Information Design Watch

April 30, 2009, 12:46 pm

Happy Birthday, Dad of Info Theory

By Lisa Agustin

Per Wired, on this date in 1916, Claude Elwood Shannon, the father of information theory and the man who coined the term “bit,” was born:

Shannon’s 1938 master’s thesis, A Symbolic Analysis of Relay and Switching Circuits, used Boolean algebra to establish the theoretical basis of modern digital circuits. The paper came out of Shannon’s insight that the binary nature of Boolean logic was analogous to the ones and zeros used by digital circuits.

His paper was widely cited, laying the foundations for modern information theory. It has been called “one of the most significant master’s theses of the 20th century.” Not bad for a 22-year-old kid from a small town in Michigan.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Technology

April 23, 2009, 9:12 am

The Carnivore’s Dilemma

By Lisa Agustin

Showing large numbers in a way that both grabs the attention of an audience and also compels them to think about their relationship to the data can be a challenge for statistics-based visualizations. Animal Visuals has just released an animation depicting the rate of slaughter of chickens, pigs, and cows in the United States in 2008:

Initially, I found the speed of the animation to be somewhat distracting, but the effect of the animals moving/twitching along the conveyor belt gave me a visceral feeling that was hard to ignore. In a way I wonder if this was really the point of the graphic, rather than making me think about the numbers themselves.

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Comments (2) | Filed under: Visual Explanation

April 22, 2009, 8:27 am

Broken on Purpose

By Henry Woodbury

Seth Godin at Gel 2006 explains how This is broken. What is broken? Almost everything.

Including Napoleon’s March to Moscow.

Starting at 17:53, Godin buries Edward Tufte in order to praise him. Note that Godin doesn’t really bother with the graph itself, but rather Tufte’s promotion of it as “the best graph ever made.” Godin responds:

I think he’s completely out of his gourd and totally wrong!

If you need to spend 15 minutes studying a graph you might as well read the text underneath. Godin then backs off. Tufte’s promotion of Napoleon’s March, he says, is an example of something “broken on purpose”:

For the kind of person you want to reach — they want to read a complicated difficult to understand graph and get the satisfaction of figuring it out, because then they get it…. Sometimes the best thing to do is break it for the people you don’t care about and just make it work for the people you do.

Agree?

Watch the rest of the talk as well. It’s a very funny, pointed critique of bad information and product design.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Charts and Graphs, Cognitive Bias, Information Design, Language, Marketing, Visual Explanation

April 21, 2009, 8:27 am

Ban Comic Sans?

By Henry Woodbury

Comic Sans didn’t spring to life on its own from the primordial Windows ooze. Typographer Vincent Connare designed it:

…one afternoon, he opened a test version of a program called Microsoft Bob for children and new computer users. The welcome screen showed a cartoon dog named Rover speaking in a text bubble. The message appeared in the ever-so-sedate Times New Roman font.

Connare went to work on creating an appropriate comic font for Bob. Not long after a Microsoft product manager included his creation as a standard font in Windows and the spread of Comic Sans began. The spread of efforts opposed to it soon followed.

Connare retains a wry appreciation for his most famous work:

“If you love it, you don’t know much about typography,” Mr. Connare says. But, he adds, “if you hate it, you really don’t know much about typography, either, and you should get another hobby.”

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Comics, Technology, Typography

April 9, 2009, 6:30 am

Charts Rule!

By Kirsten Robinson

From the folks at PBS Kids, it’s “Conjunction Junction” for the info vis set. Although, I’m sure some of my colleagues would take issue with the 3D pie charts.

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Comments (2) | Filed under: Information Design

April 8, 2009, 11:46 am

Cloud Computing: To Manifesto or not to Manifesto

By Kim Looney

An article on Economist.com, “Clash of the Clouds,” brought to my attention the the recent publishing of a cloud computing manifesto.

What is cloud computing you say? Well, according to the manifesto:

 …cloud computing is really a culmination of many technologies such as grid computing, utility computing, SOA, Web 2.0, and other technologies…”. And it’s key characteristics are “the ability to scale and provision computing power dynamically in a cost efficient way and the ability of the consumer (end user, organization or IT staff) to make the most of that power without having to manage the underlying complexity of the technology.

All that sounds good, and open standards also sound good for the consumer. But what about providers and associated technology businesses? There are some conspicuous absences on the list of supporters for the manifesto. I don’t know much about standards creation or technology policy-making, but I will be watching for developments on how cloud computing finds its place as a staple in computing technology — and not only so I can represent it visually for a client.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Business, Current Events, Technology

April 7, 2009, 8:52 am

The Power of Humble Documents

By Henry Woodbury

In 1968 a handful of computer scientists began trying to figure out what to do with the rudimentary network they had designed for the government. Graduate student Stephen Crocker volunteered to write up the notes on protocol. Thus were born the “Request for Comments” that became ” the formal method of publishing Internet protocol standards.”

Crocker describes how an open process invited participation and the sharing of ideas:

…we relied on a process we called “rough consensus and running code.” Everyone was welcome to propose ideas, and if enough people liked it and used it, the design became a standard. 

Arguably, this not only made the Internet possible, but laid the foundation for the open source movement and other cooperative software and computing ventures.

For more details on that rudimentary network, one can read Michael Hauben’s “History of ARPANET: Behind the Net – the untold history of the ARPANET — or — The ‘Open’ History of the ARPANET/Internet”.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Technology