Information Design Watch

September 30, 2010, 2:21 pm

Austan Goolsbee’s Magic Ruler

By Henry Woodbury

Economist Austan Goolsbee, speaking for the White House, explains the virtue of the president’s tax plan by misrepresenting lines as areas:

“We got a ruler and measured out the size of the tax cut is how big the circle is…”

Aargh. Whatever the merits (or grammar) of the argument, a line is not a circle. A circle is not a goose egg, a term that Goolsbee uses later in the show. And in colloquial terms a goose egg does not mean huge. It means zero.

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

September 27, 2010, 11:40 am

Think You Know Movies?

By Lisa Agustin

Then prove you have The Right Stuff– guess the titles of the (26) films hidden in this short animation, and you could be entered in a drawing to win them all, courtesy of The Guardian. (Quick, though– you only have until October 22).

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Information Design, Visual Explanation

September 26, 2010, 7:51 pm

Boundaries Without Boundaries

By Henry Woodbury

Almost by definition, map-based data draws a picture. Rarely is the picture so stark as Bill Rankin’s mapping of U.S. Census data on race and ethnicity to Chicago’s neighborhood boundaries.

Racial / ethnic self-identification in Chicago in the year 2000, by Bill Rankin

Rankin draws attention not to the neighborhoods where his map confirms historical racial and ethnic boundaries, but to those whose gradient would otherwise go unnoticed:

My alternative is to use dot mapping to show three kinds of urban transitions. First, there are indeed areas where changes take place at very precise boundaries — such as between Lawndale and the Little Village, or Austin and Oak Park — and Chicago has more of these stark borders than most cities in the world. But transitions also take place through gradients and gaps as well, especially in the northwest and southeast. Using graphic conventions which allow these other possibilities to appear takes much more data, and requires more nuance in the way we talk about urban geography, but a cartography without boundaries can also make simplistic policy or urban design more difficult — in a good way.

Digital cartographer Eric Fischer takes Rankin’s approach and maps cities across the United States. Everywhere, ethnic and racial divisions present themselves, but there are dramatic differences in degree.

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

September 21, 2010, 10:34 am

The Simple Power of a Graphic

By Matt DeMeis

Most of us know about the 33 miners trapped underground in Chile. I came across this infographic created by Newsweek about the 3″ diameter bore hole that is keeping them alive.

So simple, but so incredibly powerful. I love this kind of thing. With a line drawing, we are given a true window into the unbelievably claustrophobic situation these men are enduring.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Comics, Creativity, Current Events, Diagrams, Illustration, Infographics, Information Design, Visual Explanation

September 9, 2010, 2:38 pm

How to Make a Lot of Data Look Like a Lot of Data

By Henry Woodbury

Stockmapper made Time Magazine’s list of the top 50 web sites for 2010. Stockmapper has a lot of data, but is it useful? I can’t tell. Which answers the question, at least for me.

Compare the Stockmapper heat map with Smartmoney’s Map of the Market. Stockmapper is the larger one underneath. You’re not missing much.

Comparison of Stockmapper and Map of the Market

The Stockmapper heat map, whether organized by ticker symbol, percent change, volume, or market cap, tells no high level story. You might as well use a spreadsheet with sortable columns. You can sort and filter, but not compare. Click on a filter such as market sector or country and Stockmapper rewards you with some neatly rendered bar charts, but the heat map is a failure.

In contrast, the Map of the Market offers a comprehensible high-level view of market trends. You can compare the activity of each sector of the market and see which are gaining or losing value. Market capitalization is shown by area which provides another way to compare sectors and individual stocks.

Martin Wattenberg created the Map of the Market well over a decade ago. The best of 1998 is better than the best of 2010.

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Comments (3) | Filed under: Business, Charts and Graphs, Information Design, Visual Explanation

September 3, 2010, 8:55 pm

Requiem for a Signifier

By Henry Woodbury

Kate Howe designed this logo:

Cordoba Initiative Logo

In an article at The Design Observer Group she laments its invisibility in the face of a larger controversy:

I did my best to pack Cordoba Initiative’s symbol with positive significance, but It has failed to convey the group’s peaceful and progressive message. It has just stood for a Logo that identifies a Real Organization…

Howe writes in elegiac tones with real sincerity. But I think she confuses the design of a logo with the use of a logo. In the design process, finding and portraying meaning is the priority. In practice, identification comes first. One of her commenters, Matt, sums it up this way:

Great reminder that a logo (no matter how good it is) does not import value into an organization. Rather, the organization and its values and practices are reflected in the mark. Designers entrust an empty symbol to their clients and it’s the client who fills it with meaning.

Commenter Mathias Burton cuts to the chase:

Branding is at play in the situation and the logo is not the brand.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Branding, Current Events, Marketing