Information Design Watch

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 27, 2011, 10:57 am

The Infographic Dump

By Henry Woodbury

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 21, 2011, 3:08 pm

A Thousand Thousand Thousand Thousand Thousand

By Henry Woodbury

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

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

Scale for Converting Thousands to Millions

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

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

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

October 15, 2011, 4:54 pm

The Life of &

By Henry Woodbury

The ampersand’s job is to let type designers cut loose. It’s supposed to stand out, you see.

Jacob Gube offers a splendid appreciation of this splendid character covering history, styling, encoding, and what not to do:

Jacob Gube's Visual Guide to the Ampersand, Excerpt

(Apologies to our Facebook fans, who are getting this twice.)

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Infographics, Information Design, Language, Typography, Visual Explanation

March 3, 2011, 3:38 pm

Where Good Ideas Come From (or How to Avoid Clichés)

By Lisa Agustin

I love a good grid, with its precise measurements both horizontal and vertical.  We’ve blogged about how grids and scales can serve as guideposts for discussing visual design, a subjective and therefore squishy topic.  Now Smashing Magazine offers another take on this, suggesting that mapping clichés to the extremes of a scale can help guide discussions toward an original solution. The article goes on to explore four visual design problems faced by well-known designers, and the process each used to move away from tired, obvious approaches to fresh solutions.  The article concludes with some tips for avoiding clichés which include–ironically–embracing them:

Start by drawing every association you come up with for the subject matter. Draw it quickly, and don’t be critical. At this stage, it’s not about making pretty pictures, and it’s not about evaluating your ideas (in fact, the ability to turn the critical part of your brain on and off is one of the most helpful tricks you can develop). Don’t try to avoid clichés — let them happen. Trying not to think of clichés is like the old joke where someone says ‘Don’t think of a pink elephant.’ It’s best to get them down on paper and get them out of your system. Once you’ve jotted down every association you can think of, take a break, come back and jot down a few more. Then, take a longer break…

While this advice is targeted toward designers, this is also good advice for anyone looking to develop a good idea, since it’s often the bad ideas that yield the good ones.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Business, Creativity, Infographics, 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

August 25, 2010, 3:10 pm

Data is the New Soil

By Lisa Agustin

TED offers up a talk by journalist/designer David McCandless, who we’ve written about before.  McCandless sees himself as a “data detective,” creating beautiful diagrams (“flowers of information”) that expose new insights in the process.  Check it out for a fun walkthrough some of his creations.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Charts and Graphs, 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 14, 2010, 8:38 am

“Just because it’s graphical, it doesn’t mean it’s useful”

By Henry Woodbury

Phyl Gyford graphs the “infographics” that give infographics a bad name. For example:

Map from Phyl Gyford's 'Infographic'

Click through to see the whole thing.

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

February 20, 2010, 10:42 am

Visualizing More Affordable Care

By Henry Woodbury

The February 2010 issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology features work by Dynamic Diagrams for an article titled Alternatives to a Routine Follow-Up Visit for Early Medical Abortion. The article describes a protocol for assessing a woman’s health after an abortion without routine use of ultrasonography. To quote from the abstract:

We constructed five model algorithms for evaluating women’s postabortion status, each using a different assortment of data. Four of the algorithms (algorithms 1–4) rely on data collected by the woman and on the results of the low-sensitivity pregnancy test. Algorithm 5 relies on the woman’s assessment, the results of the pregnancy test, and follow-up physician assessment (sometimes including bimanual or speculum examination).

A sponsor of the study, Gynuity Health Products, asked Dynamic Diagrams to visualize the data. Our explanation shows the results for the current standard of care and five algorithms tested by the researchers. For each approach we show the total number of cases, the number of women returning to a clinic for a follow-up visit, and the number of women receiving a follow-up ultrasound. In contrasting colors we show specific additional treatment cases in two columns; those identified by the protocol on the left vs. those not necessarily identified by the protocol on the right. In large type we provided the percentage of the number of follow-up ultrasounds to the total number of cases. This combination of rich data points and a key percentage makes it easy to compare the effectiveness of each algorithm. A sample of this visual language (without labels) is shown below:

Alternatives to a Routine Follow-Up Visit for Early Medical Abortion, Figure 2

While we cannot reprint the full text of article, we can provide the visual explanation used as Figure 2: Algorithms identifying women who received additional care after medical abortion (PDF, 409K).

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Books and Articles, Charts and Graphs, Dynamic Diagrams News, Infographics, Information Design, Scholarly Publishing, Visual Explanation

November 18, 2009, 8:55 am

Resume as Infographic

By Kirsten Robinson

Designer Michael Anderson has created an infographic representation of his resume:

Anderson resume infographic

View the full-size image.

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

September 25, 2009, 3:32 pm

Data in the Round

By Henry Woodbury

An interesting, but flawed chart at O&G Next Generation shows how much oil the United States imports from other countries:

Oil Imports to the United States

There are several big problems with this chart. First, U.S. oil imports per day by country is linear data. When one-dimensional values are presented as two-dimensional areas, proportional differences between values are rarely perceived correctly. This problem is compounded by the placement of the data blobs on the global map. It is good to attach each blob to a country, but not good to scatter them both vertically and horizontally. With a little design attention the values could be presented as bars and aligned along a single x-axis in the tropics.

Another problem is that several important data points aren’t shown. Most importantly we need a figure for the United State’s domestic production. This is vital for context. Upon investigation, we find that the bar chart on the bottom left is either not accurate or not tracking the same petroleum product as the map. If you subtract Total Imports from U.S. Consumption for 2008 you get a ballpark figure of around 6,000 thousand barrels per day. This is far off the mark. The real number for 2008 is 4,921 thousand barrels per day, a little bit less than total U.S. crude produced since a small amount of U.S. crude is exported. In June 2009, domestically produced minus exported crude is 5,126 thousand barrels per day.

Another missing figure is the total of oil imports from all countries after the top 10. Once we can look up the June 2009 total for all countries — 9,172 thousand barrels per day — we can easily calculate the sum of all countries after the top 10. The long tail total turns out to be 1,613 thousand barrels per day which is greater than all but Canada. The 9,172 total and various subtotals also allow us to validate the 82% percentage on the far right and update the 2007 ratio of 60% to the actual June 2009 ratio of 64%.

If we add circles to show the oil consumed by the United States from its own production and the “Rest of World” total identified above, the chart looks something like this:

Oil Imports to the United States Compared to Domestic Production

It is even more difficult to read. But that’s not a problem with the data. The data needs to be shown. The problem is with the presentation. The chart still shows linear values with areas, it still doesn’t show totals, it still uses an out-of-date figure from 2007 on the far right, it still has questionable, out-of-date data on the bottom left, and it still has a jumble of factoids on the bottom right that don’t relate the data above. Alas, I am out of time.

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

July 28, 2009, 12:16 pm

“Both stayed close to the mound where the Eagle set down, except for Armstrong’s quick jaunt over to the rim of East Crater to shoot some photos of the outfield.”

By Henry Woodbury

To provide context for the first walks on the moon by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, NASA provides us with a map of the Sea of Tranquility superimposed over a baseball diamond. The Lunar Module is situated on the pitchers mound with the activity of the astronauts indicated as tan paths. This shows a blob of extensive activity around the module and a number of longer walks by each astronaut.

Apollo 11 Traverse Map on Baseball Diamond

Created by Thomas Schwagmeier from a suggestion by Eric Jones, the map is part of the NASA Apollo 11 Image Library. To really appreciate the details (including a legible key), click through to the full size version.

What looks like the original for the overlay is Schwagmeier’s elegant rendition of the “Traverse Map” — Figure 3-16 from the Apollo 11 Preliminary Science Report. The two maps are shown side-by-side below. As with the baseball overlay, click through to the full size versions to see all the detail.

Apollo 11 Traverse Map by Thomas Schwagmeier Apollo 11 Travers Map, Scientific Report

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

June 30, 2009, 1:00 pm

How Tall is the Green Monster?

By Henry Woodbury

Flip Flop Fly Ball is Craig Robinson’s collection of “baseball infographics”:

Essentially, this site is what I’d have been doing when I was 12 years old had the Internet and Photoshop been available to me in the eighties.

What stands out for me from this collection is Robinson’s ability to ask good questions — intriguing or amusing or both.

In some of the work, the question is more the point than the answer. What if baseball players literally stole bases? For more complex questions Robinson often produces just a well-drawn pie or bar chart. But occasionally, Robinson combines question, data, and visual idea into a smart visual explanation that goes beyond that.

For example, the left field wall in Fenway Park is 37 feet and two inches tall. And how tall is that?

Thumbnail: Green Monster

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

January 12, 2009, 10:24 am

Ahead of Our Time?

By Matt DeMeis

I came across this video recently titled “Did You Know” that was created by Karl Fisch, Scott McLeod and XPLANE. It reminded me of a project dD created almost 8 years prior called “Global Village”. I dug around in our archive and after some careful cross converting and video capturing (the first generation ActionScript didn’t want to play nice), I was able to resurrect the presentation. Some of the sound effects were lost due to the age of the file but it’s enough to show the similarities between the two. It’s not as fancy as the 2007 “Did You Know” but the way the visual statistics are represented has much more of an impact. Have a look…

“Global Village” 1999-2000

“Did You Know” 2007

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Charts and Graphs, Infographics, Information Design, Technology, Visual Explanation

August 28, 2008, 11:28 am

Groovin’ with Some Energy

By Henry Woodbury

Areva Ad FrameHere’s an ad that actually caused me to click.

Areva, “the no. 1 nuclear energy products and services vendor in America,” has constructed a new print and Internet ad campaign around the birds-eye isometric view of its world. The Web animation shows energy production and use from mining to power generation to the disco.

It reminded me of the Royskopp video we linked here, but with a somewhat different rationale. Both animations were done by the French firm H5 (look under FILMS > CLIPS for Royskopp; under FILMS > PUBLICITE for Areva).

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Comments (1) | Filed under: 3D Modeling, Art, Branding, Business, Illustration, Infographics, Information Design, Marketing, Visual Explanation

August 28, 2008, 10:57 am

Infoviz Art on Slate

By Lisa Agustin

Slate offers its take on “infoviz art” via this slide show of visualizations. It includes the usual candidates, like Martin Wattenberg’s famous Name Voyager, as well as lesser-known works like Golan Levin’s The Dumpster, a visualization of blog-documented teenage breakups from 2005, which was co-commissioned by The Whitney Museum’s ArtPort and Tate Online.

The Dumpster

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

August 1, 2008, 10:38 am

The Pop Charts

By Henry Woodbury

Recently we came across two sites generating comic pop-culture charts — GraphJam and Song Chart Meme on Flickr. Song Chart Meme is all about pop songs. GraphJam charts pop songs, movies, and the occasional bad joke. Here’s a sample from each.

From GraphJam:

World events according to Vizzini

From Song Chart Meme:

Countries that should cry for me

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

April 16, 2007, 8:28 pm

If Tufte made a music video…

By Mac McBurney

Since I’m on a Tufte jag…

First, frequent commenter EB pointed us to discussion of a vaguely Tufte-esque video. This week our own Matt DeMeis sees and raises with a link to Le Grand Content. What’s next, a Best Parody of Information Design category at the Video Music Awards?

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