Information Design Watch

November 29, 2011, 10:09 am

I’d Rather Have a Rocket Car

By Henry Woodbury

In the old days the future was about rocket cars. Now it’s about touch screens.

This Microsoft production is one of the vision videos that’s been making the rounds:

It’s cool, but also cold. And it’s one of the best of the bunch (Corning’s A Day Made of Glass is also very good). Others, such as the awkward imitations produced by Research In Motion (Blackberry) invite only ridicule.

Interface designer Bret Victor has produced an intelligent critique of the Microsoft video (and, by extension the whole genre). He starts by reminding us of the incredible sensory and manipulative powers of the human hand:

There’s a reason that our fingertips have some of the densest areas of nerve endings on the body. This is how we experience the world close-up. This is how our tools talk to us. The sense of touch is essential to everything that humans have called “work” for millions of years.

But what is the sensory experience of Microsoft’s future (and Corning’s, and Apple’s, and RIM’s)? It’s the feel of glass. It’s “glassy.”

Now read this: The 5 Best Toys of All Time. I think you’ll get my point.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Marketing, Technology, Usability, User Experience

November 25, 2011, 11:41 pm

Orientation Ratio

By Henry Woodbury

Folks well into Apple mobile development may have already run across Adam Lisagor’s take on the iPad’s aspect ratio.

If not, here it is.

Aspect Ratios of iPad and iPhone

To elaborate a little, the visualization points to more than just dimensions:

But it was clear in the device’s orientation when Steve first pulled it out, and in the orientation of the Apple logo on the back, that the iPad (…) is meant primarily to be used in portrait mode, that its function as a video device is really secondary to its function as a reading device. And 9:16 is now, and will probably always be too damn skinny for a screen.

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Illustration, Technology, Visual Explanation

November 22, 2011, 3:44 pm

Electrotyping Animation at the Met

By Henry Woodbury

Opening today is a new exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art: Victorian Electrotypes: Old Treasures, New Technology. The show presents a selection from the museum’s archive of electrotypes — Victorian-era copies of European decorative artifacts.

One of the main pieces of the show is the Bryant Vase, designed by Tiffany and Company. The vase itself was copied by electrotyping and the exhibit accompanies the original with its copper molds. Using the Bryant Vase as the main character, Dynamic Diagrams created a short animation explaining how the electrotyping process works.

Brant Vase with electrotyping animation in background

Bryant Vase with electrotyping animation in background

The video starts with slow zoom of a photo of the original vase. We then transition to a 3D model which we animate to show the steps in which a mold is created and immersed in a copper-sulfate bath. A “microscopic” view explains how copper ions transmit in the the bath from a positively charged copper bar to the negatively charged mold. Finally, we show how individual pieces are reassembled into a near-identical copy of the original and plated in silver.

By using 3D modeling software we are able to give exhibition visitors a greater understanding of the technology behind the works they are viewing.

Update: The Museum has posted an exhibition page.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: 3D Modeling, Art, Dynamic Diagrams News, Visual Explanation

November 21, 2011, 3:08 pm

A Thousand Thousand Thousand Thousand Thousand

By Henry Woodbury

I’m not really sure what to make of Randall Munroe’s chart on Money. There’s an enormous amount of data that is almost impossible to read. It needs to be printed whiteboard-sized.

Like Munroe’s Radiation Dose chart, the attempt to show geometric scale through changing units ultimately fails as a visual device. You can work through the Money chart point by point, but to find an overarching message  – other than “that’s a lot of money” — you have to replace visual intuition with a mental scale.

Scale for Converting Thousands to Millions

Corresponding to the scale problem is a comparison problem. Munroe assembles his square building blocks into all manner of shapes, including time-series charts and maps. The mosaic that results thoroughly fills the page while simultaneously making simple comparisons very difficult. Nothing lines up.

Yet the chart repays the effort it takes to meander about with a wealth of facts, some valiant attempts at creating context and broad connections, and numerous humorous asides.

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

November 2, 2011, 1:18 pm

The New and Improved Google Reader! Slightly Dingy and Now with Dark Patterns!

By Lisa Agustin

I use Facebook, but was not one of those people who grumbled about the latest changes. I accept that technology is about looking forward, convergence makes sense in many cases, and that improving the user experience means continually tweaking an information architecture and visual design to reach whatever your bigger goal may be (e.g., conversions).

But then Google released its redesign of Reader, and we went from this:

to this:


[Image credits: SheGeeks.net]

Google calls the design “cleaner, faster, and nicer to look at.”  But after reading their announcement more closely, it’s really more about creating a tighter integration with Google+ by turning off Reader’s friending, following, shared items and comments in favor of similar Google+ functionality. Which is okay, since I do see the point of consolidating Reader’s social aspect with Google+. But the redesign has actually made sharing harder, not easier. Former Google Reader Product Manager Brian Shih puts it this way:

Keep in mind that on top of requiring 3-4 times as many clicks, you also now must +1 a post publicly to share it, even if it’s shared to a private circle. That bears repeating. The next time you want to share some sexy halloween costumes with your private set of friends, you first must publicly +1 the post, which means it shows up on your profile, plus wherever the hell G+ decides to use +1 data. So much for building a network around privacy controls.

But then later, an update:

It turns out there is a way to share without +1′ing first. If you click on the top right “Share…” field on the OneGoogle bar [the bar at the very top of the pane], you can bypass the +1 button. It’s just completely undiscoverable.

Sounds like a dark pattern to me.

But let’s put Google+ aside, since sharing wasn’t why I used Reader in the first place. It was about the content. How quickly can I see what’s new and get to an individual story? From an information design perspective, I’d think making the design cleaner would mean maximizing space for original content. Rather it seems they did the opposite, with a thicker/more spacious header bar that pushes content further down the page.

From a visual design standpoint, greeted by a new absence of color, I wondered if they were trying to make it look like a traditional newspaper, removing colored elements as if they were distractions? While there is such a thing as too much color, the new Reader goes overboard in the other direction. With black, white, and grey being the dominant scheme, it’s hard to tell what the priority is in the UI. Google even eliminated the use of the bright blue link color that facilitates scanning.  Now nothing stands out–except for the bright red Subscribe button and the blue Search button.  Maybe it’s time to revisit the pluses of eye candy.

Kvetching aside, I suppose I will get used to the new direction (assuming I don’t switch feeds first).  I also guess I had better brace myself for the upcoming Gmail redesign.

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Comments (2) | Filed under: Information Architecture, Information Design, Social Media, Technology, User Experience, Web Interface Design