Information Design Watch

April 29, 2010, 8:08 pm

Blame the Messenger

By Henry Woodbury

The New York Times runs a slam on PowerPoint in the guise of a critique of military effectiveness, featuring the diagram below as an example of PowerPoint gone wild:

Afghan Stability / COIN Dynamics

Clearly something is lost in translation here. This is a high-resolution diagram that should be examined in print. First spotlighted in the media by NBC’s Richard Engel, the diagram actually has its fans as an attempt to visualize “how all things in war – from media bias to ethnic/tribal rivalries – are interconnected and must be taken into consideration.” It contains a lot of information and bears close inspection. Apparently it has made its way into PowerPoint but the real problem, according to Brig. Gen. H. R. McMaster, lies in the opposite direction:

In General McMaster’s view, PowerPoint’s worst offense is not a chart like the spaghetti graphic … but rigid lists of bullet points (in, say, a presentation on a conflict’s causes) that take no account of interconnected political, economic and ethnic forces. “If you divorce war from all of that, it becomes a targeting exercise,” General McMaster said.

And yet, the litany of complaints about too much PowerPoint parallels the demand, by leadership, for more information. The job of a staff officer is information. We aren’t talking about a PowerPoint problem. We’re talking about an information overload problem. The spaghetti diagram serves notice.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Charts and Graphs, Current Events, Diagrams, Infographics, PowerPoint

April 28, 2010, 11:21 am

The Examined Life, by the Numbers

By Lisa Agustin

Gary Wolf offers an in-depth look at how number-crunching is no longer confined to the workplace or the realm of geeky habits, but has become mainstream, thanks to technology (think automated sensors and video) and online tools created specifically for the personal tracking of just about everything, including health, mood, productivity, and location.  Why all the self-interest?  According to Wolf, for some it’s a matter of answering a question, measuring changes, or reaching a goal (that last ten pounds!), but it may also be about reclaiming some piece of ourselves from the “cloud”–that vague, global network to which we entrust what is personal (photos, addresses, random thoughts, etc.):

One of the reasons that self-tracking is spreading widely beyond the technical culture that gave birth to it is that we all have at least an inkling of what’s going on out there in the cloud. Our search history, friend networks and status updates allow us to be analyzed by machines in ways we can’t always anticipate or control. It’s natural that we would want to reclaim some of this power: to look outward to the cloud, as well as inward toward the psyche, in our quest to figure ourselves out.

Read the full story to see links to notable tracking projects– or feel free to start your own.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Charts and Graphs, Current Events, Technology

April 16, 2010, 1:48 pm

Planes or Volcano?

By Lisa Agustin

Looks like another day of closed airports in Europe, due to the all-encompassing ash cloud from the volcano in Iceland.  In the meantime, author David McCandless ponders the question: What’s emitting the most CO2 per day? (If you’re curious about the data sources, you can check them yourself via Google docs).

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

April 14, 2010, 8:38 am

“Just because it’s graphical, it doesn’t mean it’s useful”

By Henry Woodbury

Phyl Gyford graphs the “infographics” that give infographics a bad name. For example:

Map from Phyl Gyford's 'Infographic'

Click through to see the whole thing.

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

April 8, 2010, 4:57 pm

Guest Teaching InfoViz

By Kirsten Robinson

Dr. Bill Gribbons at Bentley University recently invited Dynamic Diagrams to present some of our work to his Information Visualization class. The class is part of the Master’s degree program in Human Factors in Information Design, of which I’m an alumna.

After I gave a brief introduction to Dynamic Diagrams, Piotr took the spotlight, showing a wide variety of visual explanations from past and present projects. Examples included highly detailed web site inventories and architecture diagrams, process illustrations, data visualizations, and animated 3D models. While Piotr explained the challenges and design solutions for each project, I played Vanna White, zooming and scrolling so the students (some of whom were attending online) could see relevant sections.

It was a great experience for me to revisit some of the past work (Samsung Electronics, Holtzbrinck), and to understand some of the more recent work (Getty) in greater depth. There never seems to be enough time to sit back and appreciate our colleagues’ work during a normal workday.

Holtzbrinck web properties inventory

Holtzbrinck web properties inventory

The best part was hearing the audible gasps as we revealed each new piece. As part of their coursework, students are required to create their own information displays, while also explaining the human factors (visual and cognitive) that help or hinder our ability to process them. I hope we were able to provide a bit of inspiration for their next projects!

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Comments (0) | Filed under: 3D Modeling, Diagrams, Dynamic Diagrams News, Information Design, Visual Explanation

April 6, 2010, 11:06 am

The Audience-First News

By Henry Woodbury

Turns out that Rupert Murdoch agrees with me about content:

Speaking on the company’s earnings call, he said “Content isn’t just King, it’s the Emperor of all things electronic.”

At the completely unironic  paidContent.org, John Yemma, Editor of The Christian Science Monitor, picks up the theme, and elaborates:

Yes, people want multimedia. They want games, maps, 30 Rock on Hulu, bootlegged first-run movies from Pirate Bay, and whacked-out amateur videos on YouTube and a dozen other sites. But there’s no evidence that they want, for instance, a thoughtful interactive map/video/database mashup on Afghanistan or global warming on which they can comment. There’s no evidence that users love these things so much that they flock to them, stay around, and convert to a news site’s brand because of cool multimedia.

Yemma differs from Murdoch in his lack of love for paywalls. Instead he advances an updated version of the click-through mantra of 00s:

What we’re learning is that the key to building and keeping traffic is far more prosaic than multimedia and sharing buttons. It rests on overcoming a huge cultural barrier: evolving a serious, experienced, thoughtful newsroom into an audience-first organization. I use the term “evolving” because this is all about the present tense. Trying to understand our current and future audience is a work in progress that will continue for as long as we publish on the web.

How far removed from being “audience-first” is your web presence? It’s worth some thought. And see what Yemma says about Sandra Bullock.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Business, Current Events, Information Design, User Experience