Information Design Watch

August 30, 2010, 10:03 am

Teaching Many Many People in a Leveraged Way

By Henry Woodbury

My title is Bill Gates talking. He is talking about Sal Khan, Harvard MBA, former hedge fund manager, and now the one man show behind online learning site Khan Academy. Here is Gates at more length:

There’s a web site that I’ve been using with my kids recently called Khan Academy, K H A N, just one guy doing some unbelievable 15 minute tutorials…. He was a hedge fund guy making lots of money and he quit to do these little web videos and so we’ve moved I’d say about 160 IQ points from the hedge fund category to the teaching-many-many-people-in-a-leveraged-way category and so that was a good day — the day his wife let him quit his job.

Khan’s YouTube videos feature his voice and an electronic blackboard that present bitmap images and (mostly) Khan’s notes and annotations. Here’s an example, Basic Multiplication:

This approach is extremely efficient and extremely effective. Speaker and blackboard (or whiteboard). That’s all.

When Gates talks about “leverage” this is part of what he means. The pedagogical simplicity of Khan’s approach makes his materials very accessible and allows him to develop his lectures quickly. Their succinctness allows him to tailor each one to a specific level of ability. The other aspect of “leverage” is technological. By using the common YouTube video format, Khan can reach anyone and everyone with a decent Internet connection. There are no additional distribution barriers. Makers of educational software should take note.

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Information Design, Technology

August 25, 2010, 3:10 pm

Data is the New Soil

By Lisa Agustin

TED offers up a talk by journalist/designer David McCandless, who we’ve written about before.  McCandless sees himself as a “data detective,” creating beautiful diagrams (“flowers of information”) that expose new insights in the process.  Check it out for a fun walkthrough some of his creations.

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

August 25, 2010, 9:32 am

Egg Cracking Technique

By Henry Woodbury

A friend linked me to the delightful They Draw and Cook web site (thanks Katy!). Here you have simple recipes rendered by artists and illustrators. Many are no more than decorated recipe cards, but some clamber over the illustration fence into visual explanation territory. An example is Alex Savakis’s egg cracking technique:

Gust's Scrambled Eggs by Alex Savakis

In this one, the text is superfluous.

Others are just fun.

Rootin' Tootin' Beans by Pierre A. Lamielle

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Art, Illustration, Information Design, Visual Explanation

August 16, 2010, 1:46 pm

Hello E. Coli, You’re Looking Large

By Henry Woodbury

E. Coli Bacterium

Start with a coffee bean and zoom down to a carbon atom. That’s a journey in scale from millimeters to picometers.

To experience that journey, try out the interactive Cell Size and Scale application created by the University of Utah’s Genetic Science Learning Center. It is a tool of elegant simplicity. Move the single slider to the right and sets of increasingly tinier biological objects come into view. At micron scale, you’ll encounter the E. Coli bacterium with its friends lysosome and mitochondria. A gang of viruses make their appearance. And you’re only halfway to the atom.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Charts and Graphs, Illustration, Visual Explanation

August 10, 2010, 11:54 am

The Dugout Canoe Description of My Job

By Henry Woodbury

The Edge Annual Question for 2010 goes out to a bevy of deep thinkers:

How is the Internet Changing the Way You Think?

Is it? That’s up to you. Editor and Publisher John Brockman anticipates the point:

We spent a lot of time going back on forth on “YOU” vs. “WE” and came to the conclusion to go with “YOU”, the reason being that Edge is a conversation. “WE” responses tend to come across like expert papers, public pronouncements, or talks delivered from stage.

Science historian George Dyson offers an evocative response:

In the North Pacific ocean, there were two approaches to boatbuilding. The Aleuts (and their kayak-building relatives) lived on barren, treeless islands and built their vessels by piecing together skeletal frameworks from fragments of beach-combed wood. The Tlingit (and their dugout canoe-building relatives) built their vessels by selecting entire trees out of the rainforest and removing wood until there was nothing left but a canoe.

The Aleut and the Tlingit achieved similar results — maximum boat / minimum material — by opposite means. The flood of information unleashed by the Internet has produced a similar cultural split. We used to be kayak builders, collecting all available fragments of information to assemble the framework that kept us afloat. Now, we have to learn to become dugout-canoe builders, discarding unneccessary information to reveal the shape of knowledge hidden within.

Give us a tree and we’ll carve your canoe. That is what Tim Roy is talking about.

(via Andrew Gilmartin who linked to Dyson’s quote on Facebook. Andrew blogs here.)

Update: I rewrote my lede, up to the Dyson quote, to add context and incorporate Brockman’s “you” vs. “we” statement.

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Books and Articles, Information Architecture, Information Design, Technology

August 10, 2010, 9:42 am

Global Reach, Local Recognition

By Henry Woodbury

Recently Providence Business News ran a profile of Dynamic Diagrams, based on a visit to the company and an interview with our president, Tim Roy. Here, Tim explains the importance of our information architecture and visualization practice:

“People are dealing with 100,000 words per day coming at them,” Roy said, “and they spend on average almost 12 hours consuming information every day and most of that takes place in front of screens, whether it’s a computer screen, a smart phone or a television set.

“We believe this is too much information coming at people and what we’re really trying to do is help folks simplify the story, take all of this data and transform it into knowledge,” he said.

From our founding in 1990 by Krzysztof Lenk and Paul Kahn, we have been proud to call Providence  home. We’ve been fortunate to work with many dynamic organizations in the city and region. And we’ve found this city a great base from which to take on projects from around the world.

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Dynamic Diagrams News