Information Design Watch

December 28, 2011, 12:06 pm

What’s This Mobile Thing For, Again?

By Lisa Agustin

With more and more folks jumping on the smartphone bandwagon, and clients asking for mobile as part of their redesign projects, it’s not unusual to see articles on how to make your site mobile, or the latest design trends for mobile apps. How to develop for mobile is one of the forefront concerns of many web designers. But how about the Why? What are the specific advantages of mobile other than its ability to keep you distracted (productive?) while standing in line? Back in 2008, author and former Nokia executive Tomi Ahonen expounded on the unique opportunities of mobile as the “7th mass media channel” (print is the first, and Internet is the sixth). Conveniently, there are also seven unique capabilities of mobile media, which he summed up this way:

1 – The mobile phone is the first personal mass media
2 – The mobile is permanently carried media
3 – The mobile is the only always-on mass media
4 – Mobile is the only mass media with a built-in payment mechanism
5 – Mobile is only media available at the point of creative inspiration
6 – Mobile is only media with accurate audience measurement
7 – Mobile captures the social context of media consumption

These are not necessarily unique observations. But Ahonen’s perspective is one that puts mobile in the context of the media that preceded it, showing just how far technology has come. As an example, consider his first point, that mobile is the “first personal mass media”:

Never before was any mass media assumed to be private. Books and magazines are shared. Movies watched together. Radio we can have the whole family in the car listening at the same time. Records are played to a roomfull of wedding guests by the DJ. TV is watched together by the family. The internet is semi-personal, but often the PC is shared by the family or business employees. Our secretary or IT tech support (or Human Resources staff) may read through our emails. At home our parents often “snoop” what the kids do on the family PC etc. The internet is not a personal media, even if it often seems like it. But mobile. That is mine, and only mine.

Although the stats and facts are a little dated (the iPad had yet to make its debut), his post is a good read, and a reminder of why mobile represents an exciting opportunity in terms of creating innovative user experiences. It’s not just about Angry Birds.

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Comments (2) | Filed under: Business, Technology, User Experience

December 27, 2011, 10:57 am

The Infographic Dump

By Henry Woodbury

I’ve been meaning to write about a spate of bad infographics I’ve been seeing recently in blog posts and social media feeds, but Megan McArdle beat me to it:

If you look at these lovely, lying infographics, you will notice that they tend to have a few things in common:

  1. They are made by random sites without particularly obvious connection to the subject matter. Why is Creditloan.com making an infographic about the hourly workweek?
  2. Those sites, when examined, either have virtually no content at all, or are for things like debt consolidation–industries with low reputation where brand recognition, if it exists at all, is probably mostly negative.
  3. The sources for the data, if they are provided at all, tend to be in very small type at the bottom of the graphic, and instead of easy-to-type names of reports, they provide hard-to-type URLs which basically defeat all but the most determined checkers.
  4. The infographics tend to suggest that SOMETHING TERRIBLE IS HAPPENING IN THE US RIGHT NOW!!! the better to trigger your panic button and get you to spread the bad news BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE!

The infographics are being used to get unwitting bloggers to drive up their google search rankings. When they get a link from Forbes, or a blogger like Andrew Sullivan–who is like Patient Zero for many of these infographics–Google thinks they must be providing valuable information. Infographics are so good at getting this kind of attention that web marketing people spend a lot of time writing articles about how you can use them to boost your SEO (search engine optimization).

As summarized in point 3 above, McArdle goes into some detail on the misuse of data. But another strange thing about these infographics is that they seem to spring for the same design template. I added this comment to McArdle’s post:

These graphs suffer from more than misappropriated data. They also suffer from low data density and horrible design. The best charts, graphs, and visual explanations inspire insight by providing numbers in context, hopefully in multiple dimensions of data. Derek Thompson’s Graphs of the Year are hardly objective but they at least force some thought in figuring out their flaws.

What we see in many of these charts are isolated numbers accompanied by a cartoonish graphic. The design is boilerplate baroque, apparently created by underemployed battle-of-the-band poster designers. The long vertical is a dead giveaway. I’m starting to see it over and over and I know, almost as soon as I see the aspect ratio, that what I’m seeing is hack work.

Sadly, I think the “success” of this format is generating well-intentioned imitators. Click through for examples. I’m not posting any here.

p.s. My apologies to battle-of-the-band poster designers. There’s nothing wrong with boilerplate baroque in context.

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Charts and Graphs, Illustration, Infographics, Marketing, Social Media

December 25, 2011, 8:58 pm

World Map Abstracted

By Henry Woodbury

Based on data gathered from Gallup’s World Poll survey the Charities Aid Foundation creates a World Giving Index. The map below shows countries weighted by rank:

World Giving Index

What I find most interesting about this map is the level of abstraction. While the ordered circles offer the same data relationship of area to value as a system like Worldmapper (though the “area” of CAF’s unitless “giving index” is somewhat mysterious), the presentation is simpler and far more flexible.

It is surprising how well the placement of a circle in rough proximity to its neighbors succeeds in providing orientation. Without the need to show contiguous borders, regions can be easily isolated, or even repositioned. It’s an elegant system, within its own parameters.

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

December 20, 2011, 10:22 am

HTML Sunrise

By Henry Woodbury

Paul Irish AND Divya Manian have teamed up to create a superb visual explanation that shows browser support for HTML5 and CSS3. Rolling over each spoke of the sunrise (to mix a metaphor) reveals the name of the component; clicking takes you to the W3C page that defines it.

While 2011 support for current common browsers is the most useful view, Irish and Manian have provided data for 2008, 2009, and 2010 as well. In the slideshow below I show a screenshot of each of the four views. It makes a nice animation.

HTML Readiness 2008
HTML Readiness 2009
HTML Readiness 2010
HTML Readiness 2011
  • HTML Readiness 2008
  • HTML Readiness 2009
  • HTML Readiness 2010
  • HTML Readiness 2011

The visual is created with HTML5 and CSS3, so it is best viewed with an current browser. Don’t even bother with MSIE 7.

(via the LinkedIn Web Standards Group)

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Diagrams, Information Design, Technology, Visual Explanation, Web Interface Design

December 14, 2011, 2:06 pm

Lies, Damned Lies, and Charts

By Henry Woodbury

Is Facebook Driving the Greek Debt Crisis

Click through for more.

(via Ann Althouse)

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Charts and Graphs, Cognitive Bias, Information Design

December 14, 2011, 9:57 am

Game Theory, Starring the Bowerbird

By Henry Woodbury

For some reason I was reading about game theory over on Wikipedia, and followed a link to this:

The Mathematical Cartoons of Larry Gonick / The Bowerbird's Dilemma, panel 1

The Mathematical Cartoons of Larry Gonick / The Bowerbird's Dilemma, panel 2

This is one of the “Mathematical Cartoons” created by Larry Gonick for Discover magazine. There are 11 at the link. Enjoy!

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Comics, Creativity, Illustration

December 12, 2011, 10:05 pm

Earthquake Watch

By Henry Woodbury

Earthquakes, too, are measured by a non-linear scale.

Here, the increasing energy of powerful quakes is shown as an animation (the color coding refers to tsunami potential, based on NOAA’s data and key):

Compare the animation to this graph from Matlab Geeks:

Energy Released by Earthquakes by Magnitude each Year from 1900 to 2001

The animation tells a story at the expense of comparison and data density. Even with the zoom out, the animation maps magnitudes to areas, which are notoriously hard for the human mind to compare. Each point on the Richter scale indicates an increase of magnitude of 32 times. Using a screenshot from the animation, I’ve confirmed this ratio:

Richter Scale Ratio

Another visualization that uses areas to show magnitudes is The Hive Group’s interactive Earthquake treemap:

Earthquake Treemap by The Hive Group

This application is a rich data-mining tool, but it doesn’t necessarily negate the animation. The animation tells a story. It is focused on making a dramatic point. The application allows multiple stories to be discovered, in non-dramatic fashion.

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

December 7, 2011, 9:41 pm

Mitten State, or the Difference Between a Brand and an Ad Campaign

By Henry Woodbury

Which state is the mitten state? Michigan. Wisconsin is the fun state.

So says Wisconsin Department of Tourism spokeswoman Lisa Marshall.

“We’re not the Mitten State. Michigan, they can own that. We want to be known as the Fun State,” she said. The department used a leaf shaped like Wisconsin for its fall tourism campaign and will move onto something new for spring, but for now, the mitten stays.

For now, Wisconsin looks like this:

Travel Wisconsin Mitten

(via Ann Althouse)

 

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Comments (3) | Filed under: Branding, Design, Maps

December 2, 2011, 5:20 pm

Electrotyping Animation Now Online

By Henry Woodbury

The Electrotyping Animation we created for the Metropolitan Museum of Art has now been posted online. It is currently the featured video on the Met’s MetMedia page.

Here it is on Information Design Watch:

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