Information Design Watch

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.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • del.icio.us
  • StumbleUpon

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

June 22, 2011, 9:29 pm

Crayola Century

By Henry Woodbury

From artist and scientist Stephen Van Morley:

Crayola Color Chart, 1903-2010

Quote:

The number of colors doubles every 28 years!

This is just the setup. For the real fun, see where Morley went next:

Crayola Color Chart Tests

(via Chris Wild’s fabulous How To Be A Retronaut)

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • del.icio.us
  • StumbleUpon

Comments (1) | Filed under: Art, Charts and Graphs, Color, Diagrams, Visual Explanation

November 30, 2010, 10:01 am

The Very Small, in Added Color

By Henry Woodbury

The scanning electronic microscope (SEM) does not produce images in color. What it does produce are images of almost crystalline focus. In this gallery of pollen grains by scientist Martin Oeggerli the detail is original; the color is added:

The clarity of the image derives from the technology, wherein ”the electron beam is shifted little by little over a rectangular area. Thereby, the area is literally ‘scanned’ from one pixel to the next.” Analysis of secondary electron emissions allows scientists to map the specimen’s surface:

Unlike pictures captured with a camera, SEM scans are based on particle emission rather than light – they don’t show colors and brightness depends from the characteristics of the sample surface: while dark areas mark low secondary electron emission, bright areas are the result of high secondary electron emission. Thus, an SEM scan could be seen as a topographic image with very close resemblance to a black-and-white photograph.

Oeggerli adds the color later. Here, he explains his technique:

Most importantly, you need to understand how nature works to create authentic effects. My images need a color-costume, which combines natural perfection with imperfection, to mimic the often very subtle individual variations provided by the raw material for natural selection.

But nature doesn’t exactly work the way Oeggerli records. His “nature”, like that of Dutch pronkstilleven or Pixar movies, is brighter and more chromatic than reality.

The images are really precise — but not really real.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • del.icio.us
  • StumbleUpon

Comments (0) | Filed under: Art, Color, Technology

October 9, 2009, 2:12 pm

What is Seeing?

By Lisa Agustin

lotto-word-puzzle

TED Blog just posted a followup interview with neuroscientist/artist Beau Lotto, whose specialty is studying the relationship between your brain and what you see.  According to Lotto, “The light that falls onto your eyes is meaningless.”    In other words, light falling on a surface by itself does not convey meaning.  Rather, what we see is a product of  history, environment, and observation.  Lotto’s 2009 TED Talk, “Optical Illusions Show How We See” demonstrates that optical illusions are not visual tricks so much as a means for making sense of the world based on our accumulated knowledge:

Illusion is more a state of the world than it is a state of mind. What’s being presented to you is an unusual situation. What you see is what would have been useful, given that situation in the past…The far more interesting question is not that “context matters” — not that we see illusions — but why we see them. When you see illusions, you’re entertaining two realities at the same time. You’re seeing one reality (two gray squares look different) but you also know another reality (that the gray squares are, in fact, physically the same).

Lotto’s comments provide good food for thought from an information design perspective, since information (visual or otherwise) has no inherent meaning until we view it through a lens that takes into account what the intended audience cares most about– their needs and goals–a by-product of their experience, expectations, and environment.

To find out more, see Beau Lotto’s web site: http://www.lottolab.org/index.asp.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • del.icio.us
  • StumbleUpon

Comments (0) | Filed under: Cognitive Bias, Color

February 24, 2009, 12:40 pm

Global Problems Demand Good Maps

By Henry Woodbury

The study of climate change is a global endeavor which means that  data is often plotted to continental or world maps. As such, many of the challenges of good map making reappear as problems in presenting climate change data. Two researchers at the University of Idaho, Jean McKendry and Gary Machlis, point out that a key map from the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Summary for Policymakers (PDF, p. 10), fails in both intelligibility and accuracy:

One of the most common ways in which climate maps can be misleading is to fail to take account of the map’s projection. “All map projections have distortions (distance, area, direction, and/or shape). For example, if temperature is displayed using coloured squares of equal size across the map, but the map projection does not minimize areal distortion, the squares appear to but do not represent equal areas on the Earth,” McKendry told environmentalresearchweb.

Other problems include overlapping data points, a multi-colored data scale, and unclear labels.

The map is reproduced below in all of its orange glory:

Changes in physical and biological systems, 1970-2004

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • del.icio.us
  • StumbleUpon

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

January 5, 2009, 12:18 pm

A Short History of the United Nations Logo

By Henry Woodbury

Top: Prototype for the United Nations' original logo. Bottom: The organization's current logo.An obituary for architect and designer Oliver Lincoln Lundquist highlights his leadership in the creation of the United Nations logo. The story, as summarized by reporter Steven Heller, highlights the role of serendipity and a shift in point of view:

After the Navy, Mr. Lundquist attended the San Francisco conference at which the United Nations Charter was signed. His team was responsible for designing all the graphics for the conference and an official delegate’s badge, which became the prototype for the United Nations logo. The team did not set out to design the logo for the United Nations, but the badge became the prototype. It was initially designed by Donald McLaughlin, who worked for Mr. Lundquist as the director of graphics for the conference.

The distinctive blue in the design, Mr. Lundquist explained, was “the opposite of red, the war color.” He continued, “It was a gray blue, a little different than the modern United Nations flag.”

The symbol of the globe was also slightly different in the original design, he said: “We had originally based it on what’s called an azimuthal north polar projection of the world, so that all the countries of the world were spun around this concentric circle, and we had limited it in the Southern sector to a parallel that cut off Argentina because Argentina was not to be a member of the United Nations. We centered the symbol on the United States as the host country. Subsequently, in England our design was adapted as the official symbol of the United Nations, centered on Europe as more the epicenter, I guess, of the East-West world, and took into account the whole Earth, including Antarctica. By then, of course, Argentina had been made a member.”

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • del.icio.us
  • StumbleUpon

Comments (1) | Filed under: Branding, Color, Marketing

October 23, 2008, 10:01 am

Don’t Eat the iPod Shuffle—Seven Years of iPod Design

By Kirsten Robinson

Wired has published a look back at iPod design, starting with this paper and foam core prototype from 2001:

one of the original iPod concepts

Check out the article to find out how the scroll wheel evolved over time, when color was first introduced (on the body and the screen), and where the title of this post came from.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • del.icio.us
  • StumbleUpon

Comments (0) | Filed under: Branding, Business, Color, Design, Prototyping, Technology, Usability

October 8, 2008, 12:44 pm

Political Word Clouds in Color

By Henry Woodbury

Using the Wordle platform, blogger Ann Althouse created a pair of word clouds from last night’s Barack Obama – John McCain U.S. presidential debate.

McCain’s cloud:

McCain word cloud

Obama’s cloud:

Obama word cloud

Althouse makes a profound point:

The most interesting words — like “Jell-O” and “corpse” — were only said once and stay off of their clouds. I’d like a program that makes a graphic of all the words that only appear once. They’re especially… important.

From a design perspective, what’s important is that word color, font, and placement don’t mean anything. Wordle allows you to choose your own colors and fonts for your word cloud and provides a gallery of placement options (horizontal, vertical, half and half, etc.). You can randomize all settings or reposition the words using current settings until you like the way they look.

Althouse is a law professor, but she has an art background and often blogs on art, photography, and the media. She clearly went for an aesthetic result in these two clouds. The McCain cloud looks like the “blue chill” palette, but I think the Obama cloud uses a custom palette, one designed to be different but complementary. Not that that means anything.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • del.icio.us
  • StumbleUpon

Comments (0) | Filed under: Art, Color, Current Events, Language, Typography

September 18, 2008, 3:34 pm

Test Your Color IQ

By Kirsten Robinson

See if you can arrange the color chips in order by hue. This reminds me of one of the exercises from the “Dynamics of Color” class I took at the DeCordova Museum.

Color chips

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • del.icio.us
  • StumbleUpon

Comments (3) | Filed under: Color

November 12, 2007, 9:17 am

See for Yourself

By Henry Woodbury

The Laboratory of Dale Purves MD at Duke University has a page of optical illusions and perceptual challenges. Interactive controls allow you to test the “illusion” part of each example while links to the empirical explanations describe why your brain interprets what it sees the way it does.

The website for San Francisco’s Exploratorium Museum of Science has a small gallery of similiar illusions, with shorter explanations.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • del.icio.us
  • StumbleUpon

Comments (0) | Filed under: Cognitive Bias, Color, Design, Illustration

February 2, 2007, 4:37 pm

New York City Transit Authority Graphics Standards

By Henry Woodbury

The 1970 New York City Transit Authority Graphics Standards Manual makes for a compelling set of photographs:

New York City Transit Authority Graphics Standards Manual (1970) New York City Transit Authority Graphics Standards Manual (1970)

The iconic strength of Massimo Vignelli’s signage comes readily through in black and white, but I would think almost anyone who has travelled by New York City subway will think of these numbers and letters in color:

New York City Subway Signage

Long ago I jotted down a quote by art collector John C. Waddell from a design article in the New York Times Magazine:

When I think of the East Side, it’s green; when I think of Lincoln Center, it’s red. Massimo and Lella Vignelli did that to my head.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • del.icio.us
  • StumbleUpon

Comments (0) | Filed under: Color, Design, Information Design, Typography