Information Design Watch
December 22, 2009, 12:20 pm
By Lisa Agustin
I stumbled on this odd post about the use of PowerPoint in the college classroom. The basic question is this: How do you help students who rely on your PowerPoint slides as a study aid, especially if they missed the class? Some academics are aware of PowerPoint best practices, but Julianne Dalcanton suggests the following as a way to help students without breaking the rules:
My trick for [giving students the key points without cluttering the slide] is using black text on a black background. The text doesn’t show on the screen, but it does show up when printed as a handout, since the black background defaults back to white. Thus, you get the following:
Dalcanton should rethink her approach. Hiding the bulleted text so it will appear when printed wrongly assumes everyone will want (or remember) to print it, and using a black background with red text results in poor legibility (not to mention encouraging a nice nap if the lecture takes place in a dark room). In short, she’s sacrificing a good presentation for the sake of printability. Other problems with this slide:
- The graph is key to the slide and should be bigger. Remove the box that surrounds the question, since this is visually distracting. If the question itself is a key point, hopefully a subsequent slide answers the question.
- The language in the bottom-right comment needs the speaker to provide context. What does “This” refer to–the graph? If it’s important to connect energy loss with calculating the age of the universe, spell this out explicitly.
- The bullet points are better placed in the Notes area, but Dalcanton isn’t a fan of this feature (see comments following her post). If the bulleted text must be kept in the slide, it shouldn’t be sized for presentation, since this is a waste of slide real estate. Instead, use a smaller font, and move the bullets to the bottom of the page. Then use a color other than black for the font and matching background color (we used white, and this prints fine).
Our quick redo shows the presentation version on the left, and the printed version on the right. The bulleted text is in ten-point font, and legible when printed.
December 22, 2009, 11:18 am
By Henry Woodbury
In The New York Times, IBM scientists Fernanda Viégas and Martin Wattenberg have some fun with search engine auto-suggestions. Type in even a single word and you receive “a list of suggested, presumably popular completions.” (In courtroom dramas, this is called leading the witness.)
December 18, 2009, 11:11 am
By Lisa Agustin
Fresh from Google Labs: Google Browser Size, a nifty visualization tool for checking how much of a web page sits “above the fold,” i.e., what’s visible in Google without scrolling. Just type in any URL to see how the site looks. Color contours show different window sizes and the percentage of users that have this size or larger. (Presumably these percentages are based on Google’s own statistics.) For instance, in the example above, the “donate now” button falls within the 80% contour, meaning that 20% of users cannot see this button when they first visit the page. If getting donations is a priority of the site, the web design team now knows they ought to position the button higher on the page.
The tool works as an overlay, allowing you to interact normally with the page you’re examining. Thus you can easily review other pages on the site as well. This is great for sites that are about to be redesigned, or ones that you’re just curious about. I was also happy to discover that this tool also works for designs that are still in development–I was able to view a .png on a project site, which gave me instant feedback on what will be visible on page load. Nice work, Google.
December 17, 2009, 12:24 pm
By Lisa Agustin
The New York Times recently profiled biologist-turned-stand-up-comic Tim Lee, who describes his act as a “parody of a seminar.” And what seminar would be complete without PowerPoint? It seems to come in handy when describing the similarities between nuclear fission and sports bars.
December 16, 2009, 12:41 pm
By Lisa Agustin
With the end of 2009 fast approaching, it’s time to think about lessons learned, things to improve, RESOLUTIONS. Seth Godin and Ishita Gupta asked over seventy big thinkers to each share an idea to focus on for 2010. The result is a new (and free!) ebook, What Matters Now. Godin challenges us to think about Generosity in spite of the current economy. Author Elizabeth Gilbert talks about the importance of Ease. Guy Kawasaki explains how true Evangelism works. (Pictured above: Hugh MacLeod’s take on Meaning.) My current favorite is George Dyson on the role of Analog systems in the age of Web 2.0:
Complex networks—of molecules, people, or ideas—constitute their own simplest behavioral descriptions. They are more easily approximated by analogy than defined by algorithmic code. Facebook, for example, although running on digital computers, constitutes an analog computer whose correspondence to the underlying network of human relationships now drives those relationships, the same way Google’s statistical approximation to meaning— allowing answers to find the questions, rather than the other way around—is now more a landscape than a map.
December 16, 2009, 9:35 am
By Kirsten Robinson
The Onion cleverly skewers design makeovers for the sake of newness and freshness AND over-reliance on focus groups in their hilarious article, “Alphabet Updated with 15 Exciting New Letters.”
December 15, 2009, 4:00 pm
By Lisa Agustin
I am happily perusing an early Christmas present to myself: Masterpiece Comics, a collection of R. Sikoryak’s mash-ups of comic strips and world literature. Some examples: Rex Morgan, M.D. + Macbeth = “Macworth.” Ziggy + Candide = “Candiggy.” From more recent times, Mike Judge’s Beavis and Butthead + Waiting for Godot = “Waiting to Go.” You get the idea. At first glance, it looks like Sikoryak is simply layering literary plotlines atop uncanny copies of famous cartoons. But the Masterpiece collection is more than that. Each classic tale has been carefully matched with a comic that shares its core sensibility, and the clever pairing emphasizes what they have in common, while at the same time creating something new. In “Good Ol’ Gregor Brown” (above), Gregor Samsa from Franz Kafka’s novella The Metamorphosis wakes up as a bug in the Peanuts world of Charles M. Schulz. Samsa and Charlie Brown are separated by time and place, but the futility and sad humor are the same. It’s just one of many examples that make you think, “Of course!” My only disappointment is that this volume is a little on the slim side– only 64 pages– but that’s only because I wish there was more to explore. Guess I will just have to wait for the next one (“Coming soon! Virgil! Chaucer! Flaubert!”)
R. Sikoryak’s web site (http://www.rsikoryak.com/index.html)
December 14, 2009, 10:59 am
By Henry Woodbury
People seem to forget that the periodic table is a table because it reads in two dimensions. Read it left to right and atomic weight increases. Read it top to bottom and you find elements with similar properties — for example, the alkali metals in group 1 or the noble gases in group 18. The gaps in periods 1, 2, and 3 represent physical realities about the electron configuration of those lighter elements (see this Periodic Table by Chemicool).
Most attempts to fit other data sets to the periodic table result in strange confections.
This Periodic Table of Visualization Methods is a prime example. A simple categorized list is puddled into the matrix of Dmitri Mendeleev’s table and shoved around to fit. There are exactly six “compound visualizations.” How serendipitous. The really interesting data — the examples of the methods — are hidden under reductive two-letter acronyms, making comparison impossible even when you do find something interesting.
If the categories are meaningful and not just quantified to fit the table, the next step is to abandon the presentation method that doesn’t work and come up with one that does.
December 10, 2009, 12:47 pm
By Lisa Agustin
While director Tim Burton is perhaps best known for fantastical movies like Edward Scissorhands and his upcoming version of Alice in Wonderland, his creative output is actually quite broad, and includes paintings, photography, sculpture, and writing. Burton’s body of work is the focus of a new exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art. Sketchbooks and drawings figure prominently in the show, and represent not a final product as much as a way to explore and share ideas. Says Burton:
[Drawing] has always been an important part of my life….I haven’t really shown any of this stuff. I never considered it art or artwork, mainly because it was not meant to be seen, really. It was all sort of the process I was doing when I was thinking of ideas or helping my own mental process. All these kinds of things, whether photographs, or little writings, or sketches, for me, are THE most important part of any project. I mean, because once I’m doing it, like when I have to communicate with people, it’s not easy for me. So the important work has to be done in these little private projects.
The exhibition runs through April 26, 2010.
December 8, 2009, 3:30 pm
By Lisa Agustin
Dynamic Diagrams is pleased to announce the latest release of the ipHandbook of Best Practices web site. An online resource for practitioners of intellectual property management, the initial site was based on a comprehensive printed Handbook and Executive Guide. Now, with support from the Concept Foundation, the latest iteration of the site includes:
- Selected video presentations from the Licensing Executives Society International annual meeting, created exclusively for the ipHandbook site
- Commenting and uploading capabilities to enable the larger community to contribute original content
- An updated Networking area with discussion forum functionality
- Country-specific intellectual property management resources for India and the Republic of Ghana, with more to follow
These latest additions will expand the ipHandbook site as a key resource for IP management, while enabling the creation of a global virtual community of IP and innovation managers, policymakers, scientists, and R&D leaders.
December 3, 2009, 2:57 pm
By Lisa Agustin
With the economic recovery taking longer than expected, is it time for politicians to step aside and give designers a shot at it? Over the summer, creative strategy consultant Richard Smith sponsored the Dollar ReDe$ign Project, suggesting that rebranding the US Dollar would boost consumer confidence and, as a result, jumpstart the economy. (Check out the winning entry by Kyle R. Thompson.) But is an image makeover really enough? After all, it’s less about what the currency looks like and more about what it’s worth.
Better-looking money needs to be part of a well-thought out commerce-based model. Consider the Brixton Pound out of the UK (pictured above) or the BerkShares, created for the Berkshire region of Massachusetts. Both are examples of local currencies created to stimulate local economic development. How it works in a nutshell: National currency is exchanged for local currency at designated exchange locations. The consumer can then use the local money at businesses that have agreed to accept it. Depending on the specific model, there are pre-arranged benefits, like exclusive offers or discounts to users of the local currency. For example, the BerkShares model has a five-percent discount that is part of the exchange rate (ninety-five cents per BerkShare). An example of how it works:
One day, you decide to go out for a nice dinner. You go to the bank to purchase BerkShares to spend at a local restaurant. You go in with 95 federal dollars and exchange them for 100 BerkShares. You go to dinner, and the total cost comes to $100. The restaurant accepts BerkShares in full, so you pay entirely in BerkShares. Therefore, you’ve spent 95 federal dollars and received a $100 meal – a five percent discount for you. The owner of the restaurant now has 100 BerkShares. They decide that they need to deposit them for federal dollars and return them to the bank. When they bring them to the bank, the banker deposits the 100 BerkShares you spent on dinner and gives the restaurant $95 federal dollars, the same 95 dollars that you had originally exchanged for BerkShares. The end result? You receive a five percent discount because of the initial exchange, but the same $95 you originally traded for BerkShares all goes to the business where you spent those BerkShares.
Yes, there’s some cool-looking money involved, and yes, it does something for instilling local pride. But more important, these models demonstrate that design can play a role in solving real problems (like a sluggish economy), and providing tangible benefits to those involved.
December 3, 2009, 11:28 am
By Matt DeMeis
…is now being done very effectively with new technology. Flyp media captures that cozy feeling of thumbing through a magazine and translates it to the internet in one of the best ways I have seen in a while. It’s news, in a more exciting format. Video, audio and elegantly designed layouts definitely give a nod to the print world, all while being more exciting than a piece of paper could ever be.
December 2, 2009, 3:31 pm
By Matt DeMeis
These days health care is a slippery subject. This isn’t about politics or any of that. Today I came across (what I think to be) a brilliant way of marketing health care to an audience that usually forgoes coverage, Xtreme sports enthusiasts. Tonik Health Insurance has taken the daunting task of securing coverage for yourself and made it incredibly easy.
Tonik targets a finite demographic and gives them access to the information the need in a design they can relate to. In one or two clicks I was able to find all that I needed to know about purchasing a plan from them. Once you decide on a coverage level you simply fill out a form. For comparison I went to an undisclosed giant’s web site to try and find the same info (still pretending I was an Xtreme sports enthusiast of course). I gave up after some dead end digging and suggestions to download PDFs. It seemed more effort was put into the stock photography than the user experience. Ease of use is CRUCIAL for the audience Tonik is targeting. Their potential customer wants information fast. No digging. No downloading.
The design is great. Loud but very minimalist. It’s tailored for a younger, action sports lifestyle audience and it does that perfectly. Bold colors and lots of flash but these things don’t hide the information. Wonder what “$5000 deductible” means on the thrill-seeker plan? click the question mark next to the word. Easy.
Now to be fair it must be noted that Tonik is a division of Blue Cross, an industry giant. They don’t serve every demographic, there is no “family thrill-seeker” package yet, but there is a lot to be learned by how smart and easy this site has made a somewhat complicated decision. Check it out at www.tonikhealth.com
December 2, 2009, 12:45 pm
By Henry Woodbury
In Tim Parks lyrical and learned history, Medici Money, he provides this description of Italy:
Let us dispense with the “boot” image and imagine a cylinder topped by an inverted equilateral triangle. The cylinder is surrounded by the sea and mostly mountainous, the triangle is generally flat but shut off to the north by the Alps. (p. 66)
It is an interesting gambit, this delineation of a visual idea with prose, yet the result is quite odd. The cylinder is a three dimensional volume; the triangle is a two dimensional plane. Parks creates this juxtaposition intentionally, to drive home the geographic difference between the mountainous south and the flatter north. The poor fit of the two shapes also evokes the political and cultural disagreement between the north and south of Italy throughout its history.
It is a visual explanation, but one that exists best in a mental space. Made graphic, it adds little to the map.