Information Design Watch

March 26, 2009, 2:46 pm

Innie or Outie?

By Kim Looney

Our Creative Director noticed something peculiar about the photo of Tenoumer Crater in Mauritania taken January 24, 2008, found on boston.com (NASA, Jesse Allen, NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team). The crater didn’t look crater-like; it looked like circle-shaped valley or like a cookie-cutter impression in some dough. After some experiments he discovered that if the crater is rotated 180 degrees, it looks like a crater should. Is it the lighting? Do we presume that light by default comes from the top of a picture? When he placed a second crater on the screen that could be rotated 360 degrees the interactions between the two began to get very interesting. The rotatable crater began to influence our perception of the stable crater. So we made an interactive movie to let you try for yourself. Sometimes you’ll need to look away from the screen to “flip” the image/s after rotation. See what your own experiences are!

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Cognitive Bias, Photography

March 24, 2009, 8:24 am

At Least We Know It’s Being Spent Wisely

By Kirsten Robinson

The folks over at PageTutor have come up with a visualization to show what the huge sums of money being bandied about by banks, insurance companies, Bernie Madoff,  and our government actually look like, using stacks, shopping bags, and pallets of $100 bills.

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

March 20, 2009, 2:01 pm

Dynamic Diagrams at Etech 09

By Maia Garau

Last week I presented a tutorial at Etech on Holistic Service Prototyping with Matt Cottam, Jasper Speicher and Brian Hinch of Tellart. This tutorial built on the advanced studio Matt and I taught last semester in the Industrial Design department at RISD on the topic of Service Design. Services are by nature intangible and therefore present exciting new design challenges both in terms of communicating and developing service concepts. Through a combination of lectures and hands-on projects we explored a range of approaches with our students, from customer journeys and service blueprints to video and live enactment. Some of their work is featured here.

In addition to the key concepts and methods covered in our studio, the Etech tutorial introduced tools and techniques for building functional sketch models of web, mobile and embedded service experiences. Participants also played a brainstorming game we created that was partly inspired by Clue (“Professor Plum…. in the Library…. with a Candlestick”). They chose different combinations of users, contexts and tools to dream up new mobile and embedded service experiences, e.g. “Only child… on a road trip…. with an airflow sensor.” We have some video of the session and plan to post it soon.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Design, Dynamic Diagrams News, Prototyping

March 19, 2009, 1:25 pm

An Introduction to Information Design: A Manual for Advocacy Groups

By Maia Garau

Tactical Tech and John Emerson of Backspace have published a useful information design manual for NGOs looking to strengthen the impact of their campaigns:

Information design uses pictures, symbols, colors, and words to communicate ideas, illustrate information or express relationships visually… It is not the same as graphic design, nor is it only about making something aesthetically pleasing. It’s not about branding, style, making a glossy product or something that looks “corporate.”

They add that information design is not about making something aesthetically pleasing, but about making your data clear, compelling and convincing (to which I would add memorable).

The authors make a convincing case for using information design to effect social change at many levels. Information design is a powerful tool not only for storytelling but also for the earlier stages of discovery (finding patterns) and decision-making (making comparisons and weighing options).

Download the pamphlet here or or request a copy.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Books and Articles, Charts and Graphs, Information Design, Visual Explanation

March 11, 2009, 1:52 pm

Retrobrands, Part 2: The Meatball versus The Worm

By Lisa Agustin

Official Nasa Seal
Official NASA Seal
NASA Insignia (the Meatball)
NASA Insignia (“the Meatball”)
NASA Logotype (the Worm)
NASA Logotype (“the Worm”)

T Magazine’s recent writeup on the history of the logo for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is an interesting counterpoint to Matt’s post on the rebranding of Howe Caverns. In 1959, a year after the agency was founded, James Modarelli of the NASA Lewis Research Center created the NASA Insignia, which was meant to serve as a less formal version of the official NASA seal. The Insignia, also known as “the Meatball,” is a composite of individual design elements — the sphere is a planet, the stars represent space, the vector represents aeronautics, and the orbit represents space travel–cast in a patriotic scheme of red, white, and blue. The result is a logo that looks, to some, too literal and amateurish, yet romantic and nostalgic to others.

The Meatball was used until 1975, when the agency unveiled the NASA Logotype, a subtler, more futuristic take on the agency logo that strips the name down to a single curving element to spell out the four letters. “The Worm” is sleek, serious, and more corporate– not a surprise given it was created by a corporate identity firm, Danne & Blackburn.

Given the history of its logo, one would assume that further work on the NASA brand would take the Worm further along in its progression — more forward-thinking, future-type approaches. Right? Wrong. Turns out that use of the Worm was discontinued in 1992 (although it may be used with permission for commercial purposes), and NASA returned to using the Meatball, which it still uses today as its official logo. Why the return to the earlier version? Columnist Alice Rawsthorn’s take:

The Meatball was revived in 1992 as part of the efforts to revitalize NASA after its traumas of the 1980s. NASA decided to bring back the symbol of its golden age and has stuck with it ever since. The Meatball still reminds us of the triumph of the Mercury and Apollo missions, even though NASA has never recaptured its former glory, as illustrated by its recent problems with the design of the Ares spacecraft system.

Unlike the Howe Caverns brand, in which the old identity was seen as an impediment to bringing in a new audience, the NASA Insignia represents big dreams and new frontiers, a transfusion that NASA’s image could really use right now.

For more on NASA’s logo, see:

http://history.nasa.gov/meatball.htm

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Branding, Marketing, Typography, User Experience

March 11, 2009, 8:18 am

Visualization a la Dilbert

By Lisa Agustin

Proof that even Dilbert understands the power of visualization.

dilbert-strip

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Charts and Graphs, Comics

March 9, 2009, 8:49 am

Successful Teams Don’t Communicate Only With Words

By Kirsten Robinson

An interesting excerpt from Jared Spool’s blog, on successful design teams and diagrams:

For almost ten years, the research team at UIE has been searching to uncover the secrets behind great designs. As we talk to team after team, a key truth continues to emerge: The best teams communicate internally really well, while those teams that struggle also struggle at their internal communication.

When we think of a team that communicates, the first things that comes to mind are hallway conversations, meetings, and emails. But, as our research continues to show, are only a part of the communication puzzle.

It turns out that one of the differences between the successful teams and the struggling teams is their use of diagrams and maps. Struggling teams almost always try to communicate important design ideas through talking or word-based documents, while the successful teams put a heavy emphasis on diagrams.

It’s nice to see this validation for what we at Dynamic Diagrams have always advocated.

Jared’s comments are a lead-in to an article on concept models, which in turn referenced Bryce Glass’s concept model for Flickr — a nice visualization for a complex social media ecosystem. Apparently this visualization has been around since 2005, but this was the first time I’d seen it.

Flickr concept model by Brian Glass

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Comments (2) | Filed under: Design, Diagrams, Visual Explanation

March 5, 2009, 1:52 pm

Correlation is not Causation, not Even on Facebook

By Henry Woodbury

Caltech graduate student Virgil Griffith stirs the statistical pot:

Griffith used aggregated Facebook data about the favorite bands and books among students of various colleges and plotted them against the average SAT scores at those schools, creating a tongue-in-cheek statistical look at taste and intelligence….

Griffith came up with the idea as a way to show how to take two separate sets of data that were pretty straightforward on their own – in this case, the average SAT score and the favorite books among students at various universities – and combine them to become more interesting. Griffith says, “Their unity is hilarity incarnate. This is to inspire people to think creatively about the data sets that are on the Internet.”

Given Griffith’s puckish sense of humor, I read “think creatively” as “be skeptical.”

His other well-publicized “be skeptical” project is WikiScanner a tool that that uses IP addresses to identify anonymous Wikipedia edits made from corporate and government domains. (In my mind the joke here is the idea that Wikipedia is trustworthy in any fashion, but that’s just me.)

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Technology, Visual Explanation

March 5, 2009, 1:51 pm

Howe Could They Do This!?

By Matt DeMeis

Today I was looking through the list of winners for ReBrand’s 2009 “100 Global Awards Winning Brands” contest, when a familiar name jumped out at me. Howe Caverns. For those of you (which is probably most) who don’t know about Howe Caverns, here’s a quick summary.

In upstate NY there is a HUGE underground cavern that was discovered by a bunch of cows trying to stay cool on a hot summer day. The cave remains 52°F consistently, year round. This makes it an ideal place for aging cheese, beer, getting married and giving tours for money through its long and winding passageways.

My mom grew up not far from Howe Caverns so I have known about it and its wacky, hand painted billboard advertising ever since I can remember. The billboards I remember most depicted a Huckleberry Finn-type character with what appears to be his little brother on his back, lantern in hand, exploring the cavern. The colors were day-glo on black and the fonts were meant to look super spooky!! POW! I was hooked. I had to go there.

My point is it had a memorable style. Like it or not, it got the job done. You would see one of those billboards a mile away and know it was for Howe Caverns. When I saw that Howe Caverns had re-branded itself I was curious, then disappointed.

New Howe Caverns Branding

They did away with the timeless hand painted illustrative style in favor of the “roughen” filter in Adobe Illustrator. The new branding looks like the packaging for a first-person shooter game, or an earthquake danger warning sign. The style is something we’ve seen a million other places these days. Solid color, distressed font, nice photos — done. I feel like the soul and history of the brand just got flushed away. It may have needed a makeover, but the essence could have been preserved.

I am by all means biased due to my personal childhood memories of the brand but I say bring back Huck Finn and his day-glo little brother!

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Branding, Illustration, Marketing

March 4, 2009, 1:19 pm

Visual Explanation of the Credit Crisis

By Kim Looney


The Crisis of Credit Visualized from Jonathan Jarvis on Vimeo

For any of you visual thinkers still struggling to understand how this country got into this current financial mess, take a look at Jonathan Jarvis’s narrated video. I didn’t really start to put the pieces together until the bombs appeared, but then I began to get it. Now we need one for corporate bail-outs!

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Current Events, Visual Explanation