Information Design Watch

February 23, 2011, 9:24 am

The Mystery Cupcake

By Henry Woodbury

In my post The Mystery Donut, I demonstrated how the problems of showing linear values with areas compound when the relationship of the values to the areas is visually deceptive.

Here’s a counter example. In this Financial Times visualization, the structural deficit for each country is shown by the area of the circle. The areas are proportional. This is much better than the mystery donut, but still a confection.

While the circles offer an attractive set of elements for the designer to arrange, they also preclude easy comparison. The human mind does not easily interpret differences in relative areas. Nor are the circles on a common axis. A bar chart would do the job just fine. A bar chart would also allow two sets of numbers — the structural deficit and the deficit as a percentage of GDP to be graphed in parallel.

I have one more criticism — this one about the copywriting. The line chart at the bottom shows the U.S. debt-to-GDP ratio accelerating off the charts. It is not spiraling.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Charts and Graphs, Current Events, Diagrams, Information Design

February 22, 2011, 10:46 am

Want to See My Etchings? Visualizing “Language as a Window into Human Nature”

By Tim Roy

RSA Animate has produced another wonderful visualization, this time animating a lecture by Steven Pinker deconstructing the manner in which language can be used to create meaning.

The piece, which runs almost 11 minutes, “breaks” the commonly-held belief about the ideal duration of online video (2-3 minutes tops) and is a solid example of an exception to the rule.  The combination of the engaging style of Pinker’s narration, complete with examples from Fargo, When Harry Met Sally, and James Thurber, and the visual rendering of his words, held my attention effortlessly.  It is an apt demonstration of how words and images can combine to create immersive experiences.

For those interested in the substance as well as the form, there is much to digest.  Pinker’s views on the tension between relationship models, actions, and use of language are important facets to consider when presenting information.  We have always been told that words are important; this piece provides solid insight into why.

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Language, Visual Explanation

February 16, 2011, 2:33 pm

University of Southern Maine Undertakes Re-Design with New Information Architecture by Dynamic Diagrams

By Lisa Agustin

How do you organize a collection of over one hundred, decentrally-managed micro-sites into a single, cohesive entity that offers a consistent user experience from the home page down to the lowest level?  This was the key issue facing the University of Southern Maine‘s site redesign, and Dynamic Diagrams was happy to help.  The university had plans to migrate the site to a new content management system, and recognized the importance of creating a new architecture to provide both a better experience for site visitors as well as a standardized approach to organizing content for micro-site owners.

After completing a rigorous research and analysis phase that included stakeholder interviews, an inventory of over 5,000 pages (you may have seen the earlier Post-It Note output here), user focus groups, and an online survey, we created a new information architecture (see above) and a set of core wireframes (page schematics) to illustrate the new high-level and page-level user experience, respectively.  The new architecture puts the user’s needs front-and-center by presenting all related information together (e.g., degree information that was previously scattered across the course catalog, academic department, and university system database), rather than forcing users to navigate multiple silos of information.   The architecture and wireframes will guide the development of the site’s new look and feel, which is now in progress.   Look for the new design to be launched later this year.

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Diagrams, Dynamic Diagrams News, Information Architecture, User Experience

February 13, 2011, 6:03 pm

The Mystery Donut

By Henry Woodbury

The donut below shows that 53% agree and 47% disagree.

It is lucky that we have the numbers because visually we have an enigma. Red dominates the shape in which red is the smaller number. How do we interpret this? Let me count the ways.

  1. We could compare the area of the donut (the blue ring) to the area of the hole (the red circle).
  2. We could compare the area of the donut and the hole to the area of the hole.
  3. We could compare the diameters of both cases above.
  4. We could compare the radii.

In every case, we still have to answer the question: What is the whole?

As it turns out, the visually-most-counterintuitive answer is the answer.

The red circle has a radius of 35 pixels. The blue donut is 5 pixels wide, extending the radius to 40 pixels.

Mystery Donut Annotated

Each radius is a bar on an implicit chart (now we see the whole):

Mystery Donut Charted

The donut is meaningless. All we really have are two linear values:

Mystery Donut Bar Chart

Hell, let’s make it a circle again. I’ll turn the donut into a pie:

Mystery Donut Pie

You can find the source for this exercise on The New York Times. This is only the worst of its problems.

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Comments (2) | Filed under: Charts and Graphs, Current Events, Diagrams, Information Design

February 10, 2011, 9:55 am

Cameron & Mittleman LLP Launches New Web Site

By Lisa Agustin

Dynamic Diagrams is pleased to announce that the web site for the law firm of Cameron & Mittleman LLP is now live.  The two main goals for this project were a refresh to the site’s design, and an easy way to maintain the web site in-house.   We provided the information architecture, visual design, and web development services, which included a move to the WordPress platform.  Content for launch includes the history of the firm, staff profiles, and practice area information.  The extensible solution will enable the organization to add features planned for the future, including a blog.  You can view the web site at http://www.cm-law.com/

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Dynamic Diagrams News, Information Architecture, Technology, User Experience, Web Interface Design

February 6, 2011, 8:34 pm

Readers are Always Looking for an Exit

By Henry Woodbury

Lawyer and professional typographer Matthew Butterick, author of the book and website Typography for Lawyersexplains why typography matters:

Given multiple documents, readers will make more judgments based on typography as they find it harder to make judgments based on substance.

On one level this is pretty reductive. A situation where all other considerations are equal except typography (or design, for that matter) never exists. But just because a reader starts reading an article or brief doesn’t mean the reader will finish it. Butterick writes:

I believe that most readers are looking for reasons to stop reading. Not because they’re malicious or aloof. They’re just being rational. If readers have other demands on their time, why should they pay any more attention than they absolutely must? Readers are always looking for the exit.

It’s an information design problem: How do you move a reader along in the flow?

Next question: Is legal size really necessary?

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Books and Articles, Cognitive Bias, Information Design, Typography

February 2, 2011, 1:25 pm

Demotic Internet

By Henry Woodbury

I’ve been reading Jacques Barzun’s magisterial history of western culture, From Dawn to Decadence. His final chapter on the late 20th century is titled “Demotic Life and Times,” “demotic” being a word that means “of the people” even if it happens to sound like “demonic.” Of the internet, Barzun writes:

That a user had “the whole world of knowledge at his disposal” was one of those absurdities like the belief that ultimately computers would think–it will be time to say so when a computer makes an ironic answer. “The whole world of knowledge” could be at one’s disposal only if one already knew a great deal and wanted further information to turn into knowledge after gauging its value.

Information isn’t knowledge. This fact points to a certain friction in the terms we use in our practice. Most often, an information architect really is concerned with information. The goal is to help individuals locate information in a context that helps them gauge its value. An information designer, however, is more focused on knowledge. The designer seeks to communicate ideas within a dataset. I wouldn’t advocate a change in terms. Knowledge designer sounds hopelessly pretentious. But the distinction between the two practices is important.

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

February 1, 2011, 11:37 am

How Big Really?

By Lisa Agustin

We’ve previously posted on methods others have used to make large numbers understandable, including visualization of the number and making the number more intuitive. Large sizes and long distances offer a similar challenge (toilet paper rolls to the moon, anyone?)  Now comes Dimensions, a map-based tool that allows you to see historical events, ancient civilizations, and great distances super-imposed on a region or address that’s familiar to you.  Built by BERG design consultancy for the BBC, Dimensions is a prototype whose goal is “to bring home the human scale of events and places in history.”  Layering data or current events on a map is nothing new.  But what I like best about this take is both the ease of the user interface (pick an event from one of 9 categories, type in your address and hit GO) and the introduction of ancient history into the mix.  It’s difficult enough to understand the magnitude of current events (e.g., the Gulf Oil Spill) but somehow the added aspect of time makes ancient entities and events like The Colossus of Rhodes and Mount Vesuvius (above) even more difficult to grasp.  Dimensions successfully communicates ancient history by putting it in the context of the user’s here and now.

(via Very Short List)

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Comments (2) | Filed under: Maps, Visual Explanation