Information Design Watch

March 7, 2012, 3:42 pm

The Scientists Sketch

By Henry Woodbury

Data visualization consultant Lee De Cola has assembled a neat cross section of sketches by famous scientists. Here, for example, is a literal back-of-the-envelope sketch by Henri Poincaré:

Henri Poincaré's back-of-the-envelope calculations

Sadly, many of the images are small, or culled of context. Consider them a teaser. Galileo’s sketch of Saturn is a minor doodle compared to the visual storytelling found in this page from his notebook on Jupiter:

Moons of Jupiter, from Galileo's Notebook

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Comments (2) | Filed under: Art, Charts and Graphs, Diagrams, Illustration, Information Design, Maps, Scholarly Publishing, Visual Explanation

January 21, 2012, 11:23 am

Metadata in Action

By Henry Woodbury

Doing a comparative analysis of search functionality, I came across an interesting interactive diagram at the National Archives of Australia. Using simple rollovers the diagram explains the metadata hierarchy used within the Commonwealth Record Series (CRS) System. To see the diagram, start at the Search the Collection page, click “Search as Guest”, then click the “RecordSearch – Advanced search” tab. Here’s a screenshot:

Commonwealth Record Series Metadata Diagram

Compare this to the boxes-and-arrows diagram used in the 4700-word CRS Manual.

Commonwealth Record Series Structure

What gives the interactive chart its punch is the use of verbs to describe the connections between the elements. Verbs like “contain”, “create”, “perform” are contrasted with “are part of”, “are created by”, “are performed by”. These words identify the relationship between subjects and objects in a much more informative way than lines with arrowheads.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Diagrams, Information Architecture, Information Design, Language

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

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

August 10, 2011, 11:55 am

The Key to the Masthead

By Henry Woodbury

It may not work for every web site, but it does for Flip Flop Fly Ball. I’m talking about a site masthead with more iconography than a pre-renaissance painting.

Flip Flop Fly Ball Masthead

The key to the masthead is a nice example of information design in itself.

Key to Flip Flop Fly Ball Masthead

Click through to read the labels.

p.s. Flip Flop Fly Ball creator Craig Robinson has a book out. Good stuff. I’ve linked to him before.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Books and Articles, Charts and Graphs, Diagrams, Information Design, Sports, Visual Explanation, Web Interface Design

July 28, 2011, 12:58 pm

Hello Spatial Humanities, We’ve been Waiting for You

By Henry Woodbury

Patricia Cohen at The New York Times has an interesting article on the “spatial humanities,” the idea of using geographic information systems to reveal the physical context of historical or even fictional events:

“Mapping spatial information reveals part of human history that otherwise we couldn’t possibly know,” said Anne Kelly Knowles, a geographer at Middlebury College in Vermont. “It enables you to see patterns and information that are literally invisible.” It adds layers of information to a map that can be added or taken off at will in various combinations; the same location can also be viewed back and forth over time at the click of a mouse.

The real joy of this feature is the portfolio of projects that accompanies the main overview. Here, for example, is a section from Ms. Knowles’ viewshed analysis of what General Robert E. Lee could actually see in the Battle of Gettysburg:

Fragment of Gettysburg Map created by Anne Kelly Knowles, Will Rousch, Caitrin Abshere and others; and National Archives, Maryland

The pale ovals represent areas that historians have previously assumed to be visible to Lee. In Ms. Knowles analysis, all the light areas of the map could have been visible, depending on tree lines.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: 3D Modeling, Diagrams, Information Design, Maps, Scholarly Publishing, Visual Explanation

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)

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

June 18, 2011, 10:00 pm

Follow the Dots, not the Lines

By Henry Woodbury

Over at ESPN’s Grantland, my new favorite sports site, a visual explanation has made an appearance.

The HBO Recycling Program, Detail: The WireThe HBO Recycling Program, Detail: ActorsAndy Greenwald, writing about HBO’s reuse of character actors in different original series, posted a diagram of “The 66 Busiest Actors on HBO”.  The diagram links actors to each series in which they have made three or more appearances. On the left you might find Roxanne Hart. On the right you might find The Sopranos.

This is a chart of a type. It shows a network, but the assemblage of lines that denotes the network is indecipherable. It’s pickup sticks. (Other network diagrams devolve to spaghetti.)

Partly this is an artifact of organization. The alphabetical list of actors has no meaningful correspondence to the alphabetical list of shows. Imagine if shows were listed chronologically and actors listed in order of first appearance. Then you might see a pattern. Would it be enlightening? I’m not sure. A common problem with network diagrams is that the lines don’t aggregate into meaning. An individual line might tell you something, but only in its connection to a pair of nodes. And if you want to focus on individual nodes — an actor or a show — you don’t need a diagram.

Here, the big picture is not in the lines, but the dots. Scan either list and the diagram quickly informs you of something interesting: Stephen Toblowsky appears in a lot of HBO shows. The Wire employed a lot of actors. But not Stephen Toblowsky (no line).

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

June 2, 2011, 7:01 pm

Corn and More Corn

By Henry Woodbury

On the day that the USDA unveiled a nonsensical replacement for its hopelessly-compromised food pyramid, it’s important to understand what kinds of foodstuffs the government actually promotes.

Roger Doiron of Kitchen Gardeners International has produced this image of what the White House garden would look like “if it were planted to reflect the relative costs of the main crops subsidized by US taxpayers”:

Kitchen Gardeners International White House Garden Comparison

The data is from the Farm Subsidy Database.

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Comments (2) | Filed under: Current Events, Diagrams, Information Design, Maps, Visual Explanation

May 9, 2011, 10:40 pm

Feelings Interactive

By Henry Woodbury

Columbia Journalism Review writes about one of The New York Times recent features:

…a new interactive graph on The New York Times website invites readers to plot their reactions to two questions: How much of a turning point in the war on terror will Bin Laden’s death represent? (significant to insignificant), and What is your emotional response? (positive to negative).

The format is useful for commenters because they can easily click a square and answer two questions at once, and it’s useful for the casual reader, who can measure the feelings of the crowd at a glance. When you first visit the page, you can click on any square to see others’ comments or to plot your own—or, you can just watch for a few minutes, as I did, as random comments slowly float up and fade out from the mosaic.

To me the format is far more interesting than the opinions. The format shapes the aggregate results.

Given quadrants, there is bias toward adhering to a quadrant.

Given edges there is bias toward approaching the edges.

Given existing dots, I strongly suspect there is bias toward clumping.

The Death of a Terrorist: A Turning Point?

Now that I’ve looked at this interactive a few times the other thing that interests me is how it would look as an animation. The Columbia Journalism Review article offers a screen shot taken much earlier than the one above. The patterns are already taking shape.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Charts and Graphs, Cognitive Bias, Current Events, Diagrams, Information Design, Social Media, Visual Explanation

April 9, 2011, 9:56 am

Show Me the Seiverts

By Henry Woodbury

The Fukushima nuclear reactor remains in crisis. One informational challenges for media and scientists in this disaster has been explaining the relative risks of the radiation levels. The Sievert, a unit that attempts to measure the biological effect of an absorbed dose of radiation, is measured in micro-quantities for such things as a dental x-ray which is about one-millionth of a dose that is deadly. While a mathematician may easily compare very small and very large number as powers of 10, this is hardly intuitive to the rest of us.

Randall Munroe, at xkcd, has created one of the more comprehensive attempts to show radiation risk by charting doses in blocks and associating them with specific examples. Depending on color each unit represents one of four values from 0.05 microSeiverts (blue) to 1 Seivert (yellow). A large set of examples in one color becomes a small unit of comparison in the next:

Radiation Dose Chart Sample

The chart reads in a clockwise circle; better would be a horizontal left-to-right for both data and key. Still, it is a grand effort that repays close reading.

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Comments (2) | Filed under: Charts and Graphs, Current Events, Diagrams, Information Design, Visual Explanation

March 2, 2011, 5:03 pm

What You Want to Own

By Henry Woodbury

Self-described entrepreneur  and gamer Brad Hargreaves has created a nicely multivariate chart on wealth creation. It is more philosophical than empirical, a way to frame a question rather than a survey. It is also self-explanatory, so I’ve only shown a portion of it below:

Brad Hargreaves Wealth Visualization

I found this at the Sippican Cottage blog, along with Sippican’s typically incisive summation:

1. Make money while you’re awake.
2. Make money while you’re asleep, too.
3. Make money even after you’re dead.

From the information design perspective I’m impressed by the labeling. The examples are well chosen and the repeated two-word “Own” phrases manage to indicate fairly clear distinctions despite their inherent subjectivity. That kind of parallelism is hard to carry off, especially seven times in a row. Why does Brett Favre fall under “Own Entities” instead of “Own Yourself”? I don’t know, but it works well enough to make the point.

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Comments (2) | Filed under: Business, Charts and Graphs, Diagrams, Information Design, Visual Explanation

February 23, 2011, 9:24 am

The Mystery Cupcake

By Henry Woodbury

In my post The Mystery Donut, I demonstrated how the problems of showing linear values with areas compound when the relationship of the values to the areas is visually deceptive.

Here’s a counter example. In this Financial Times visualization, the structural deficit for each country is shown by the area of the circle. The areas are proportional. This is much better than the mystery donut, but still a confection.

While the circles offer an attractive set of elements for the designer to arrange, they also preclude easy comparison. The human mind does not easily interpret differences in relative areas. Nor are the circles on a common axis. A bar chart would do the job just fine. A bar chart would also allow two sets of numbers — the structural deficit and the deficit as a percentage of GDP to be graphed in parallel.

I have one more criticism — this one about the copywriting. The line chart at the bottom shows the U.S. debt-to-GDP ratio accelerating off the charts. It is not spiraling.

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

February 16, 2011, 2:33 pm

University of Southern Maine Undertakes Re-Design with New Information Architecture by Dynamic Diagrams

By Lisa Agustin

How do you organize a collection of over one hundred, decentrally-managed micro-sites into a single, cohesive entity that offers a consistent user experience from the home page down to the lowest level?  This was the key issue facing the University of Southern Maine‘s site redesign, and Dynamic Diagrams was happy to help.  The university had plans to migrate the site to a new content management system, and recognized the importance of creating a new architecture to provide both a better experience for site visitors as well as a standardized approach to organizing content for micro-site owners.

After completing a rigorous research and analysis phase that included stakeholder interviews, an inventory of over 5,000 pages (you may have seen the earlier Post-It Note output here), user focus groups, and an online survey, we created a new information architecture (see above) and a set of core wireframes (page schematics) to illustrate the new high-level and page-level user experience, respectively.  The new architecture puts the user’s needs front-and-center by presenting all related information together (e.g., degree information that was previously scattered across the course catalog, academic department, and university system database), rather than forcing users to navigate multiple silos of information.   The architecture and wireframes will guide the development of the site’s new look and feel, which is now in progress.   Look for the new design to be launched later this year.

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Diagrams, Dynamic Diagrams News, Information Architecture, User Experience

February 13, 2011, 6:03 pm

The Mystery Donut

By Henry Woodbury

The donut below shows that 53% agree and 47% disagree.

It is lucky that we have the numbers because visually we have an enigma. Red dominates the shape in which red is the smaller number. How do we interpret this? Let me count the ways.

  1. We could compare the area of the donut (the blue ring) to the area of the hole (the red circle).
  2. We could compare the area of the donut and the hole to the area of the hole.
  3. We could compare the diameters of both cases above.
  4. We could compare the radii.

In every case, we still have to answer the question: What is the whole?

As it turns out, the visually-most-counterintuitive answer is the answer.

The red circle has a radius of 35 pixels. The blue donut is 5 pixels wide, extending the radius to 40 pixels.

Mystery Donut Annotated

Each radius is a bar on an implicit chart (now we see the whole):

Mystery Donut Charted

The donut is meaningless. All we really have are two linear values:

Mystery Donut Bar Chart

Hell, let’s make it a circle again. I’ll turn the donut into a pie:

Mystery Donut Pie

You can find the source for this exercise on The New York Times. This is only the worst of its problems.

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Comments (2) | Filed under: Charts and Graphs, Current Events, Diagrams, Information Design

January 27, 2011, 12:50 pm

The State of the Internet

By Tim Roy

Perhaps some day in the future, there will also be a “State of the Internet” address as well as the more traditional “State of” address that happens every January.

Focus has created an interesting data visualization revealing some up to date statistics to consider. Facebook continues on its juggernaut with 600 million users, 250 million of whom signed up last year. And is it true that 89% of all emails sent are spam?

Thoughts on this kind of visual?

The original can be found here at Focus.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Diagrams, Visual Explanation

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

December 30, 2010, 3:08 pm

A Lesson in Venn Diagrams

By Henry Woodbury

I’m not going to reproduce the “Who Gets Paid to Touch Your Junk” Venn diagram. It’s already doing the rounds. This summary of what does and does not constitute a Venn Diagram is more entertaining than the original joke (which leads the discussion anyway).

Selected commenters push back against the critique. Most tersely, Commenter Michael writes, “The original is an accurate Venn diagram. The labels within overlapping areas are simple not exhaustive.” Commenter Jose_X elaborates:

Yup, as explained in a different comment, the original is essentially correct.

To see what I mean, replace “Doctors” with “Characteristics of Doctors” and repeat the replacement pattern for the other sets as well.

The most interesting comment is not about definitions, but about usage. Commenter Marcus Carab observes:

There’s quite a lot of “incorrect” Venn diagrams like the original out there – to the point that it has basically become an accepted format for a joke.

I’m not sure if any other type of chart or diagram has achieved this status. Pie and bar charts invite mockery for their clumsy misuse. Venn diagrams offer a platform for fun. For example.

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

November 22, 2010, 5:06 pm

Nightingale’s Serendipity

By Henry Woodbury

In the BBC News Magazine, mathematician and author Marcus du Sautoy extols the power of diagrams. The cliche that a picture is worth a thousand words misses the point, he explains. A scientific diagram has the power to transcend language, to “create a whole new visual language to navigate a scientific idea” or even show the impossible. “Words” is the wrong unit of measure.

Among other scientists and thinkers, du Sautoy draws examples from Copernicus, Newton, and Florence Nightingale. In that last case, he links to our recreation of Nightingale’s Rose, the circular set of charts that Nightingale created to show relative causes of death of soldiers during the Crimean war.

du Sautoy’s television series, The Beauty of Diagrams, is offered on BBC Four.

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Charts and Graphs, Diagrams, Dynamic Diagrams News, Information Design, Visual Explanation

November 5, 2010, 9:18 am

Any Questions Mr. Skywalker? No? Good.

By Henry Woodbury

I haven’t linked to Presentation Zen in a while. Having recommended the site to my sister who is teaching business communications, I took a look and came across this gem:

General Jan Dodonna stands and delivers with confidence and brevity.

Who remembers that the destruction of the Death Star (in Star Wars IV) turned on a successful visual presentation? Well no matter. The presentation got results.

Garr Reynolds summarizes:

If you have a large screen, use it to show visuals, not lines of text that remind you what to say. You do not have to use a screen, but if you do, use it to display visual information that illustrates or amplifies your message in the clearest way possible. Stand with your visuals, becoming a clear part of the visual experience from your audience’s point of view.

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

November 3, 2010, 3:42 pm

Shakespeare Diagrammed?

By Tim Roy

It would seem that the idea of visualizing Shakespeare is more wide-spread than I initially thought.  While I blogged on this same subject (Shakespeare Visualized?) last month, other approaches keep appearing.  A friend sent me a link to a print of Hamlet presented as a diagram.  Available for sale on Etsy, this visualization is a hybrid of process flow, genealogical chart, and glyph system.

Multiple views of the Hamlet diagram

This piece works far better than the data analysis previously presented, but I am still not convinced that it does the narrative justice.  For example, the following extract from Act II is, in my opinion, difficult to grasp from a process point of view:

"Process Flow" from Act II

While the glyph system mixes straight-ahead enumeration (use of the letters to abbreviate names) to the iconic (representing players with the masks), I found it confusing.  Other icons in the system include skulls, castles, daggers and poison.

Glyph system from Hamlet diagram

We have never attempted to transform this kind of narrative into a full-fledged visualization, so I do applaud the work for its daring.  Still, I think I would take Olivier or Branagh over this 50 x 79 print every time.

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Comments (7) | Filed under: Diagrams, Information Design

October 12, 2010, 10:56 am

Gregor Hohpe’s Diagram Manifesto

By Henry Woodbury

Why a diagram? We know how to communicate the value of diagrams to clients already attuned to visual thinking. The challenge is to reach those for whom the idea is unfamiliar. One of the best arguments I’ve encountered comes not from a designer, but from a software architect. In his manifesto on Diagram Driven Design, Gregor Hohpe speaks to his immediate audience (software architects) and their focus on rigorous technical documentation, but makes the broad case as well:

Drawing a picture forces us to clean up our thinking, lest we run out of paper. Do we depict the data flow, the class structure, or implementation detail? While a picture does not automagically make this problem go away, it puts it in your face much more than a meandering chain of prose, which from afar may not look all that bad. A well-known German proverb proclaims that “Papier is geduldig” (paper is patient), meaning paper is unlikely to object to what garbage you scribble on it. Diagrams tend to be a little less patient, and expose a wild mix of metaphors and abstractions more easily.

Hohpe doesn’t forgive poorly designed diagrams (“bad diagrams are not a useful design technique”), but warns against blaming the messenger:

If you are unable to draw a good diagram (and it isn’t due to lack of skill), it may just be because your actual system structure is nothing worth showing to anyone.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Diagrams, Information Design, Technology

October 6, 2010, 12:19 pm

Timeline of the History of Systematic Data and the Development of Computable Knowledge

By Lisa Agustin

Presented at last month’s Wolfram Data Summit in Washington, DC: a timeline of organization through the ages.

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

October 1, 2010, 11:52 am

Shakespeare Visualized?

By Tim Roy

Earlier this week, I was speaking with Nancy Duarte about her new book Engage and comparing notes about our respective explorations of literature and drama over the past few months.  With the help of a dear friend, I had set out on a course of reading some of the great works of drama in order to help develop my skills in creating better narratives for our clients.

I recently came across this site: Understanding Shakespeare, a project undertaken by Stephen Thiel and the University of Potsdam.  His goal was to “extract and visualize the information found within the text to reveal its underlying narrative algorithm.”  Using a variety of inquiry paths (dramatic structure, summary, enter/exit, and Google results), Thiel has produced a  series of static visualizations illustrating objective findings about the Bard’s work.

While the results of this work have produced these not-surprisingly dense visualizations, it remains unclear how useful this type of data exploration might be.  We often speak to our clients about first understanding the needs of an audience — what do you want them to think, feel and do after experiencing your story — in this case, what are the benefits of knowing these narrative patterns or the word count of a specific character?

To be fair (and offer Thiel the benefit of the doubt), this close analysis might prove helpful to Shakespearean scholars and others looking for specific linguistic patterns.  Yet for the rest of us, it would seem that the art of A Midsummer Night’s Dream or the nod towards symbolic communication in Sonnet 23, cannot be divined by a visualization.

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

September 21, 2010, 10:34 am

The Simple Power of a Graphic

By Matt DeMeis

Most of us know about the 33 miners trapped underground in Chile. I came across this infographic created by Newsweek about the 3″ diameter bore hole that is keeping them alive.

So simple, but so incredibly powerful. I love this kind of thing. With a line drawing, we are given a true window into the unbelievably claustrophobic situation these men are enduring.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Comics, Creativity, Current Events, Diagrams, Illustration, Infographics, Information Design, Visual Explanation

April 29, 2010, 8:08 pm

Blame the Messenger

By Henry Woodbury

The New York Times runs a slam on PowerPoint in the guise of a critique of military effectiveness, featuring the diagram below as an example of PowerPoint gone wild:

Afghan Stability / COIN Dynamics

Clearly something is lost in translation here. This is a high-resolution diagram that should be examined in print. First spotlighted in the media by NBC’s Richard Engel, the diagram actually has its fans as an attempt to visualize “how all things in war – from media bias to ethnic/tribal rivalries – are interconnected and must be taken into consideration.” It contains a lot of information and bears close inspection. Apparently it has made its way into PowerPoint but the real problem, according to Brig. Gen. H. R. McMaster, lies in the opposite direction:

In General McMaster’s view, PowerPoint’s worst offense is not a chart like the spaghetti graphic … but rigid lists of bullet points (in, say, a presentation on a conflict’s causes) that take no account of interconnected political, economic and ethnic forces. “If you divorce war from all of that, it becomes a targeting exercise,” General McMaster said.

And yet, the litany of complaints about too much PowerPoint parallels the demand, by leadership, for more information. The job of a staff officer is information. We aren’t talking about a PowerPoint problem. We’re talking about an information overload problem. The spaghetti diagram serves notice.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Charts and Graphs, Current Events, Diagrams, Infographics, PowerPoint

April 8, 2010, 4:57 pm

Guest Teaching InfoViz

By Kirsten Robinson

Dr. Bill Gribbons at Bentley University recently invited Dynamic Diagrams to present some of our work to his Information Visualization class. The class is part of the Master’s degree program in Human Factors in Information Design, of which I’m an alumna.

After I gave a brief introduction to Dynamic Diagrams, Piotr took the spotlight, showing a wide variety of visual explanations from past and present projects. Examples included highly detailed web site inventories and architecture diagrams, process illustrations, data visualizations, and animated 3D models. While Piotr explained the challenges and design solutions for each project, I played Vanna White, zooming and scrolling so the students (some of whom were attending online) could see relevant sections.

It was a great experience for me to revisit some of the past work (Samsung Electronics, Holtzbrinck), and to understand some of the more recent work (Getty) in greater depth. There never seems to be enough time to sit back and appreciate our colleagues’ work during a normal workday.

Holtzbrinck web properties inventory

Holtzbrinck web properties inventory

The best part was hearing the audible gasps as we revealed each new piece. As part of their coursework, students are required to create their own information displays, while also explaining the human factors (visual and cognitive) that help or hinder our ability to process them. I hope we were able to provide a bit of inspiration for their next projects!

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

March 25, 2010, 9:58 am

The Long Shot

By Henry Woodbury

This beautiful diagram, created by Bryan Christie Design for an IEEE Spectrum special report on Mars packs a lot of data into a small space, down to the specifics of the name of each mission.

Yet, with all the data, the overarching story comes through clearly: Up until this decade, most Mars missions failed. Because of the Soviet Union’s dreary record, it is easy, at first to misread orange for failure and blue for success. But a quick check at the labels makes it easy to reorient. Don’t draw the short straw.

Mission(s) to Mars

(via i09)

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

March 19, 2010, 10:38 am

It’s Tournament Time

By Henry Woodbury

The Mens Division I NCAA Basketball Tournament bracket is one of the most iconic images in U.S. sports. Voila:

NCAA Mens Division I Basketball Tournament, 300 Pixels Wide NCAA Mens Division I Basketball Tournament, 150 Pixels Wide NCAA Mens Division I Basketball Tournament, 75 Pixels Wide

So what can an information designer do with this?

Cliff Kuang at Fast Company looked around the web to find out. His selection for “best designed bracket” goes to NBC Sports:

Why? Because it’s a bonafide [sic] infographic–basically a cheat-sheet that allows anyone with only a passing interest in college basketball to sound smart after about five minutes of studying.

The NBC Bracket is here. It’s interactive, but broken. Hey NBC! Fix that absolute positioning.

Update: It’s fixed now.

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Comments (3) | Filed under: Current Events, Diagrams, Information Design, Sports, Web Interface Design

February 2, 2010, 9:43 am

Rendered in Neat Circles

By Henry Woodbury

Popular Science links to another interesting information graphic on space exploration. This one, designed by Michael Paukner, illustrates the number of human-created objects orbiting Earth — and assigns responsibility:

Space Debris Circles

You can view larger versions on Paukner’s Flickr page.

The title of my post comes from the Popular Science URL: see-space-debris-cloud-surrounding-earth-rendered-neat-circles. Ironically, this summarizes the problem with the visualization. Despite the attractiveness of the graphic, the neat circles show linear values by area, making precise comparisons completely impossible.

The donut shapes created by the overlapping circles also confuse comparison. Take a quick look at the darkest circles– that for space debris — around the United States and Russia. The United States is bigger, but by what order of magnitude? We see a lot more black — a thicker torus– but the actual ratio is just 1.2 to 1.

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

December 22, 2009, 11:18 am

Mashing Up Suggestions

By Henry Woodbury

In The New York Times, IBM scientists Fernanda Viégas and Martin Wattenberg have some fun with search engine auto-suggestions. Type in even a single word and you receive “a list of suggested, presumably popular completions.” (In courtroom dramas, this is called leading the witness.)

The fun is seeing how different investigations overlap. Here’s one example:

Popular completions for 'are diets' and 'is chocolate'

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

December 14, 2009, 10:59 am

The Periodic Box of Chocolates

By Henry Woodbury

People seem to forget that the periodic table is a table because it reads in two dimensions.  Read it left to right and atomic weight increases. Read it top to bottom and you find elements with similar properties — for example, the alkali metals in group 1 or the noble gases in group 18. The gaps in periods 1, 2, and 3 represent physical realities about the electron configuration of those lighter elements (see this Periodic Table by Chemicool).

Most attempts to fit other data sets to the periodic table result in strange confections.

This Periodic Table of Visualization Methods is a prime example. A simple categorized list is puddled into the matrix of Dmitri Mendeleev’s table and shoved around to fit. There are exactly six “compound visualizations.” How serendipitous. The really interesting data — the examples of the methods — are hidden under reductive two-letter acronyms, making comparison impossible even when you do find something interesting.

If the categories are meaningful and not just quantified to fit the table, the next step is to abandon the presentation method that doesn’t work and come up with one that does.

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

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

October 30, 2009, 3:39 pm

Hey Jude, Don’t Get Confused

By Henry Woodbury

Hey Jude, the Flowchart

Created by love all this (via Sippican Cottage).

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

August 19, 2009, 9:50 am

You Are…

By Matt DeMeis

MIT Phd student Aaron Zinman has created an interesting data driven visualization experiment called “Personas”. Simply enter your name and a Flash app scours the web for bits and pieces of information about you. As it does so, its progress is displayed in visual form (albeit at warp speed, so it’s more for “ooh ahh” factor than usefulness). You are then characterized as a colored strip of categories ranging from books, sports, management and aggression to education, legal and illegal (activities?). It’s an interesting experiment. I think it would be great to have a bit more control over the categories and info about the user. Just to help weed out the cruft. As is, it’s probably pretty inaccurate for someone with the name Bob Smith or Michael Jackson. I am curious what our resident Flash maven Piotr would add to it. Go try it out over at the MIT site.

http://personas.media.mit.edu/

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

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