Information Design Watch

August 20, 2011, 2:05 pm

“San Francisco Looks Like a Dinosaur”

By Henry Woodbury

Here’s a project where residents of a city draw their mental maps of their neighborhood and the city as a whole.

RACHELLE ANNECHINO HAS SEEN THE CITY AS A DINOSAUR AND CANNOT UNSEE IT.

From the individual’s point of view, a location may have boundaries, barriers, corridors, or an orientation that a street or geographical map doesn’t reveal.

Make sure to look at the project’s PDF presentation for some additional explanation and a series of interesting analytical maps that correspond to the issues listed above.

What does the mental map of your locale look like?

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

August 16, 2011, 1:32 pm

The Organizational Context for Web Development

By Henry Woodbury

Why is it, asks Jonathan Kahn, that the user experiences that web teams envision and that organizations truly want to adopt often fail to meet expectations?

Here’s the problem: organizations are the context for our work, and when it comes to the web, organizations are broken…

Although we’re comfortable with the idea that the web is critical to organizations, we often miss the corollary: the web has changed the way organizations operate, and in many cases it’s changed their business models, too. When executives can’t see that, it causes a crisis. Welcome to your daily web-making reality.

Now some of Kahn’s exhortations cause me to roll my eyes. I’ve worked in a number of information-related fields in my career and I’ve heard variations on “we are the change agents” and “executives don’t get it” all the way through. But Kahn is right to demand an organization-wide framework for web development and he is right to point out the need for governance and measurement as well as strategy and execution.

And when you see an organization really commit to a comprehensive web strategy with creative follow-through, the results are obvious.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Business, Technology, User Experience, Web Interface Design

August 16, 2011, 9:31 am

Making Infinity Personal

By Henry Woodbury

How does one comprehend very large numbers? This is a question for artists and thinkers that we’ve touched on before.

Conceptual artist Roman Opalka made this challenge personal, making his life’s work the painting of integers in sequence:

Starting at the top left of a canvas measuring a little over four by six feet, and using acrylic paint, he used a fine brush (No. 0) to inscribe 20,000 to 30,000 white numerals on a black background in neat rows that ended at the bottom right corner. Each succeeding canvas, or “detail” as he called it, picked up where the previous one left off. As of July 2004, he had reached 5.5 million….

All the paintings in the series bore the same title, “Opalka 1965/1 — ?.” “All my work is a single thing, the description from one to infinity,” Mr. Opalka once wrote. “A single thing, a single life.”

Starting in 1972, Opalka began taking self-portraits, also in sequence. These have been published in the stunningly crafted book shown in this video:

This is the kind of photography an artist now would turn into a digital animation.

You can see the physical experience that would be lost.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Art, Books and Articles, Creativity, Information Design, Photography

August 10, 2011, 11:55 am

The Key to the Masthead

By Henry Woodbury

It may not work for every web site, but it does for Flip Flop Fly Ball. I’m talking about a site masthead with more iconography than a pre-renaissance painting.

Flip Flop Fly Ball Masthead

The key to the masthead is a nice example of information design in itself.

Key to Flip Flop Fly Ball Masthead

Click through to read the labels.

p.s. Flip Flop Fly Ball creator Craig Robinson has a book out. Good stuff. I’ve linked to him before.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Books and Articles, Charts and Graphs, Diagrams, Information Design, Sports, Visual Explanation, Web Interface Design

August 7, 2011, 4:26 pm

Zeros to Zeros. Ones to Ones.

By Henry Woodbury

Old data never dies. It just degrades. That degradation, as University of Maryland professor Kari Kraus explains, takes a number of forms. The most obvious is the actual decay, oxidation, and corrosion of various data media. But equally problematic is the inevitable obsolescence of the hardware that reads the media and the software that opens the files.

Migrating data is a problematic exercise in lossy read and write while hardware/software emulators themselves are temporal: “emulators must eventually be moved to new computer platforms — emulators to run emulators, ad infinitum.”

The way forward, as Kraus sees it, is continued engagement with the original code:

Perhaps the most impressive effort to curate digital information is taking place in the realm of video games. In the face of negligence from the game industry, fans of “Super Mario Bros.” and “Pac-Man” have been creating homegrown solutions to collecting, documenting, reading and rendering games, creating an evolving archive of game history. They coordinate efforts and share the workload — sometimes in formal groups, sometimes as loose collectives. Nor does the data just sit around. These are gamers, after all, so they are constantly engaged with the files. In the process, they update them, create duplicates and fix bugs.

Despite often operating in legal gray areas, such curatorial activism can be a model for other digital domains. A similar pattern is emerging in data-intensive fields like genetics, where published data sets are often “cleaned” by third-party curators to purge them of inaccuracies.

What survives is what is interesting and accessible. We are constructing an archive of enthusiasm. What may be lost, in the end, is the data that is currently the most classified and proprietary.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Technology

August 3, 2011, 1:09 pm

A New Chart for Financial Indicators

By Henry Woodbury

The financial numbers generated by the U.S. and worldwide economic crisis have informed many charts and graphs but most are rudimentary. I have hoped to pull some into this blog, but haven’t seen any worth discussing as visual explanations.

Here is an exception. Bill McBride’s Calculated Risk blog offers a set of charts built on an elegantly different model. For example (click through for others):

Real Gross Domestic Product: Percent of Previous Peak (Calculated Risk)

McBride explains:

The … graphs are all constructed as a percent of the peak in each indicator. This shows when the indicator has bottomed – and when the indicator has returned to the level of the previous peak. If the indicator is at a new peak, the value is 100%.

The key mental construct is to remember that as positive indicators trend upward they define a new value for 100%. That is why periods of growth are represented as a plateau.

At The Atlantic, where I saw these graphs, Derek Thompson explains the graphs by simile:

The outcome reveals each recession in the last 50 years as a kind of hanging icicle.

The bigger the icicle, the bigger the problem.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Business, Charts and Graphs, Current Events, Visual Explanation