that clearly meets all the requirements, but the client is not satisfied with the result.  In the best scenarios, the feedback is specific and actionable. But then there are other design reviews where the response is a little more cryptic: “It’s not quite I was looking for,” or the dreaded “I know it when I’ll see it.”  What then?

I thought about this when I read how Droid, the font for the new G1 cellphone, came to be. Google wanted a font that was “friendly and approachable” with “common appeal.”  The iterations developed by font studio Ascender Corporation ranged from an early typeface that was considered too “bubbly” to the more “techno” computer-based font, which was also rejected.  Because the definition of an “approachable” font isn’t exactly clear-cut (at least to me), I suspect debates about the options used some kind of visual scale, a more complex version of the continuum graphic at the top of this post.  Seeing the range of options would be easier than just talking about them, and it would then be possible to pinpoint the desired result. We’ve developed such tools ourselves, adding information about what the advantages and tradeoffs may be in choosing one direction over another.

Another example of this design continuum is the perceptual map used to guide the design development of the Xbox 360 game console (scroll down for the perceptual map).  The project team arranged seven console designs on a grid that used “architectural/organic” vs. “mild/wild” axes, with the existing design as a reference.  This tool ensured that the conversation was about design language and not about design preference, while also giving non-designers a way to compare the different console designs. (For more on the Xbox 360 design process, see this earlier Information Design Watch post.)

I would love to see more examples of visual tools that can help guide the design process. Readers, have any of you successfully adapted or developed similar tools for guiding design-related discussions with clients?

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Prototyping, Typography, User Experience, Visual Explanation, Web Interface Design

December 3, 2008, 9:45 am

I Heart Coffee

By Henry Woodbury

I heart coffee

Christoph Niemann brews up a brilliant illustrated essay on one man’s history with coffee. Don’t miss the chart on coffee-bias-over-time about halfway through (oh sure, it could be improved, Tuftelike, but that’s not the point).

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Comments (2) | Filed under: Art, Charts and Graphs, Illustration, Visual Explanation

December 1, 2008, 9:44 am

The Blogofractal

By Henry Woodbury

The Blogofractal

The text version is good too.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Art, Comics, Visual Explanation