Information Design Watch

September 28, 2011, 9:54 am

A Taxonomy of Pasta

By Lisa Agustin

Leave it to an architect to diagram the pasta family tree. George L. Legendre has profiled 92 different kinds of pasta in his new book, Pasta by Design, classifying them into types using ‘phylogeny’ (the study of relatedness among natural forms). From the publisher’s site:

Each spread is devoted to a single pasta, and explains its geographical origin, its process of manufacture and its etymology – alongside suggestions for minute-perfect preparation.  Next the shape is rendered as an equation and as a diagram that shows every distinctive scrunch, ridge and crimp with loving precision. Finally, a multi-page foldout features a ‘Pasta Family Reunion’ diagram, reassembling all the pasta types and grouping them by their mathematical and geometric properties!

Check out this one for Cavatappi:

Cavatappi

Many of the pasta shapes are diagrammed on the Z-axis (a d/D favorite!), showing the delicate shapes in their full undulating glory (view more pasta diagrams on the NY Times site). I’m hungry already.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Books and Articles, Charts and Graphs, Diagrams, Visual Explanation

September 27, 2011, 3:29 pm

Theremins, Slot Machines, and Wheels of Destiny: Flexing the UI Design Muscle

By Lisa Agustin

When building a web site or application, the wireframes usually represent the first time functionality and content requirements take visual form. Creating wireframes is both exciting and daunting, much like approaching a blank canvas or piece of paper. Luckily, UX practitioners have a lot to draw from, including user research, best practices, and existing UI patterns.

And yet the typical approaches to rendering a user interface–dropdown lists, calendars for date picking, rollovers and accordions for menus–seem to be lacking in the creativity department. Is this really the best we can do from a design standpoint? How do we infuse our interfaces with innovative approaches that delight and surprise users while letting them get things done?  Mike Heydlauf suggests thinking outside the box by designing within a smaller one. In other words, consider constraints as a creativity aid.

The idea that constraints help creativity is not a new idea, but Heydlauf wants to up the ante by introducing artificial constraints  as a way to “design solutions to problems we might not even have.”  His reasoning:

The point is not to come up with an outstanding solution, but to flex creative muscles and fill our toolbox with ideas that might lead to an outstanding solution to a different problem somewhere down the line. In short, the value is in the journey, not the destination.

To demonstrate, Heydlauf proposes a common “problem” in UI (developing a control for selecting both date and time), introduces not one but two artificial constraints (data input via mouse, and input with only one click), then walks us through a range of possible design solutions (several of which he admits are “truly awful”). It’s a fascinating view into his thought process, especially when he considers “real world” objects as new UI models (hence the title of this post).

This article is a good reminder that innovative solutions are a result of taking the time to explore possibilities and not using the tried-and-true just because “that’s the way we’ve always done it.”  At the same time, though, I’d be interested in seeing this tactic applied in the context of a real project (or is it even possible?): How do we incorporate feedback to ensure our new approach makes sense to actual users? How do we fit exploration into a schedule that meets hard deadlines?

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

September 23, 2011, 3:00 pm

Follow the Money

By Henry Woodbury

Even on mobile devices a web app can beat out a platform-specific app. That’s the case for The Financial Times (FT). FT spokesman Rob Grimshaw reports that their HTML 5 web app draws more readers for more page views than their now-discontinued Apple store app.

This is a nice success story for web developers, but there’s more going on than traffic:

…Apple takes a 30 percent cut of subscription revenue from users who sign up for apps in the store.

More problematic is that Apple wants to control subscriber data — valuable demographic information used by magazines and newspapers to sell advertising — from people who sign up for the app in the store.

For subscription-based publishers such as FT this is not a supportable position. One has to wonder if other successful subscription-based sites are equally dissatisfied.

Of course, what makes the FT story unique is that its web app replaced its Apple store app. For many organizations the platform app will never get built, not when a comprehensive web development effort can leverage some common UI and code to target both desktop and mobile users.

“App stores are actually quite strange environments,” Grimshaw said. “They are cut off from most of the Web ecosystem.”

Update: In regards to my last point before the last quote, Jason Grigsby’s Cloud Four critique of responsive web design is required reading. The mobile and desktop environments each deserve their own optimization.

(via a Tizra Facebook post)

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

September 20, 2011, 10:14 am

Game Theory

By Henry Woodbury

Why would scientific experts call on gamers to solve problems in protein folding? Here’s why:

“People have spatial reasoning skills, something computers are not yet good at,” [Dr. Seth Cooper, of the UW Department of Computing Science and Engineering] said. “Games provide a framework for bringing together the strengths of computers and humans.”

The game goes by the name Foldit and is supported by University of Washington Center for Game Science.

When you first start playing the game takes you through a series of practice examples to get you familiar with the manipulations you can apply to a protein chain.

Foldit Intro Puzzle 3 of 32

If you get hooked, you continue to real problems. Already, game-generated models have helped researchers resolve the structure of previously undefined proteins. Researchers are also looking at some of the unfolding sequences used by Foldit players to develop better algorithms for computer analysis.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: 3D Modeling, Creativity, Scholarly Publishing, Social Media, Technology

September 14, 2011, 3:23 pm

How a Bill Becomes a Column

By Henry Woodbury

There are a lot of bills in Congress. IBM Research Labs has created a new way to find them.

IBM Many Bills is a search engine that presents U.S. Congressional legislation in strongly visual format. Each bill is presented in a single vertical column with metadata at the top and sections in descending order. Sections are color coded to delineate their subject. You can show and hide sections of the bills you have found by subject (in a nice accountability feature, a rollover tells you how confident a subject assignment is), save specific bills, and view the actual text.

IBM Many Bills, Search for 'Canada', first 4 results

The color-coded sections allow you to view results in “minified” form, or as an extremely condensed “collection”, such as this group of American Housing Bills:

IBM Many Bills: American Housing Bills (42)

Many Bills is compelling on several levels. First is the hope that this kind of presentation can help make the legislative process more transparent to both experts and the general public. Second is the project as a model for content-specific search. By understanding the structure of the data, the Many Bills Team presents it in a way that facilitates findability and understanding. There is some risk that the team’s information architecture and design decisions could reinforce conventional thinking at the expense of the unexpected insight, but the source data is available to anyone who wants to try a different approach.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Charts and Graphs, Color, Information Architecture, User Experience, Web Interface Design

September 13, 2011, 9:08 am

What’s on the Schedule for Today?

By Henry Woodbury

Hopefully there’s more of what you like to do and less of what you have to do. And hopefully they overlap.

I have to do / I like to do - Jesen Tanadi

Via artist and architect Jesen Tanadi (originally from desprezivel). You can view Tanadi’s projects at his eponymous URL.

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

September 3, 2011, 10:25 pm

Three Takes on the Modern Sensibility

By Henry Woodbury

1. Industrial designer Dieter Ram’s work for Braun is highlighted in a portfolio that purports to describe 10 principles of modern design. It is an honest appraisal. It includes the idiotic geared mixer.

Dieter Rams’s Mixer at Museum of Modern Art San Francisco - The Daily Beast

2. Blogger Ann Althouse reduces the reductive aesthetic:

Oddly, I came away feeling that the 10 principles were all the same, and if that principle was simple functionality, the make that one thing into 10 is a violation of the principle itself. But then Rams wasn’t purporting to dictate the principles of website content, so there really is no paradox.

3. Could you have one principle with ten examples and still get the page-views? Lists are so addictive.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Art, Cognitive Bias, Design, User Experience