Information Design Watch

February 20, 2012, 2:18 pm

Logo Evolution, the Forecast

By Henry Woodbury

A few years ago we posted  a history of technology company logos. Now, Stocklogos has taken a similar set of logos and created a future version of each. For fun. Here’s an example:

IBM Logo Trend

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Comments (3) | Filed under: Branding, Design

January 30, 2012, 10:49 am

“a tougher, more defined panther”

By Henry Woodbury

After 15+ years in the league, the NFL’s Carolina Panthers are changing their logo.

In a press release the team proclaims:

[The identity] has been designed to provide a more aggressive, contemporary look to the logo while making it more three-dimensional for ever-increasing digital use.

Carolina Panthers Logotype

I’m not sure how three-dimensionality relates to digital use, other than the fact that all the other kids are doing it.

Will Brinson at CBS Sports has some design review fun:

…this cat’s a little less hairy — the whiskers are significantly reduced from the old version, and the eyebrows (Panthers have eyebrows right?) are reduced as well.

It’s a more streamlined cat and, frankly, a little more ferocious and realistic looking of an animal. The team’s calling it “a tougher, more defined panther” and that’s an accurate assessment.

The Panthers typeface is also different: it’s no longer written in 80′s hair-metal font. Or cat scratch font. Or whatever.

Click through to the Brinson article to see the old logo for comparison.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Branding, Design, Marketing, Sports

January 18, 2012, 11:53 am

SOPA Day

By Henry Woodbury

Wikipedia (English) is blacked out.

Wikipedia (English) Blacked Out

Wikipedia is just one of many. Other sites, including Google, are acknowledging the protest.

Kirby Ferguson explains.

Update: This is off-topic for this blog, but it is important to note that free use is not just about the internet. On Wednesday the Supreme Court failed to overturn a 1994 Congressional act that removes thousands of musical texts from the public domain.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Current Events, Design, Infographics, Social Media, Technology

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

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

January 6, 2011, 10:43 am

Social Media for Designers

By Henry Woodbury

Combine social media with design and you might end up with a site like Dribbble (that’s with three b’s). Just make sure you also come up with an elegant user interface design and use an oddball basketball metaphor for the site vocabulary.

Excerpt from Dribbble home page, 6-Jan-2010

Like many successful social media sites, the underlying concept is simple. Where Twitter limits word count, Dribbble limits image size — to 300 x 400 pixels, max. Common social media elements like tags, comments, and fans enrich the experience. Fans and views drive a popularity index and an inexplicable “playoffs” page.

One of Dribbble’s innovations is the “rebound”, a graphical reply to another posted design. This is technically similar to sharing in Facebook or trackbacks in blogging, but Dribbble does a markedly superior job in presenting the cross-communication. Which is good, because cross-communication inspires better design.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Charts and Graphs, Design, Diagrams, Information Design, Social Media, Technology, Web Interface Design

October 15, 2010, 12:22 pm

What Inspires Designers?

By Lisa Agustin

Perfect link for a Friday: Fast Company’s annual Masters of Design issue features a look at what inspires four of today’s top designers. Armed with a camera, each designer set out to capture sources of inspiration, ranging from pistachio shells and sea foam to traffic cones and subways.  I especially liked Erica Eden’s keen observations about how people (women in particular) move about in the world and the discomforts and annoyances we often take for granted.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Creativity, Design

November 17, 2009, 5:16 pm

The Sweet Spot Between Information and Design

By Kim Looney

Trying to explain what information design is to our families and friends, and yes, potential clients, has been an ongoing challenge for us here at Dynamic Diagrams. Verbally, I usually resort to something about creating visual explanations for complex sets of data. But that doesn’t really satisfy anyone.

What Makes Good Information Design?

Information is Beautiful recently took on the same question on their blog. Their visual approach tries to show–with a Venn diagram-in-progress–what information is; what design is; and what happens when these overlap. Not every product of the two entities is a win: some are useless, some are ugly, and some are boring. But, there is a sweet spot where interestingness + function + form + integrity = successful information design.

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

September 15, 2009, 12:20 pm

Lego Little People Calendar

By Lisa Agustin

lego2_0

Little people part 2: Lego is issuing its first calendar in the UK this week, as a charity effort benefiting the National Autistic Society.   Each month features the famed –and often quite terrified–’minifigs’ participating in seasonal activities.  By the way, if you ever wondered how these minifigs come into being, check out this video of the production line.

(Thanks CR Blog)

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Design, Marketing, Photography

August 17, 2009, 3:46 pm

Stop Motion Marketing

By Henry Woodbury

This is a response to a D&AD Student Award “bespoke creative brief” by Hewlett-Packard. Titled HP – invent, it was created by Matt Robinson and Tom Wrigglesworth.

I just wish it were longer.

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Comments (2) | Filed under: Art, Design, Marketing, Technology

July 9, 2009, 12:46 pm

How Do You Describe a Design?

By Kirsten Robinson

Last week at Dynamic Diagrams we were working on a new exercise to help clients articulate their design personality for web sites. We were brainstorming a bunch of adjective pairs to describe various dimensions, such as warm / cool, simple / sophisticated, industrial / organic.

Then I came across this story in the New York Times, about a whimsical store called Pylones. One paragraph described the design of the store and its merchandise this way:

If you were to secretly dose the celebrated Japanese artist Takashi Murakami with LSD, spin him around in a swivel chair, bounce him on a trampoline, then repeatedly hit him over the head with a piñata, the interior of this store would be his hallucination.

I really liked this description, but I’m not sure how to translate it into an exercise for clients. Mad Libs, maybe?

If you were to secretly dose [famous person] with [controlled substance], [transitive verb] him/her around in a [noun], [transitive verb] him on a [noun], then repeatedly [transitive verb] him/her over the [body part] with a [noun], your web site design would be his/her [type of illusion].

Anyone care to try filling in the blanks?

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Creativity, Design, Language

May 18, 2009, 8:53 pm

Logo Fun

By Henry Woodbury

Designer Sean Farrell offers a gallery of logos that incorporate a visual pun or hidden image. Here’s an example:

Pakuy

Pakuy is a packaging company.

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

March 20, 2009, 2:01 pm

Dynamic Diagrams at Etech 09

By Maia Garau

Last week I presented a tutorial at Etech on Holistic Service Prototyping with Matt Cottam, Jasper Speicher and Brian Hinch of Tellart. This tutorial built on the advanced studio Matt and I taught last semester in the Industrial Design department at RISD on the topic of Service Design. Services are by nature intangible and therefore present exciting new design challenges both in terms of communicating and developing service concepts. Through a combination of lectures and hands-on projects we explored a range of approaches with our students, from customer journeys and service blueprints to video and live enactment. Some of their work is featured here.

In addition to the key concepts and methods covered in our studio, the Etech tutorial introduced tools and techniques for building functional sketch models of web, mobile and embedded service experiences. Participants also played a brainstorming game we created that was partly inspired by Clue (“Professor Plum…. in the Library…. with a Candlestick”). They chose different combinations of users, contexts and tools to dream up new mobile and embedded service experiences, e.g. “Only child… on a road trip…. with an airflow sensor.” We have some video of the session and plan to post it soon.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Design, Dynamic Diagrams News, Prototyping

March 9, 2009, 8:49 am

Successful Teams Don’t Communicate Only With Words

By Kirsten Robinson

An interesting excerpt from Jared Spool’s blog, on successful design teams and diagrams:

For almost ten years, the research team at UIE has been searching to uncover the secrets behind great designs. As we talk to team after team, a key truth continues to emerge: The best teams communicate internally really well, while those teams that struggle also struggle at their internal communication.

When we think of a team that communicates, the first things that comes to mind are hallway conversations, meetings, and emails. But, as our research continues to show, are only a part of the communication puzzle.

It turns out that one of the differences between the successful teams and the struggling teams is their use of diagrams and maps. Struggling teams almost always try to communicate important design ideas through talking or word-based documents, while the successful teams put a heavy emphasis on diagrams.

It’s nice to see this validation for what we at Dynamic Diagrams have always advocated.

Jared’s comments are a lead-in to an article on concept models, which in turn referenced Bryce Glass’s concept model for Flickr — a nice visualization for a complex social media ecosystem. Apparently this visualization has been around since 2005, but this was the first time I’d seen it.

Flickr concept model by Brian Glass

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Comments (2) | Filed under: Design, Diagrams, Visual Explanation

February 27, 2009, 12:11 pm

Sliding House

By Henry Woodbury

From Wallpaper* magazine.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Design, Technology

January 9, 2009, 4:13 pm

A Pattern That Always Fits But Never Repeats

By Lisa Agustin

nyttokolo12

Computer-scientist-turned-designer Asao Tokolo has developed Tokolo Pattern Magnets, which allow you to interlock the tiles to create a non-repeating pattern that still manages to match the edges of a single tile to its adjoining one.   The magnets’ pattern is based on the karakusa, or the Japanese version of the arabesque, which made its way to Japan twelve hundred years ago via the Spice Route. According to the New York Times:

Scholarly papers have been dedicated to the ingenious ways these patterns can be generated and made to interlock and repeat — the fractal geometries of form. What interested Tokolo, though, was the way each tile could have a completely unique shape, and yet be made to link harmoniously to all the others — an unexpected harmony, perhaps, between Western individualism and Eastern collectivism.

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Art, Creativity, Design

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.

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

October 20, 2008, 9:20 am

Celebrate National Design Week

By Lisa Agustin

This week is National Design Week at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum.  Cast your vote for the People’s Design Award and, if you happen to be in New York City, enjoy free admission to the museum all week.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Current Events, Design

July 2, 2008, 11:17 am

The Fun of Getting There

By Henry Woodbury

Illustrator Christoph Niemann offers a wonderful tale of small boys and the New York City subway system. Yes, it’s another post about transit systems. How can I resist?

It seems people don�t trust the advice of a preschooler. They should

I myself have taken my motion-obsessed son on several circular ferry boat trips, including the Staten Island Ferry and the Québec-Lévis Ferry (approximate crossing time: 10 minutes).

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Art, Design, Illustration

June 26, 2008, 10:59 am

New York City Waterfalls

By Henry Woodbury

Artist Olafur Eliason’s public art project, New York City Waterfalls, officially opens today.

Waterfall and Brooklyn Bridge

There’s a lengthy write-up on The New York Times City Room blog, while the project’s elegant Flash-based web site provides background information, photos, directions, and this visual explanation (click on “About The Waterfalls” then “How The Waterfalls Work”):

How the Waterfall Works

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

May 5, 2008, 2:05 pm

Harvard Business Review Discovers “Emerging Science of Visualization”

By Mac McBurney

Martin Wattenberg and Fernanda Viégas, the two best-known creators of IBM Research’s Many Eyes, brief business execs on the benefits of collaborative information visualization.

Our research has found that the compelling presentation of data through visualization’s advanced techniques generates a surprising volume of impassioned conversations. Viewers ask questions, make comments, and suggest theories for why there’s a downward trend here or a data cluster there. That level of engagement could foster the kind of grassroots innovation CEOs dream of.

The article is available in the May 2008 issue of Harvard Business Review and for free online (at least for now):

You’ll also find Viégas and Wattenberg in MoMA’s Design and the Elastic Mind exhibition.

Finally, for even more info-vis star-watching, Viégas and two other designers will join John Maeda (an info design rockstar if ever there was one) later this month for IN/VISIBLE: Graphic Data Revealed. From the event’s blurb:

The visual ethics required in information graphics increase the designer’s burden from faithful executor to editorial arbiter. How do design choices affect the integrity of the data being portrayed?

If you see me there, say hello: http://www.aigany.org/events/details/08FD/

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Art, Books and Articles, Business, Current Events, Design, Information Design, Scholarly Publishing, Visual Explanation

May 2, 2008, 10:02 am

A New (Old) Subway Map

By Henry Woodbury

The New York Times City Room blog reports that Men’s Vogue will publish an updated version of Massimo Vignelli’s iconic 1972 subway map:

With its 45- and 90-degree angles and one color per subway line, the 1972 subway map by Massimo Vignelli was divorced from the cityscape, devoid of street or neighborhood names. It was criticized because its water was not blue and its parks were not green. Paul Goldberger called it “a stunningly handsome abstraction” that “bears little relation to the city itself.”

New:

New York City Subway Map by Massimo Vignelli, Revised

Old:

New York City Subway Map by Massimo Vignelli, Original

Part of a continuing series:

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Art, Current Events, Design, Maps, Visual Explanation

March 11, 2008, 9:58 pm

MOMA’s Design and the Elastic Mind

By Lisa Agustin

universcaleAt NY’s Museum of Modern Art, the Design and the Elastic Mind exhibition “focuses on designers’ ability to grasp momentous changes in technology, science, and social mores, changes that will demand or reflect major adjustments in human behavior, and convert them into objects and systems that people understand and use.” The online exhibition features 300 examples of design innovation in several categories, among them Thinkering (“productive tinkering”), Super Nature (technologies based on biological systems), and Extreme Visualization, which includes universcale, a Flash site describing the size of objects in the universe using an “infinite yardstick” extending from a femtometer to a light-year.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Art, Creativity, Current Events, Design, User Experience

February 5, 2008, 11:34 am

Periodic Table of the Imagination

By Henry Woodbury

We’ve seen some unfortunate attempts to use the Periodic Table of the Elements as an organizational metaphor. Here’s a more successful idea — the Periodic Table as communal art project:

2007 Periodic Table Printmaking Project

Organized by printmaker Jennifer Schmitt, the 2007 Periodic Table Printmaking Project brings together “Ninety-six printmakers of all experience levels, have joined together to produce 118 prints in any medium; woodcut, linocut, monotype, etching, lithograph, silkscreen, or any combination.”

Many of the artists are users of the handmade craft commerce site Etsy which features a short article about the project in the current issue of its online magazine: This Handmade Life.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Art, Creativity, Design, Illustration

January 16, 2008, 12:48 pm

Rate the Flags

By Henry Woodbury

Here’s an entertaining effort to rank the quality of national flags:

To my surprise, there is no international body responsible for upholding simple standards of vexillilic aesthetics. Nor do the UN or Interpol have the power to call in and punish those responsible for such atrocities as the Brazilian or Cypriot flags. I suppose there is probably a conspiracy of rich western nations (those with permanent seats on the UN security council, no doubt) to prevent such crimes from being brought to justice; however, in the meantime I am giving letter grades to the existing flags of the world.

Falkland Islands Flag

There’s a sound methodology (Rule 1: Do not write the name of your country on your flag), and a list of common failings, leading to grades such as this D minus, for the Falkland Islands:

Writing!
Colonial nonsense
Graven images
Too busy

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Design

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.

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

October 16, 2007, 3:53 pm

(T)AXI

By Henry Woodbury

For those interested in logo design, the New York Times City Room blog is offering an extended design revew of the city’s new taxi logo.

New York City Taxi Logo

The first post describes the design process and features the comments of designers Michael Bierut and Michael Rock; additional posts provide additional designer and reader responses. From the second installment, here’s the take of designer Sam Potts:

The central T is obviously a reference to the subway — too obviously if you ask me — but that is strategically a mistake, as the T.L.C. is separate from the M.T.A. Why equate them visually?

To have the “NYC” touch is, to me, poor craftsmanship, especially with such a blocky typeface. Additionally, as this goes whizzing by, clumped-together letters just get clumpier.

Having said that, my first reaction to this was, “There’s a logo for the taxis?” In fact, the logo is a secondary element in the branding of the taxis — I imagine very few notice the logo but everyone knows what the yellow signifies. I’d even say that the Crown Vic is a more powerful brand identifier (in the parlance) than whatever logo they had or adopted.

Both Potts and fellow designer Oscar Bjarnason note the ill-conceived reference to the city subway logo, a legendary brand we have mentioned before.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Branding, Current Events, Design, Marketing

August 1, 2007, 2:07 pm

2007 IDEA Awards Announced

By Lisa Agustin

Eclipse 500 Instrument PanelThis year’s International Design Excellence Awards (IDEA) show was the latest evidence that design is a discipline that involves more than just aesthetics. Awards were won for service innovation in banking, creating broad corporate and brand strategies, bolstering sustainability via electric cars, and remaking hammers and wrenches in new, better forms. (Shown at left: The instrument panel for the Eclipse 500 jet, whose design team created a user interface that is considered more intuitive, less cluttered, less fatiguing and more motion efficient.) Run by the Industrial Designers Society of America and sponsored by BusinessWeek, the competition boasted a highly international contingent (20 countries total), as well as an increase in the number of student-developed submissions. One particular trend was the rise in environmentally-friendly design, which included some unlikely product categories (green sportscar, anyone?)

A slide show of entrants:
http://images.businessweek.com/ss/07/07/0720_IDEA/index_01.htm

A highlights walkthrough by BW’s Bruce Nussbaum:
http://images.businessweek.com/ss/07/07/0723_idea_awards/index_01.htm

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Business, Current Events, Design, User Experience

February 20, 2007, 4:43 pm

Visual Information for Origami

By Henry Woodbury

The New Yorker has a long article on physicist and origami artist Robert J. Lang that also illuminates the dynamically changing world of origami. In short, this ancient artform has changed radically with the application of modern mathematical tools:

In 1970, no one could figure out how to make a credible-looking origami spider, but soon folders could make not just spiders but spiders of any species, with any length of leg, and cicadas with wings, and sawyer beetles with horns. For centuries, origami patterns had at most thirty steps; now they could have hundreds. And as origami became more complex it also became more practical. Scientists began applying these folding techniques to anything — medical, electrical, optical, or nanotechnical devices, and even to strands of DNA — that had a fixed size and shape but needed to be packed tightly and in an orderly way.

Garden Spider Garden Spider Crease Pattern Longhorn Longhorn Crease Pattern

Lang’s personal origami site is rich with images and ideas. For many of his constructions, Lang provides a “crease pattern,” a one-page diagram of singular complexity (see above). Lang explains:

Crease patterns have become much more popular in the last 15 years as a means of conveying origami. Part of the reason is that it’s a lot easier to draw a single crease pattern than to draw a detailed step-by step folding sequence. Part of the reason is that many origami composers (including myself) construct crease patterns as part of their design process, so the finished crease pattern comes ” for free.” And part of the reason is that with the general rise in folding ability worldwide, a reasonable number of people now have the skill to “read” a crease pattern and fold the encoded form.

Further on, Lange expands on his last point:

…a crease pattern can sometimes be more illuminating than a detailed folding sequence, conveying not just “how to fold,” but also how the figure was originally designed. And thus, it can actually give the folder insight into the thought processes of the origami composer in a way that a step-by-step folding sequence cannot.

Lang’s entire essay is enormously interesting for anyone concerned with models, diagrams, and visual explanations. Crease patterns need to show both details and large scale features of a pattern. They may be simplified for readability, or be augmented with additional lines or symbols that indicate key elements of the design. Like a musical score, they are designed for the trained eye but democratically open to anyone who wishes to learn their language.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: 3D Modeling, Design, Visual Explanation

February 9, 2007, 10:31 am

Strange Maps

By Lisa Agustin

Forget about Google Maps and G.P.S.  Here’s one for history and cartography buffs: Strange Maps is a blog covering fictional, hypothetical, and just plain odd maps found online. Image sources run the gamut from the U.S. Library of Congress (for Johananes Vingboons’ “Island of California” map from 1693, below) to the official site of author Stephen King. Besides being a visually-rich collection of approaches to mapmaking, each represents its creator’s view of an alternate reality, whether whimsical (a rendering of the Land of Oz), thought-provoking (the Armed Forces Journal’s re-drawing of the Middle-East), or somewhere in the middle (the world as seen from New York City’s 9th Ave). A bonus: each map comes with a detailed commentary on its background, history, and the occasional factoid for interesting reading.

Island of California

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Design, Maps, Visual Explanation

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.

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

January 25, 2007, 12:54 pm

What is in a Name? The New Apple

By Lisa Agustin

Apple logoOn January 9, Apple launched its latest must-have, the iPhone, along with Apple TV, a device for delivering video content downloaded from Apple’s iTunes service to consumers’ television sets. The same day, the company announced a name change from Apple Computer to Apple, signalling a strategic shift that focuses less on personal computers and more on consumer electronics.

The latest issue of Knowledge@Wharton considers the question of whether Apple’s new strategy will succeed, and how well it will do when competing alongside Samsung, Sony, and Microsoft in the quest to dominate the digital living room. Apple’s talent for design will most certainly be a plus in this regard — not only in terms of the cool-looking hardware it’s known for, but also its ability to make technology user-friendly:

Apple’s design skills go beyond new gadgets to encompass softare design. One of Apple’s real design feats was making it easy for consumers to buy music legally wtihout excessive digital rights managment [DRM] software.  [According to Wharton professor Eric Clemons:] “Apple’s iPod and iTunes store are quite tightly coordinated to make theft of content of illicit transfer of content cumbersome.  It’s surprisingly easy for consumers to forget why there are restrictions and where the restrictions came from.”

Ironically, this “tight coordination” may also be a stumbling block for Apple:

…Consumers could eventually chafe at Apple’s attempts to vertically integrate is products–and thereby lock customers in– instead of working with other devices. Vertical integration refers to efforts to own multiple parts of a product chain. For instance, Apple operates its iTunes music sales channel, controls the [DRM] software and sells the devices to play content…It’s unclear whether this vertical strategy will ultimately win out with consumers, who may demand support for multiple standards.

While digital convergence has yet to be achieved, from a consumer’s perspective it will be interesting to see the range of products that are sure to emerge while the battle to rule the digital living room wages on.

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Comments (2) | Filed under: Business, Current Events, Design

January 23, 2007, 9:04 pm

The Future of Gesture UIs

By Lisa Agustin

Without fail, the start of the new year gets people thinking about What Will Be Big This Year.  The latest issue of Digital Web Magazine features an interview with Doug Bowman, a Visual Design Lead with Google, in which DWM asked which apps from 2006 are most significant and what that means for 2007.  Aside from the expected endorsements of Google’s Calendar and Spreadsheets, Bowman had some interesting comments touching upon the themes of selective content sharing (e.g., Six Apart’s Vox) and more consolidation (e.g., Yahoo! Mail).

But what piqued my interest the most were Bowman’s comments regarding “gesture user interfaces,” or UIs that are driven by physical movements of the user.  This is not a new thing, of course–dragging and dropping is something that most users accept (maybe even expect) with the latest applications. But recent offerings like the Nintendo Wii and the Reactrix interactive advertising display are giving us glimpses into what user experience may hold for the future. (Okay, so maybe the holographic screen in that Tom Cruise movie wasn’t completely off the mark?)  What I find most interesting about gesture UIs is not so much what the final user experience will be for gesture-driven apps, but how would you architect and then document the desired experience?  What kinds of description languages will need to be developed to describe the experience programmatically? What kinds of new user input paradigms will emerge moving forward? Stay tuned.

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Design, Implementation, Technology, User Experience

January 8, 2007, 11:07 am

The Secret Weapon of Product Designers

By Lisa Agustin

This month’s issue of Fast Company offers a peek into the DesignAid kit, a collection of twenty inventions with “unexpected properties,” such as impact-absorbing silicon (useful for building a sturdier car bumper) or sound-recording paper (consider a talking postcard).  Created by Inventables, the kit changes quarterly and offers product designers a peek at some unusual technologies along with suggestions for various applications. Kit recipients can decide whether any of the offerings might be somehow integrated into their own products, or just use the kit as a source of inspiration for innovative thinking.

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

January 8, 2007, 10:03 am

Inventing Kindergarten

By Lisa Agustin

Paperweave

As a parent researching kindergarten options, most of the prospective schools offer what you’d expect, a combination of play activities and exploration of some “real school” (e.g., reading, writing, and math). So it was with some personal interest that I visited the Institute for Figuring’s “Inventing Kindergarten,” a look at the original incarnation of kindergarten, as developed by German scientist Friedrich Froebel in the early 19th century. The exhibition outlines the underlying principles of Froebel’s approach, which was “based around a system of abstract exercises that aimed to instill in young children an understanding of the mathematically generated logic underlying the ebb and flow of creation.”

Along with physical activities such as singing, dancing, and gardening, Froebel developed a series of mental exercises that revolved around twenty “occupational gifts,” or what might be considered educational toys today. Cutting and folding paper, weaving sticks, and sewing thread into cards were intended to teach the creation of forms in the real world.

Instructional tools for Froebel’s kindergarten included various pattern books, which are remarkable not only for their intricacy and beauty, but also as they are clearly recognizable as predecessors to design systems we take for granted in today’s digital world.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Design

January 3, 2007, 4:23 pm

Paper Cuts and System Interfaces

By Chris Jackson

Visual and performance artist Peter Calleson explores multiple layers of meaning in his papercut works to explore the complexities between 2D and 3D presentation. I’m drawn to the beauty and cleverness of the works, but I’m most intrigued by how these works exist between two opposites or, as Callesen puts it, between “image and reality.”

Peter Callesen's _Angel_ 2006 Detail from Peter Callesen's _Angel_ 2006

I can’t look at Callesen’s papercut works and not think about the intersection between systems and interfaces, how what’s beneath the surface influences what’s above (and vice versa). If you look at one side only, you miss the complexity of the whole. And that’s one of the great challenges in system design.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Design, Information Design, Web Interface Design

December 14, 2006, 3:04 pm

Google Wins Patent for Search Results Interface Design

By Lisa Agustin

Those wishing to emulate the Google search results interface may need to think twice: this week the company won a patent for “the ornamental design for a graphical user interface.”

Interestingly, the patent is specifically a “design” patent, which means it covers only the invention’s appearance, rather than a “utility” patent, which covers the functions an invention performs. From an information design perspective, this notion of patenting a “look and feel” begs the question: when is imitating a design a form of flattery and when is it infringement? It depends, according to Phillip Mann, a Seattle-based patent attorney interviewed by CNET:

Google’s competitors need not worry about falling prey to costly lawsuits yet. That’s because it’s typically not easy for patent holders to win suits against alleged infringers of their designs, Mann said. Generally, the legal standard is that the accused infringer would have to employ a design that is “substantially the same” as the patent holder’s.

While it’s easy to guess why Google pursued protection of its design approach, obtaining a patent seems counter to the notion of what the Web is about– sharing and refining ideas, code, etc..  It will be interesting to see what effect (if any) this new protection has–not just on search engine interfaces, but on approaches to interface design in general.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Current Events, Design, Web Interface Design

December 13, 2006, 3:02 pm

The Complexity Behind Simplicity

By Lisa Agustin

The idea of simplicity has been getting a lot of press lately, with the popularity of gadgets like the iPod and the release of thoughtful writings by folks like John Maeda.  Joel Spolsky offers his own take on the issue, suggesting that what makes “simple” products successful isn’t so much about what they are lacking, but more about what they encompass:

Devotees of simplicity will bring up 37signals and the Apple iPod as anecdotal proof that Simple Sells. I would argue that in both these cases, success is a result of a combination of things: building an audience, evangelism, clean and spare design, emotional appeal, aesthetics, fast response time, direct and instant user feedback, program models which correspond to the user model resulting in high usability, and putting the user in control, all of which are features of one sort, in the sense that they are benefits that customers like and pay for, but none of which can really be described as “simplicity.”

This brings to mind client requests for web site features that look clean and simple, but in fact are quite robust in their functionality.  (“Can you make it like Google?”)  Making something complicated is easy; making an elegant solution that addresses user needs, business goals, and content requirements–all while offering a positive user experience–is another matter.

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Business, Design

November 29, 2006, 11:56 am

Telling Time in a New Way

By Lisa Agustin

Looking for a unique holiday gift?  Then you may be interested in a watch by Japanese company Tokyo Flash, whose specialty is creating unique interfaces for telling time. Each watch offers a different kind of visual system: My favorites are the spiderweb-like iPattern, which splits the dial into two halves, the top for hours and the bottom for minutes, or for a real challenge, check out the 1000100101 which–you guessed it–presents time in a binary display. The product page for each watch includes a guide for telling time using your new space-age timepiece.

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Design

October 5, 2006, 9:20 am

Photographs by Piotr Kaczmarek

By Henry Woodbury

The new issue of New, the “Irregular Literary Poetry Avant Garde Art Magazine” edited by Dynamic Diagrams’ founder, Paul Kahn, features photographs by our Creative Director Piotr Kaczmarek:

I chose the leafless trees as a subject because I was interested in a clear visual representation of a complex structure; starting from the high level of defined spaces between tree canopies, then the obvious organization of branches, and patterns of twigs. I like the drawing-like line qualities of the subject. What the collages are after is to reveal the fractal nature of these organic shapes.

Leafless Trees 5.jpg

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Design, Dynamic Diagrams News, Photography

September 20, 2006, 4:37 pm

How to Generate New Ideas

By Henry Woodbury

Statistician Seth Roberts, “best selling author and paragon of scientific self-experimentation,” is the feature of a link-rich blog post by Tyler Cowen, titled How to Be Happy. What struck me, upon following several links, was Roberts’ interest in idea generation. The “how to be happy” link leads to an unpublished paper titled “Self-experimentation as a source of new ideas: Ten examples about sleep, mood, health, and weight.” Even better is the first section of this paper: Three Things Statistics Textbooks Don’t Tell You (PDF). Roberts writes:

Statistics textbooks usually discuss graphic displays of data, but the stated goal is presentation, not idea generation (e.g., Howell, 1999). This reflects the statistics literature, where sophistication and enthusiasm about graphics usually concern presentation (e.g., Gelman, Pasarica, & Dodhia, 2002; Schmid, 1983). Tufte’s (1983, 1990) lovely books, for example, are entirely about presentation; nothing is said about idea generation.

What Roberts found through his own experiments should resonate with anyone who communicates visually:

A major reason for graphing ones data [is that a] tiny fraction of ones graphs will suggest new lines of research.

Or, to repeat his quote of statistician John Tuckey:

The picture-examining eye is the best finder we have of the wholly unanticipated.

When developing visual explanations we think in terms of the information we want to clarify, the story we want to tell, the audience we want to engage. What goes unmentioned is the fact that moving from text and numbers to visuals can change the way we think about our overall concept. Sometimes a visual explanation suggests powerful alternatives for further exploration. Sometimes we realize that the data doesn’t support the stated goals of the project and a new approach is needed.

While our own process model involves extensive research and analysis, we have learned to begin drafting visual ideas as soon as we have any applicable information to work with. Iterative thumbnails and sketches do more than illustrate the research. They themselves are analytical tools that help us (and our clients) steer clear of blind alleys and drive toward more persuasive, innovative visual results.

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

September 13, 2006, 12:03 pm

The Magical, Mysterious Design Process

By Lisa Agustin

In this week’s DesignObserver, Michael Bierut muses about how the design process “really” works:

When I do a design project, I begin by listening carefully to you as you talk about your problem and read whatever background material I can find that relates to the issues you face. If you’re lucky, I have also accidentally acquired some firsthand experience with your situation. Somewhere along the way an idea for the design pops into my head from out of the blue. I can’t really explain that part; it’s like magic. Sometimes it even happens before you have a chance to tell me that much about your problem! Now, if it’s a good idea, I try to figure out some strategic justification for the solution so I can explain it to you without relying on good taste you may or may not have. Along the way, I may add some other ideas, either because you made me agree to do so at the outset, or because I’m not sure of the first idea. At any rate, in the earlier phases hopefully I will have gained your trust so that by this point you’re inclined to take my advice. I don’t have any clue how you’d go about proving that my advice is any good except that other people – at least the ones I’ve told you about – have taken my advice in the past and prospered. In other words, could you just sort of, you know…trust me?

While Bierut’s observation is humorous, it touches upon how important it is for design firms to explain what they do in a way that potential clients (presumably non-designers) will understand, even if it does involve an element of the unexplainable. In the end, the process comes down to starting with left-brain activity (e.g., researching and analyzing), mulling over what you’ve learned in terms of business goals and customer needs, and ”transforming” it into a product that will address both.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Creativity, Design