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

February 7, 2012, 10:11 am

The Tube as Watershed

By Henry Woodbury

Cartographer Daniel Huffman has taken Harry Beck’s map of the London Underground and applied it to river systems. The results are beautiful and illuminating:

Mississippi River Watershed

Huffman explains:

I wanted to create a series of maps that gives people a new way to look at rivers: a much more modern, urban type of portrayal. So I turned to the style of urban transit maps pioneered by Harry Beck in the 1930s for the London Underground. Straight lines, 45º angles, simple geometry. The result is more of an abstract network representation than you would find on most maps, but it’s also a lot more fun. The geography is intentionally distorted to clarify relationships. I think it helps translate the sort of visual language of nature into a more engineered one, putting the organic in more constructed terms. Not every line depicted is navigable, but all are important to the hydrological systems shown.

Part of a continuing series:

(Via Greg Pliska, LearnedLeague.)

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Art, Information Design, Maps

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 25, 2011, 8:58 pm

World Map Abstracted

By Henry Woodbury

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

World Giving Index

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

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

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

December 20, 2011, 10:22 am

HTML Sunrise

By Henry Woodbury

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

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

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

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

(via the LinkedIn Web Standards Group)

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

December 14, 2011, 2:06 pm

Lies, Damned Lies, and Charts

By Henry Woodbury

Is Facebook Driving the Greek Debt Crisis

Click through for more.

(via Ann Althouse)

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

December 12, 2011, 10:05 pm

Earthquake Watch

By Henry Woodbury

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

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

Compare the animation to this graph from Matlab Geeks:

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

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

Richter Scale Ratio

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

Earthquake Treemap by The Hive Group

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

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

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

November 2, 2011, 1:18 pm

The New and Improved Google Reader! Slightly Dingy and Now with Dark Patterns!

By Lisa Agustin

I use Facebook, but was not one of those people who grumbled about the latest changes. I accept that technology is about looking forward, convergence makes sense in many cases, and that improving the user experience means continually tweaking an information architecture and visual design to reach whatever your bigger goal may be (e.g., conversions).

But then Google released its redesign of Reader, and we went from this:

to this:


[Image credits: SheGeeks.net]

Google calls the design “cleaner, faster, and nicer to look at.”  But after reading their announcement more closely, it’s really more about creating a tighter integration with Google+ by turning off Reader’s friending, following, shared items and comments in favor of similar Google+ functionality. Which is okay, since I do see the point of consolidating Reader’s social aspect with Google+. But the redesign has actually made sharing harder, not easier. Former Google Reader Product Manager Brian Shih puts it this way:

Keep in mind that on top of requiring 3-4 times as many clicks, you also now must +1 a post publicly to share it, even if it’s shared to a private circle. That bears repeating. The next time you want to share some sexy halloween costumes with your private set of friends, you first must publicly +1 the post, which means it shows up on your profile, plus wherever the hell G+ decides to use +1 data. So much for building a network around privacy controls.

But then later, an update:

It turns out there is a way to share without +1′ing first. If you click on the top right “Share…” field on the OneGoogle bar [the bar at the very top of the pane], you can bypass the +1 button. It’s just completely undiscoverable.

Sounds like a dark pattern to me.

But let’s put Google+ aside, since sharing wasn’t why I used Reader in the first place. It was about the content. How quickly can I see what’s new and get to an individual story? From an information design perspective, I’d think making the design cleaner would mean maximizing space for original content. Rather it seems they did the opposite, with a thicker/more spacious header bar that pushes content further down the page.

From a visual design standpoint, greeted by a new absence of color, I wondered if they were trying to make it look like a traditional newspaper, removing colored elements as if they were distractions? While there is such a thing as too much color, the new Reader goes overboard in the other direction. With black, white, and grey being the dominant scheme, it’s hard to tell what the priority is in the UI. Google even eliminated the use of the bright blue link color that facilitates scanning.  Now nothing stands out–except for the bright red Subscribe button and the blue Search button.  Maybe it’s time to revisit the pluses of eye candy.

Kvetching aside, I suppose I will get used to the new direction (assuming I don’t switch feeds first).  I also guess I had better brace myself for the upcoming Gmail redesign.

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Comments (2) | Filed under: Information Architecture, Information Design, Social Media, Technology, User Experience, Web Interface Design

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

September 13, 2011, 9:08 am

What’s on the Schedule for Today?

By Henry Woodbury

Hopefully there’s more of what you like to do and less of what you have to do. And hopefully they overlap.

I have to do / I like to do - Jesen Tanadi

Via artist and architect Jesen Tanadi (originally from desprezivel). You can view Tanadi’s projects at his eponymous URL.

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

August 20, 2011, 2:05 pm

“San Francisco Looks Like a Dinosaur”

By Henry Woodbury

Here’s a project where residents of a city draw their mental maps of their neighborhood and the city as a whole.

RACHELLE ANNECHINO HAS SEEN THE CITY AS A DINOSAUR AND CANNOT UNSEE IT.

From the individual’s point of view, a location may have boundaries, barriers, corridors, or an orientation that a street or geographical map doesn’t reveal.

Make sure to look at the project’s PDF presentation for some additional explanation and a series of interesting analytical maps that correspond to the issues listed above.

What does the mental map of your locale look like?

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

August 16, 2011, 9:31 am

Making Infinity Personal

By Henry Woodbury

How does one comprehend very large numbers? This is a question for artists and thinkers that we’ve touched on before.

Conceptual artist Roman Opalka made this challenge personal, making his life’s work the painting of integers in sequence:

Starting at the top left of a canvas measuring a little over four by six feet, and using acrylic paint, he used a fine brush (No. 0) to inscribe 20,000 to 30,000 white numerals on a black background in neat rows that ended at the bottom right corner. Each succeeding canvas, or “detail” as he called it, picked up where the previous one left off. As of July 2004, he had reached 5.5 million….

All the paintings in the series bore the same title, “Opalka 1965/1 — ?.” “All my work is a single thing, the description from one to infinity,” Mr. Opalka once wrote. “A single thing, a single life.”

Starting in 1972, Opalka began taking self-portraits, also in sequence. These have been published in the stunningly crafted book shown in this video:

This is the kind of photography an artist now would turn into a digital animation.

You can see the physical experience that would be lost.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Art, Books and Articles, Creativity, Information Design, Photography

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

July 14, 2011, 10:23 pm

Jigsaw Africa

By Henry Woodbury

Scale is a kind of beauty. Here Kai Krause maps out the scale of the continent of Africa in comparison to a selection of the usual suspects:

Selection from True Size Africa

Click through for full-size map, more data, and editorial content (whose thesis I find entirely unconvincing).

I’m more intrigued by the effectiveness of the visualization as an informational device. The juxtaposition is what matters, not the “true size”. If you mapped the true size of Canada, the United States, Mexico, and Central America against the continent of North America the result would be entirely pointless.

What makes Krause’s map intriguing is the contrast between large countries and a continent comprised mostly of small ones. To make a North American map of equivalent interest I would replace the large land masses of Canada, the United States, and Mexico with numerous small countries (to reverse the conceit we could replace Central America with Madagascar — a number of small countries with one large). Thus, we learn about the size of the selected countries as well as the size of the continent.

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Comments (30) | Filed under: Cognitive Bias, Information Design, Maps, 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 23, 2011, 2:02 pm

Small Uniform Multiples

By Henry Woodbury

The Baseball Hall of Fame’s Uniform Database offers an elegant showcase of the power of small multiples. Here is a simple example:

Brooklyn Dodgers Uniforms, 1935, 1936, 1937

The database output, by year or team, shows the remarkable variety in baseball uniform design, within the simple confines of cap, jersey, pants, and socks. The outline style shown above was created by Marc Okkonen for his book Baseball Uniforms of the 20th Century which concludes in 1994. Post-1994 slightly more naturalistic — and uglier — images are provided by Major League Baseball Properties.

Sadly, where this online exhibit succeeds as information design it fails as information architecture. The search engine is very clumsy. One cannot compare specific teams or specific years. For example, earlier this season the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs played in throwback 1918 uniforms. There is no way to compare Red Sox / Cubs / 1918 / 2011. For larger searches, one cannot show more than three images in a row, or more than eighteen in a page. Please, BBHOF, publish an API.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Illustration, Information Architecture, Information Design, Sports, Visual Explanation, Web Interface Design

May 20, 2011, 5:07 pm

Louisiana Economic Development on YouTube

By Henry Woodbury

Louisiana Economic Development has a YouTube channel. Among its interviews and news clips is an animated presentation we created to explain their Digital Media and Software Development Incentive. Based on an executive PowerPoint deck we created for LED representatives to present in person, the movie is a self-running alternative suitable for trade show or web presentation. Enjoy!

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

May 10, 2011, 10:31 am

“The Dynamics of Rumor Creation”

By Henry Woodbury

SocialFlow, a Twitter-marketing-optimization company has created a striking visualization on the tweets that broke the news of Osama Bin Laden’s death:

At SocialFlow we analyzed 14.8 million public Tweets, and bitly links, posted between news about an unplanned presidential address (9:46 p.m. EST) and Obama’s address (11:30 p.m. EST) to see how dynamics of rumor creation played out during those critical hours on Twitter. Out of the dominant information flows observed in the data, we focus on the largest flow, engaging tens of thousands of users, validating speculation around Bin Laden’s death.

Keith Urban Tweet Flow

This jellyfish star chart presents a lot of data, but as best as I can guess, there is no coordinate system. It shows us constellations, not distance nor direction. There is no depth to it.

Still, hubs are interesting. Click through to see zoomed views.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Charts and Graphs, Current Events, Information Design, Maps, Social Media, 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 26, 2011, 9:23 am

Launch! (Remodeling Dynamic Diagrams)

By Henry Woodbury

Late on Friday afternoon last week we relaunched DynamicDiagrams.com and this blog. The new site is more scalable than the old and incorporates more ways to present our work. Information Design Watch is incorporated into the main navigation of the site though it still resolves to its own dd.DynamicDiagrams.com subdomain. We like the new look too.

The relaunch has given us the opportunity to update our portfolio and present the popular dD Orrery on its own page. For the latter we’ve created free Mac and Windows screensavers you can download.

Let us know what you think.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Dynamic Diagrams News, Information Architecture, Information Design, User Experience, Visual Explanation, Web Interface Design

April 16, 2011, 4:30 pm

20 Things + 1

By Henry Woodbury

Cloud Computing by Christoph NiemannThe Google Chrome Team and illustrator Christoph Niemann have teamed up on a tour de force of information delivery: 20 Things I Learned About Browsers & the Web.

This online guide starts with “What is the Internet” and quickly jumps to topics near and dear to Google’s heart, like “How Modern Browsers Protect You from Malware and Phishing.” Yes, it’s self-promotional. But it’s also engagingly written, sprightly illustrated, and brilliantly executed.

Check out the interface. It’s not Flash. It’s HTML 5. That’s the plus one.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Books and Articles, Illustration, Information Design, Web Interface Design

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 30, 2011, 10:38 am

Show Me the Zero

By Henry Woodbury

This is not the most complicated chart in the world of information design. But I like it for a very specific reason. I like it because it has a zero. The gray bar is the $1.5 trillion federal budget deficit. The red, blue, and pink bars are proposed spending cuts. I’ve posted a thumbnail next to the full-size chart to allow comparison in one glance.

Budget Impasse, in Perspective (Washington Post) Budget Impasse, in Perspective (Washington Post)

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

March 9, 2011, 11:44 am

The Great Upheaval: Modern Art from the Guggenheim Collection, 1910-1918

By Lisa Agustin

The Guggenheim Museum recently launched an interactive timeline to accompany its new exhibition, The Great Upheaval: Modern Art from the Guggenheim Collection, 1910-1918. This colorful interactive map and timeline highlights the era’s artists, artist groups, exhibitions, performing arts, publications, artworks, historic events, and cultural movements.  Select one of these categories, then scroll across to choose a particular year.  Corresponding dots appear on the map above, and clicking on a dot displays a lightbox overlay with more information (see detail above).  Overall, the timeline works from linear, drill-down perspective: choose a cultural activity, year, and sample activity within that year.  Navigating the “Selected Artworks” category gives users the most detail (as expected), with an image of the artwork, and links to the artist’s biography and to an essay about the artwork, both housed in the pre-existing online collection on guggenheim.org– a nice way to leverage and highlight what’s already available.  Discovering these individual nuggets is a little like going on a treasure hunt.  The user seeks and finds individual gems scattered throughout.

At the same time, though, this interactive is weak in terms of  providing an integrated picture of the era overall.  Part of what makes studying an artistic era so exciting is the chance to discover connections: between artistic disciplines, or between the arts and historic events.  The timeline misses this opportunity by forcing users to choose only a single category (the checkbox-like bullet next to each category is misleading).  Additionally, once you’ve selected a dot on the map, dots of other colors at the bottom of the lightbox (see above) are indictors of simultaneous activities, but these are only visual cues and not links.  Investigating these further means selecting a different category for that year and clicking through individual dots to eventually make the connection yourself.  Allowing for multiple category selection and including crosslinks to other categories at the lightbox level are straightforward ways to make the pieces of the timeline more tightly integrated, showing that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

The Great Upheaval is on display through June 1, 2011.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Art, Information Architecture, Information Design, User Experience, Web Interface Design

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

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 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

February 6, 2011, 8:34 pm

Readers are Always Looking for an Exit

By Henry Woodbury

Lawyer and professional typographer Matthew Butterick, author of the book and website Typography for Lawyersexplains why typography matters:

Given multiple documents, readers will make more judgments based on typography as they find it harder to make judgments based on substance.

On one level this is pretty reductive. A situation where all other considerations are equal except typography (or design, for that matter) never exists. But just because a reader starts reading an article or brief doesn’t mean the reader will finish it. Butterick writes:

I believe that most readers are looking for reasons to stop reading. Not because they’re malicious or aloof. They’re just being rational. If readers have other demands on their time, why should they pay any more attention than they absolutely must? Readers are always looking for the exit.

It’s an information design problem: How do you move a reader along in the flow?

Next question: Is legal size really necessary?

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Books and Articles, Cognitive Bias, Information Design, Typography

February 2, 2011, 1:25 pm

Demotic Internet

By Henry Woodbury

I’ve been reading Jacques Barzun’s magisterial history of western culture, From Dawn to Decadence. His final chapter on the late 20th century is titled “Demotic Life and Times,” “demotic” being a word that means “of the people” even if it happens to sound like “demonic.” Of the internet, Barzun writes:

That a user had “the whole world of knowledge at his disposal” was one of those absurdities like the belief that ultimately computers would think–it will be time to say so when a computer makes an ironic answer. “The whole world of knowledge” could be at one’s disposal only if one already knew a great deal and wanted further information to turn into knowledge after gauging its value.

Information isn’t knowledge. This fact points to a certain friction in the terms we use in our practice. Most often, an information architect really is concerned with information. The goal is to help individuals locate information in a context that helps them gauge its value. An information designer, however, is more focused on knowledge. The designer seeks to communicate ideas within a dataset. I wouldn’t advocate a change in terms. Knowledge designer sounds hopelessly pretentious. But the distinction between the two practices is important.

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Books and Articles, Information Architecture, Information Design, Language, Technology

January 20, 2011, 11:30 am

Orrery Movie

By Henry Woodbury

A recent news release from the Minnesota Planetarium Society has cast doubt on the assumed alignment of the sun with the astrological constellations. Pshaw, say astrologers, our zodiac isn’t affected.

That’s because Western astrology strictly adheres to the tropical zodiac, which is fixed to seasons. The sidereal zodiac, observed in the East, is the one affixed to constellations, and is thus the one that would change.

In any case, this gives me the opportunity to highlight the digital orrery created by our creative director, Piotr Kaczmarek.

Digital Orrery

Within the application you can view the solar system according to the Copernican (sun-centered) or Tychonian (earth-centered) model. You can rotate the system by clicking and dragging on the outer ring, or let it move automatically by adjusting a slider in the top left. As for the zodiac display in the model, let us assume that it is the tropical zodiac, and thus needs no recalibration.

UPDATE (April 23, 2011): With the relaunch of our DynamicDiagrams.com web site we have featured the Orrery on its own page where you can view it as an external Flash file or download a Mac or Windows screensaver. I have updated the links in this post to connect to that page.

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Comments (28) | Filed under: Current Events, Information Design, 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

December 20, 2010, 3:04 pm

Flip Book Presentation

By Henry Woodbury

Presentation software does flip book animations. There’s nothing complicated about it. It’s just the way presentations work, if you let them. From 2010, here’s a Google Docs example:

This is beautifully done and encourages the typical trash-talking of Microsoft PowerPoint. And I have to believe that Google Docs’ layout and drawing tools are easier to use than PowerPoint’s truly awful toolkit. But the kernel of this presentation is not in the drawing, but in its 450 slides. With enough slides you can animate anything.

From 2008, here’s a Flash version of an animation we created in PowerPoint for Textron.

In contrast to the Google Docs example, we did our drawing in Adobe Illustrator and imported each frame into PowerPoint from the external application. But as I said before, drawing isn’t the issue. What we really lack is a soundtrack.

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

December 15, 2010, 9:47 am

Map Meme Goes Manhattan

By Henry Woodbury

Back in September I posted on Bill Rankin’s beautiful maps of census data.

Now the New York Times has turned the idea into a powerful data-driven Flash application. As a Flash application it lacks the resolution and elegance of Rankin’s maps, but it makes up for that in coverage and interactivity. Paradoxically, the lack of resolution is most apparent in the suburbs and rural areas that the application makes available for analysis.

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

December 9, 2010, 2:10 pm

The Phone Call as Community

By Henry Woodbury

If we define a community by evidence of social interaction, how well do political and historical boundaries hold up? That question is posed, and answered (in part) by a study of landline phone calls in Great Britain led by Professor Carlo Ratti of MIT’s SENSEable City Lab. Analysis of over 12 billion calls identified point-to-point geographical connections (defined at the sub-regional level to protect individual identity) whose relative strength was derived by the frequency and length of calls.  The result is a map that mostly aligns to familiar regions, but with some unexpected variations.

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

December 5, 2010, 10:18 am

Hello Skullhead

By Henry Woodbury

Cross Blackbeard with Black Sabbath and you might end up with something like Patrick Galbraith’s Map of Metal:

Map of Metal, Key

The map has a method, indicated by the legend above, and a timeline. The latter runs in a diagonal, from the northwest 60s to the southeast 00s.

Aurally, the map offers definitional tracks for each genre. Visually, its delight comes from Galbraith’s emblematic variations on the leather default. Below is his riff on Visual Kei, “a movement among Japanese musicians, that is characterized by the use of make-up, elaborate hair styles and flamboyant costumes….”

Map of Metal, Visual Kei

Hello Kitty.

(via LearnedLeague)

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

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 22, 2010, 10:51 am

If an Infographic Tastes Light is it Less Filling?

By Lisa Agustin

There’s the  “The Gray Lady”, and then there’s her wittier, spunkier cousin.  CR Blog posted a mini-tribute to New York Magazine’s infographics, which are sometimes based on data (see the neighborhood news visualized), and sometimes not (as in the Approval Matrix, a “deliberately oversimplified guide to who falls where on our taste hierarchies”).  Not necessarily a lot to ponder, but attention-grabbing and fun nonetheless.

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

November 9, 2010, 4:38 pm

Verbing Nouns with Stephen Fry

By Tim Roy

While working with clients on presenting some of the visual explanations we create, our ongoing mantra is to “not read to the audience!” No matter if it is a PowerPoint deck, a Flash animation, or a simple print diagram, reading the text aloud is an almost guaranteed way to make the audience squirm in their seats.

Why is this? The fact is that people can read silently faster than someone can read aloud. The result: cognitive dissonance as the brain is processing one set of words while hearing the exact same text being spoken with a multi-second delay. It leaves us feeling confused, uncomfortable, and most importantly, unable to process the information being presented.

I came across this wonderful example of how the same words can be both spoken and appear on a screen simultaneously on the Open Culture web site. Matthew Rogers, a freelance graphic artist, animated a 2008 piece from the British author Stephen Fry. The results are well-executed, amusing and insightful. More importantly though, it deftly illustrates the clear connection between what we hear and what we read. Do not underestimate its importance the next time you are preparing for a presentation.

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Information Design, PowerPoint, 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

November 3, 2010, 8:44 am

A Good Year for Maps

By Henry Woodbury

The 2010 U.S. election generated the usual maps (for example, here at CNN and here at the Wall Street Journal), but the New York Times superb multimedia team offers some extras (as well as their own version of the same). In an animated set of maps titled A Historic Shift, they show shifts in voting patterns from 2010, 2008, and 2006. Here are screen shots which capture all of the actual data provided by the animations and allow easier comparison than The Times’ slideshow format:

Almost all congressional districts voted more Republican in this election than in 2008.

The shift reversed the Obama-driven wave of 2008...

... and reversed the movement towards Democrats in 2006 when the Iraq war was a top issue.

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

October 22, 2010, 4:18 pm

Interaction Costs in Visualization

By Kirsten Robinson

Tim sent me a link to an article on the Interaction Cost in Information Visualization this morning. After I recovered from my grad school flashback, I got to thinking about about the tradeoffs we have to make among decreasing the various “costs” discussed in the article. For example, my visual designer colleagues are really excellent at reducing the cost of visual clutter. Less visual clutter leads to improved perception. On the other hand, removing too many elements can increase the cost of decision — an extremely minimal interface may give too few clues to what an interactive system or visualization does.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Information Design, User Experience, Visual Explanation

October 19, 2010, 9:37 pm

Learning the Language of Experts (Remodeling Dynamic Diagrams)

By Tim Roy

In the early days of Dynamic Diagrams, Paul Kahn used to claim that we were “experts in doing things we had never done before.” While this often left prospective clients with puzzled looks on their faces as they considered the implications of this statement, to a degree it was true. This was, after all, the early 1990s, a time when the web was just emerging and information design and user experience were still relatively unknown. The idea of considering users or the information to be presented felt alien to most clients who had grown up on a steady diet of print layout or software interface design.

Site map for the first online version of the journal Nature

A 1997 web site created for West Publishing

Twenty years later, as we consider our new web presence, I stepped back to look at some of the work going on today. Our teams are currently busy on such projects as:

  • Visualizing research results from a maternal health project underwritten by the Gates Foundation
  • Creating a new user experience design for a major New England University
  • Developing interactive data presentations and dashboards for a Fortune 100 company
  • Refining the information architecture and visual design of a small section of an intranet we designed for a health service organization that had grown to over 15,000 employees
  • Producing a 2 minute animated video including development of a detailed 3D model for a major Los Angeles museum
  • Testing logo design and messaging for a publishing support company

We are still constantly exposed to new and exciting challenges in terms of information to be presented. For most of us, it is what makes the work rewarding: learning about subjects ranging from 17th century furniture construction, to dynamically sorting and presenting data contained in tens of millions of records, to understanding how today’s health care knowledge workers can be made more efficient in their daily lives. What is different though, is that while the information, the audience and the business goals change, we have developed a codified process that produces repeatable success.

With these tools in hand, we are lucky enough to be able to spend time with some of the leading experts in the world: aerospace engineers, chief medical officers, particle physicists, museum conservators, and technology product developers. In each case, we learn their language, their point of view, and begin to see the information they want to present from the inside out. Thinking way back to my own academic training at Hampshire College, we were taught to first and foremost consider the “mode of inquiry” when learning a new discipline. Many years later, this model still hold true, although perhaps what Paul should have told clients was that we were experts in doing things no one had ever done before. And he would have been right.

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

October 16, 2010, 5:04 pm

Of Clocks and Time

By Tim Roy

The tech blog Gizmodo recently alerted us to a fascinating production featuring the Astronomical Clock in Prague’s Old Square.  Using a highly produced light projection system, combined with sound and image, the combined team from Macula, data-live and Tomato Productions effectively told the story of the 600 year old clock in a crowd-stopping 10 minute show.

Here at Dynamic Diagrams, we have our own fascination with clocks. Here are some images from our own production of a piece on Le Roy’s 1768 Marine Chronometer:



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

October 13, 2010, 10:27 am

What’s Wrong With These Survey Questions?

By Kirsten Robinson

I’m often called upon to design surveys and also to take them. One of my pet peeves is surveys that are released to the wild with design errors. Just as authors need editors, survey designers need reviewers to check for editorial and logical errors. Here are a few problem questions I’ve encountered recently. Can you spot the problems? If so, please post a comment.

Question 1.

Question 2.

Question 3.

Have you seen a poorly designed survey question recently? If you design surveys, what steps do you take to avoid errors?

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Comments (6) | Filed under: Information Design, User Experience

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 9, 2010, 7:15 pm

Mindful Looking, Cape Cod and LA

By Tim Roy

Kirk Tuck, who publishes The Visual Science Lab blog, recently published a great piece on “mindful looking.” In it, he discusses his interpretation of the Zen Buddhist principle of being aware of the moment. His view, when developing a photographic composition, is to follow “the practice of approaching each subject without the conscious intention to change its meaning by altering its perceptible structure.”

The idea here is to not consider a photographic subject with a planned post-production filter or modification in mind.  For by doing so, one subconsciously rejects images that might not fit the filtering or “look” that is desired.  Tuck argues that this is “fundamentally limiting for an artist and also establishes a feedback loop that replaces truly creative seeing with a ‘sub-routine’ that adds a comforting reference while stripping the act of photography of its essential representational power.”

Fall sunset on Cape Cod

I am on Cape Cod this weekend taking photographs and thinking about a new visualization project we are beginning next week  for a major Los Angeles museum.  After considering this fascinating point of view about the unintentional filtering and skinning we bring to image creation, it will be interesting to see how my photos and the ideas we begin to develop for this project are influenced.

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

October 7, 2010, 10:29 pm

Balance Beams and Information Design

By Tim Roy

My 11 year old daughter is a competitive gymnast and I recently spent an evening watching her work with one of her coaches choreographing  a new routine for the balance beam.   As I listened to her coach say things such as “where are you looking? Make sure you are looking at the judge” and “the judge is going to want to see you do this,” I began to see a connection with the work they were doing and how we at Dynamic Diagrams think about presenting information.  In both cases, it is essential to consider the audience.

With a balance beam routine, it turns out there are actually two audiences: the judges (there are usually two) who will carefully observe and then assign a score based on difficulty, lack of errors in execution, and the confidence and joy the gymnast demonstrates.  The other audience are the people in the bleachers, often several hundred of them, who are watching with varying degrees of interest and motivation.  It might be a deeply engaged parent holding their breath as their daughter flings herself into the air backwards with the intent of landing on a four inch wide beam that is four feet off the ground.  Or it might be a competing team’s coach, looking for faults in the hope that their gymnasts will produce a better score.

My daughter in flight

At Dynamic Diagrams, we work with our clients to understand the characteristics of their audience.  Unfortunately, it is never as clear-cut as having a judging table with two individuals who have been trained over the course of years to evaluate and opine.  Instead, we think about what brings a person (for what is an audience but a collection of individuals?) to engage with information or to an experience.  Is it a museum visitor who wants to see a specific collection of art or a web site user with a concrete set of goals in mind such as buying a book or paying a bill?  Or is it someone with a business challenge interested in a new technology, or a curious visitor to a blog who saw something that caught their eye in a moment of serendipity?

My daughter’s beam routine has a certain number of required elements in order for her to compete.  This includes such things as being able to turn 360 degrees on one foot, to perform something called a “dance element” and the one that makes me cover my eyes: an acrobatic flight element (this means a back handspring).  Some of these moves are quite beautiful and ballet-like; some are cute and engender a smile; and some literally defy gravity and make everyone gasp as they are performed.

Presenting information is not so clear-cut.  There are significant differences in creating an experience based on a PowerPoint show as opposed to an interactive museum kiosk.  A web-based knowledge collection requires a different set of skills than a large format process diagram.  There are the required elements: clear and legible typography; deliberate and carefully planned use of language; a color palette that does not overwhelm the message itself.  And like the best gymnasts, the “tricks” that make people stare in wonder should be used sparingly and to maximum effect.

As information designers, we almost never have an opportunity to craft an experience that will be judged by two people with a predetermined set of criteria.  Thinking about your audience is critical.  While everyone has something they feel is important to communicate, what will be the experience of your audience?  It is a worthwhile exercise to consider, even if you never leave the safety of solid ground.

Shawn Johnson’s 2008 Olympic Gold Medal-Winning Balance Beam Routine

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Information Design, User Experience

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 30, 2010, 2:21 pm

Austan Goolsbee’s Magic Ruler

By Henry Woodbury

Economist Austan Goolsbee, speaking for the White House, explains the virtue of the president’s tax plan by misrepresenting lines as areas:

“We got a ruler and measured out the size of the tax cut is how big the circle is…”

Aargh. Whatever the merits (or grammar) of the argument, a line is not a circle. A circle is not a goose egg, a term that Goolsbee uses later in the show. And in colloquial terms a goose egg does not mean huge. It means zero.

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

September 27, 2010, 11:40 am

Think You Know Movies?

By Lisa Agustin

Then prove you have The Right Stuff– guess the titles of the (26) films hidden in this short animation, and you could be entered in a drawing to win them all, courtesy of The Guardian. (Quick, though– you only have until October 22).

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

September 26, 2010, 7:51 pm

Boundaries Without Boundaries

By Henry Woodbury

Almost by definition, map-based data draws a picture. Rarely is the picture so stark as Bill Rankin’s mapping of U.S. Census data on race and ethnicity to Chicago’s neighborhood boundaries.

Racial / ethnic self-identification in Chicago in the year 2000, by Bill Rankin

Rankin draws attention not to the neighborhoods where his map confirms historical racial and ethnic boundaries, but to those whose gradient would otherwise go unnoticed:

My alternative is to use dot mapping to show three kinds of urban transitions. First, there are indeed areas where changes take place at very precise boundaries — such as between Lawndale and the Little Village, or Austin and Oak Park — and Chicago has more of these stark borders than most cities in the world. But transitions also take place through gradients and gaps as well, especially in the northwest and southeast. Using graphic conventions which allow these other possibilities to appear takes much more data, and requires more nuance in the way we talk about urban geography, but a cartography without boundaries can also make simplistic policy or urban design more difficult — in a good way.

Digital cartographer Eric Fischer takes Rankin’s approach and maps cities across the United States. Everywhere, ethnic and racial divisions present themselves, but there are dramatic differences in degree.

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

September 9, 2010, 2:38 pm

How to Make a Lot of Data Look Like a Lot of Data

By Henry Woodbury

Stockmapper made Time Magazine’s list of the top 50 web sites for 2010. Stockmapper has a lot of data, but is it useful? I can’t tell. Which answers the question, at least for me.

Compare the Stockmapper heat map with Smartmoney’s Map of the Market. Stockmapper is the larger one underneath. You’re not missing much.

Comparison of Stockmapper and Map of the Market

The Stockmapper heat map, whether organized by ticker symbol, percent change, volume, or market cap, tells no high level story. You might as well use a spreadsheet with sortable columns. You can sort and filter, but not compare. Click on a filter such as market sector or country and Stockmapper rewards you with some neatly rendered bar charts, but the heat map is a failure.

In contrast, the Map of the Market offers a comprehensible high-level view of market trends. You can compare the activity of each sector of the market and see which are gaining or losing value. Market capitalization is shown by area which provides another way to compare sectors and individual stocks.

Martin Wattenberg created the Map of the Market well over a decade ago. The best of 1998 is better than the best of 2010.

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Comments (3) | Filed under: Business, Charts and Graphs, Information Design, Visual Explanation

August 30, 2010, 10:03 am

Teaching Many Many People in a Leveraged Way

By Henry Woodbury

My title is Bill Gates talking. He is talking about Sal Khan, Harvard MBA, former hedge fund manager, and now the one man show behind online learning site Khan Academy. Here is Gates at more length:

There’s a web site that I’ve been using with my kids recently called Khan Academy, K H A N, just one guy doing some unbelievable 15 minute tutorials…. He was a hedge fund guy making lots of money and he quit to do these little web videos and so we’ve moved I’d say about 160 IQ points from the hedge fund category to the teaching-many-many-people-in-a-leveraged-way category and so that was a good day — the day his wife let him quit his job.

Khan’s YouTube videos feature his voice and an electronic blackboard that present bitmap images and (mostly) Khan’s notes and annotations. Here’s an example, Basic Multiplication:

This approach is extremely efficient and extremely effective. Speaker and blackboard (or whiteboard). That’s all.

When Gates talks about “leverage” this is part of what he means. The pedagogical simplicity of Khan’s approach makes his materials very accessible and allows him to develop his lectures quickly. Their succinctness allows him to tailor each one to a specific level of ability. The other aspect of “leverage” is technological. By using the common YouTube video format, Khan can reach anyone and everyone with a decent Internet connection. There are no additional distribution barriers. Makers of educational software should take note.

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Information Design, Technology

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

August 25, 2010, 9:32 am

Egg Cracking Technique

By Henry Woodbury

A friend linked me to the delightful They Draw and Cook web site (thanks Katy!). Here you have simple recipes rendered by artists and illustrators. Many are no more than decorated recipe cards, but some clamber over the illustration fence into visual explanation territory. An example is Alex Savakis’s egg cracking technique:

Gust's Scrambled Eggs by Alex Savakis

In this one, the text is superfluous.

Others are just fun.

Rootin' Tootin' Beans by Pierre A. Lamielle

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

August 10, 2010, 11:54 am

The Dugout Canoe Description of My Job

By Henry Woodbury

The Edge Annual Question for 2010 goes out to a bevy of deep thinkers:

How is the Internet Changing the Way You Think?

Is it? That’s up to you. Editor and Publisher John Brockman anticipates the point:

We spent a lot of time going back on forth on “YOU” vs. “WE” and came to the conclusion to go with “YOU”, the reason being that Edge is a conversation. “WE” responses tend to come across like expert papers, public pronouncements, or talks delivered from stage.

Science historian George Dyson offers an evocative response:

In the North Pacific ocean, there were two approaches to boatbuilding. The Aleuts (and their kayak-building relatives) lived on barren, treeless islands and built their vessels by piecing together skeletal frameworks from fragments of beach-combed wood. The Tlingit (and their dugout canoe-building relatives) built their vessels by selecting entire trees out of the rainforest and removing wood until there was nothing left but a canoe.

The Aleut and the Tlingit achieved similar results — maximum boat / minimum material — by opposite means. The flood of information unleashed by the Internet has produced a similar cultural split. We used to be kayak builders, collecting all available fragments of information to assemble the framework that kept us afloat. Now, we have to learn to become dugout-canoe builders, discarding unneccessary information to reveal the shape of knowledge hidden within.

Give us a tree and we’ll carve your canoe. That is what Tim Roy is talking about.

(via Andrew Gilmartin who linked to Dyson’s quote on Facebook. Andrew blogs here.)

Update: I rewrote my lede, up to the Dyson quote, to add context and incorporate Brockman’s “you” vs. “we” statement.

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Books and Articles, Information Architecture, Information Design, Technology

July 28, 2010, 9:01 am

No Explanation Needed

By Henry Woodbury

Charlatan, Martyr, Hustler by Joey Roth

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

July 10, 2010, 10:27 am

Boomtown

By Henry Woodbury

At FlowingData, Nathan Yau’s popular visualization on the growth of Walmart recently got an update — “now with 100% more Sam’s Club” he titles it, tongue in cheek. The growth map shows the number of new store openings for Walmart — and Sam’s Club — from 1962 through 2010. The data is just for the United States. The animation reveals both a pattern and rate of growth as Walmart starts at a single location, becomes a regional chain, then expands to the U.S.’s Northeastern and Western population corridors. Zoom out (the plus/minus in the bottom left corner are zoom controls) and you will see the firm’s entry into Puerto Rico in the early ’70s and to Alaska and Hawaii in the late ’90s.

The data does not include store closings, a point that comes out in the comments of the first link. Designer-statisticians can only work with the data they have.

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

June 3, 2010, 11:08 am

Visual Bias at Work

By Henry Woodbury

Last week I blogged about a Harvard Business Review article on the inherent biases in visualization. Visual information makes people overconfident of outcomes.

Today the New York Times offers a perfect example. In the debate around U.S. health care overhaul, the president’s budget director Peter Orszag argued that savings could be found by reforming the current system:

Mr Orszag displayed maps produced by Dartmouth researchers that appeared to show where the waste in the system could be found. Beige meant hospitals and regions that offered good, efficient care; chocolate meant bad and inefficient.

The maps made reform seem relatively easy to many in Congress, some of whom demanded the administration simply trim the money Medicare pays to hospitals and doctors in the brown zones. The administration promised to seriously consider doing just that. [my emphasis]

Unfortunately, the maps don’t show what they seem to show. While they show cost of care (a very specific kind of care it should be noted), they don’t show quality of care. Nor do the maps show anything about the demographics of the patients being cared for.

The Times compares the Dartmouth map (on the left) to Medicare’s own analysis of hospital quality (on the right) to show the disconnect. However, the Medicare map raises questions of its own. To start with, it shows a suspicious correspondence to U.S. population density.

Health Care Cost vs.  Quality (New York Times)

Perhaps quality of care relates to the proposition that higher population density creates demand for more specialists which leads to better diagnoses. I’m sure I’m not the first person to think of this. Before anyone draws another map, let’s work on better analysis.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Charts and Graphs, Cognitive Bias, Current Events, Information Design, Maps, Scholarly Publishing, Visual Explanation

May 25, 2010, 2:58 pm

Simplifying The Story of Stuff

By Lisa Agustin

Seemingly simple stories often have complex beginnings.  Consider the well-known web film (and now book) The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard.  A longtime activist with an interest in waste and its impact on the environment, Leonard was attending a leadership training program when she was asked to give a presentation.  She was shocked to find that no one knew what she was talking about.  Attendees pointed out that her vocabulary needed simplification and that she was “starting the conversation 20 years down the road.”  What to do?  Simplify the story:

Humbled, Leonard tried new angles. They all failed. Finally, in frustration, she hung a huge sheet of paper on the wall and crudely drew a mountain, a truck, a factory, a store, and a dump. And then she told the story of stuff. “You ought to make a movie of that,” 30 different people said.  [Post-institute, Leonard] traveled the country with her sketch.  The rest is Internet history.

Instead of creating “a paradigm shift in relation to materials,”  Leonard started asking “Where does all the stuff we buy come from, and where does it go when we throw it out?”  By combining this straightforward approach with a simplified visual style (animated stick-figures), Leonard’s film engages and enlightens in a way that makes viewers easily see what the problem is and how they can make a difference.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Books and Articles, Information Design, PowerPoint, Visual Explanation

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

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

April 6, 2010, 11:06 am

The Audience-First News

By Henry Woodbury

Turns out that Rupert Murdoch agrees with me about content:

Speaking on the company’s earnings call, he said “Content isn’t just King, it’s the Emperor of all things electronic.”

At the completely unironic  paidContent.org, John Yemma, Editor of The Christian Science Monitor, picks up the theme, and elaborates:

Yes, people want multimedia. They want games, maps, 30 Rock on Hulu, bootlegged first-run movies from Pirate Bay, and whacked-out amateur videos on YouTube and a dozen other sites. But there’s no evidence that they want, for instance, a thoughtful interactive map/video/database mashup on Afghanistan or global warming on which they can comment. There’s no evidence that users love these things so much that they flock to them, stay around, and convert to a news site’s brand because of cool multimedia.

Yemma differs from Murdoch in his lack of love for paywalls. Instead he advances an updated version of the click-through mantra of 00s:

What we’re learning is that the key to building and keeping traffic is far more prosaic than multimedia and sharing buttons. It rests on overcoming a huge cultural barrier: evolving a serious, experienced, thoughtful newsroom into an audience-first organization. I use the term “evolving” because this is all about the present tense. Trying to understand our current and future audience is a work in progress that will continue for as long as we publish on the web.

How far removed from being “audience-first” is your web presence? It’s worth some thought. And see what Yemma says about Sandra Bullock.

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

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

March 17, 2010, 12:06 pm

Your Data is my Distraction

By Henry Woodbury

I recently ran across a still-fresh 2009 Nieman Journalism Lab post on “ambient visual data” — a good term for the practice of graphically incorporating metadata into a content-delivery interface. The most common idea seems to be adding subtle bar charts beneath or around links to illustrate various kinds of popularity.

To explain the importance of the concept, author Haley Sweetland Edwards turns to designer Eliazar Parra Cardenas, creator of Backbars, “a GreaseMonkey script to turn the headlines and comments of social link-sites into ambient bar charts (of votes/diggs/views/users…).” Cardenas explains:

“The whole point is to make textual information easier to absorb… [A well-designed site] should maximize the information that a user can understand — that you can just glance at, or take note of -– without actively thinking….

“We’ve already tried the obvious in print: putting as much text as possible in one glance (hence broadsheets), mixing in images, headlines, columns. I think the next step will be digital developments like backbars, favicons, sparklines, word coloring, spacings.”

Count me as extremely skeptical. The sites that Edwards and Cardenas hold up as examples seem both cluttered and shallow — a vote-stuffing contest for “news of the weird.”

I’m old school that way. What drives traffic are the editorial and authorial inputs that Cardenas overlooks in his list of the obvious. Not headlines, but well-written headlines. Not images, but compelling images. Not backbars, favicons, sparklines, word coloring, and spacings, but good ledes.

The New York Times isn’t making money online. But they aren’t lacking for traffic.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Charts and Graphs, Information Design, Technology, Usability, User Experience, Visual Explanation, Web Interface Design

February 26, 2010, 3:34 pm

Man as Industrial Palace Animation

By Lisa Agustin

We sometimes use “little people”  to depict complex processes, with multiple actors participating in a real-life process (e.g., online collaboration or editorial workflow).  But little people can also be used to illustrate processes as they might be imagined.  Physician and science writer Fritz Kahn (1888-1968) often used the man-as-machine analogy to show functions and features of the human body.  One of Kahn’s most famous works is the “Man as Industrial Palace” poster from 1927.  Designer Henning Lederer brings the poster to life with this clever animation that illustrates several systems of the human body, including respiratory, circulatory, digestive, and nervous.

Read more about Lederer’s project: http://www.industriepalast.com/

(via Flowing Data)

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Art, 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

February 5, 2010, 2:07 pm

Brainstorming A History of the World

By Lisa Agustin

Rattle offers its first blog post on developing the user experience strategy for “A History of the World,” the companion web site for the BBC Radio 4 series of the same name.  Written and narrated by Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum, the radio program travels through two million years to tell the history of humanity through 100 handmade objects from the Museum, ranging from a stone chopping tool to the cell phone.  The web site enables exploration of these objects in detail, but also gives users the opportunity to participate by commenting on the collection or uploading images from their own personal collections.  Rattle’s initial post walks us through general principles from their brief (e.g., “some use of participatory media”), the resulting strategic goals (e.g., “focus on attracting, rewarding, and promoting a small minority of contributors”), and its initial brainstorm of features (e.g., “select 10 objects to represent the History of Me”).  Now that the site is live, it will be interesting to read future installments to see how these initial high-level goals and blue-sky thinking compare to what was actually developed.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Information Architecture, Information Design, User Experience

February 2, 2010, 1:21 pm

Easy = True

By Henry Woodbury

An interesting article on “cognitive fluency” offers this great (ironic) infographic:

Easy = True

Reporter Drake Bennett leads with the fact that “shares in companies with easy-to-pronounce names do indeed significantly outperform those with hard-to-pronounce names.” He continues:

Other studies have shown that when presenting people with a factual statement, manipulations that make the statement easier to mentally process – even totally nonsubstantive changes like writing it in a cleaner font or making it rhyme or simply repeating it – can alter people’s judgment of the truth of the statement, along with their evaluation of the intelligence of the statement’s author (my emphasis).

However, the flip side of easy equals true — or “an instinctive preference for the familiar” as Bennett defines the concept — is that to generate reflection or curiosity, you may need to make things less familiar. It’s a good thing we know how to do both.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Cognitive Bias, Information Design, Language, Marketing, Typography

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

January 30, 2010, 9:23 pm

Real-Time Bus Location

By Henry Woodbury

LMA Shuttle Map

Using GPS and Google Maps, MASCO — the Medical Academic and Scientific Community Organization, Inc., of Boston, Massachusetts — offers this elegant real-time bus map for its shuttle service. The map shows buses in service, their location, and their direction of travel.

For folks waiting at the bus stop, the service is accessible via web-enabled phone at http://shuttles.masco.org/m.

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

December 22, 2009, 12:20 pm

Hiding Text in PowerPoint

By Lisa Agustin

I stumbled on this odd post about the use of PowerPoint in the college classroom. The basic question is this:  How do you help students who rely on your PowerPoint slides as a study aid, especially if they missed the class?  Some academics are aware of PowerPoint best practices, but Julianne Dalcanton suggests the following as a way to help students without breaking the rules:

My trick for [giving students the key points without cluttering the slide] is using black text on a black background. The text doesn’t show on the screen, but it does show up when printed as a handout, since the black background defaults back to white.  Thus, you get the following:

hide-1-black_ppthide-2-white_ppt

Dalcanton should rethink her approach.  Hiding the bulleted text so it will appear when printed wrongly assumes everyone will want (or remember) to print it, and using a black background with red text results in poor legibility (not to mention encouraging a nice nap if the lecture takes place in a dark room).   In short, she’s sacrificing a good presentation for the sake of printability.  Other problems with this slide:

  • The graph is key to the slide and should be bigger.  Remove the box that surrounds the question, since this is visually distracting.  If the question itself is a key point, hopefully a subsequent slide answers the question.
  • The language in the bottom-right comment needs the speaker to provide context.  What does “This” refer to–the graph?  If it’s important to connect energy loss with calculating the age of the universe, spell this out explicitly.
  • The bullet points are better placed in the Notes area, but Dalcanton isn’t a fan of this feature (see comments following her post).  If the bulleted text must be kept in the slide, it shouldn’t be sized for presentation, since this is a waste of slide real estate.  Instead, use a smaller font, and move the bullets to the bottom of the page.  Then use a color other than black for the font and matching background color (we used white, and this prints fine).

Our quick redo shows the presentation version on the left, and the printed version on the right.  The bulleted text is in ten-point font, and legible when printed.

new-white-dwarf-slide-presentation1new-white-dwarf-slide-printable1

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Comments (2) | Filed under: Information Design, PowerPoint, 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

December 3, 2009, 2:57 pm

Will Better-Looking Money Improve the Economy?

By Lisa Agustin

brixton

With the economic recovery taking longer than expected, is it time for politicians to step aside and give designers a shot at it?  Over the summer, creative strategy consultant Richard Smith sponsored the Dollar ReDe$ign Project, suggesting that rebranding the US Dollar would boost consumer confidence and, as a result, jumpstart the economy. (Check out the winning entry by Kyle R. Thompson.)  But is an image makeover really enough?  After all, it’s less about what the currency looks like and more about what it’s worth.

Better-looking money needs to be part of a well-thought out commerce-based model.  Consider the Brixton Pound out of the UK (pictured above) or the BerkShares, created for the Berkshire region of Massachusetts.  Both are examples of local currencies created to stimulate local economic development.  How it works in a nutshell:  National currency is exchanged for local currency at designated exchange locations.  The consumer can then use the local money at businesses that have agreed to accept it.  Depending on the specific model, there are pre-arranged benefits, like exclusive offers or discounts to users of the local currency.  For example, the BerkShares model has a five-percent discount that is part of the exchange rate (ninety-five cents per BerkShare).  An example of how it works:

One day, you decide to go out for a nice dinner. You go to the bank to purchase BerkShares to spend at a local restaurant. You go in with 95 federal dollars and exchange them for 100 BerkShares. You go to dinner, and the total cost comes to $100. The restaurant accepts BerkShares in full, so you pay entirely in BerkShares. Therefore, you’ve spent 95 federal dollars and received a $100 meal – a five percent discount for you. The owner of the restaurant now has 100 BerkShares. They decide that they need to deposit them for federal dollars and return them to the bank. When they bring them to the bank, the banker deposits the 100 BerkShares you spent on dinner and gives the restaurant $95 federal dollars, the same 95 dollars that you had originally exchanged for BerkShares. The end result? You receive a five percent discount because of the initial exchange, but the same $95 you originally traded for BerkShares all goes to the business where you spent those BerkShares.

Yes, there’s some cool-looking money involved, and yes, it does something for instilling local pride.  But more important, these models demonstrate that design can play a role in solving real problems (like a sluggish economy), and providing tangible benefits to those involved.

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Business, Current Events, Information Design

December 3, 2009, 11:28 am

What once was print…

By Matt DeMeis

…is now being done very effectively with new technology. Flyp media captures that cozy feeling of thumbing through a magazine and translates it to the internet in one of the best ways I have seen in a while. It’s news, in a more exciting format. Video, audio and elegantly designed layouts definitely give a nod to the print world, all while being more exciting than a piece of paper could ever be.

Flyp Media Home Page

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

December 2, 2009, 3:31 pm

Highly Targeted Healthcare Marketing

By Matt DeMeis

These days health care is a slippery subject. This isn’t about politics or any of that. Today I came across (what I think to be) a brilliant way of marketing health care to an audience that usually forgoes coverage, Xtreme sports enthusiasts. Tonik Health Insurance has taken the daunting task of securing coverage for yourself and made it incredibly easy.

Tonik targets a finite demographic and gives them access to the information the need in a design they can relate to. In one or two clicks I was able to find all that I needed to know about purchasing a plan from them. Once you decide on a coverage level you simply fill out a form. For comparison I went to an undisclosed giant’s web site to try and find the same info (still pretending I was an Xtreme sports enthusiast of course). I gave up after some dead end digging and suggestions to download PDFs. It seemed more effort was put into the stock photography than the user experience. Ease of use is CRUCIAL for the audience Tonik is targeting. Their potential customer wants information fast. No digging. No downloading.

The design is great. Loud but very minimalist. It’s tailored for a younger, action sports lifestyle audience and it does that perfectly. Bold colors and lots of flash but these things don’t hide the information. Wonder what “$5000 deductible” means on the thrill-seeker plan? click the question mark next to the word. Easy.

Tonik Healthcare Screen

Now to be fair it must be noted that Tonik is a division of Blue Cross, an industry giant. They don’t serve every demographic, there is no “family thrill-seeker” package yet, but there is a lot to be learned by how smart and easy this site has made a somewhat complicated decision. Check it out at www.tonikhealth.com

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Branding, Information Design, Marketing, User Experience, Web Interface Design

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

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

November 9, 2009, 11:20 am

Abstract Berlin

By Henry Woodbury

Christoph Niemann has combined history and personal narrative to tell the story of the Berlin Wall, in words and stunningly simple images:

The Berlin Wall was coming down, and I was flabbergasted

Niemann’s iconic images reference specific events and larger ideas. One image shows an East German border guard hurdling barbed wire to escape into the West. Other images remind me of M.C. Escher’s tessellated patterns, reduced to elemental form. Niemann’s underlying theme is the transformation of a city, history as augury and echo.

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

November 5, 2009, 12:25 pm

Follow the Necktie

By Henry Woodbury

It is always interesting to me to see how designers using different methods tackle some of the same visualization challenges that we do. How do you represent an abstract idea like “mobility” or “business”?

Here is Virtualization in Plain English, a marketing video for Intel made by Common Craft.

Still from Virtualization in Plain English

Keep track of that necktie.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Comics, Illustration, Information Design, Technology, Visual Explanation

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

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

September 4, 2009, 1:12 pm

The Times Goes Google on Us

By Henry Woodbury

I just discovered the New York Times Developer Network.

This resource provides data from The Times to third party developers through content-related APIs:

Our APIs (application programming interfaces) allow you to programmatically access New York Times data for use in your own applications. Our goal is to facilitate a wide range of uses, from custom link lists to complex visualizations. Why just read the news when you can hack it?

Most or all of the APIs respond to a query by returning data in XML or JSON format. Some developers have built custom search engines and topic-specific mashups around this functionality. Others are more interested in the sheer excess of the data — and how it can be visualized.

Artist Jer Thorp is one of the latter. Thorp accesses the Times Article Search API to create visualizations that compare the frequency of key words over time. The image below, for example, compares ’sex’ and ’scandal’ from 1981 – 2008:

NYTimes: Sex & Scandal since 1981

When you zoom in, the visualization reveals branching segments called “org facets”. Thorp writes:

[These are] organizations which were associated with the stories that were found in the keyword search. This is one of the nicest things about the NYTimes API – you can ask for and process all kinds of interesting information past the standard “how many articles?” queries.

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

August 27, 2009, 3:09 pm

Craigslist Makeover

By Matt DeMeis

Wired has a very interesting article up right now. Several well known designers were asked to give hypothetical makeovers to Craigslist. I use CL all the time and honestly, I have never really had a usability problem of any kind. It does what it is meant to do quite well and is a true example of a simple utilitarian web service. I don’t own an iPhone or Blackberry so mobile access hasn’t been an issue for me. That seems to be the biggest argument for some kind of partial redesign (if only for mobile clients). A lot of the designers agree “why fix what’s not broken” (myself included) but it’s still interesting to see the results. Some better than others. My take on the submitted designs…

Favorite: Simple Scott
Least Favorite: Studio8
Middle Ground: Khoi Vinh

Go check it out for yourself…

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

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

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

May 19, 2009, 11:16 am

Twitter as Public Art

By Lisa Agustin

vistweet1vistweet2

Check out “Visible Tweets”, a visualization of Twitter intended for public spaces or, as creator Cameron Adams puts it, “a Twitter visualizer for rock concerts.” Simply enter whose tweets you’d like to see, and choose one of three animation styles to see the tweets letter by letter, rotating as they are linked to each other, or as a tag cloud that morphs from one tweet into the next. Adams’ allusion to rock concerts stems from his assertion that Twitter is normally about the chatter that takes a back seat to the main event (but doesn’t have to):

Twitter gives a voice to an audience who for many years have played a subservient role to those who were officially there to speak. But who says they have less to say?

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Art, Information Design, Social Media, Technology

April 22, 2009, 8:27 am

Broken on Purpose

By Henry Woodbury

Seth Godin at Gel 2006 explains how This is broken. What is broken? Almost everything.

Including Napoleon’s March to Moscow.

Starting at 17:53, Godin buries Edward Tufte in order to praise him. Note that Godin doesn’t really bother with the graph itself, but rather Tufte’s promotion of it as “the best graph ever made.” Godin responds:

I think he’s completely out of his gourd and totally wrong!

If you need to spend 15 minutes studying a graph you might as well read the text underneath. Godin then backs off. Tufte’s promotion of Napoleon’s March, he says, is an example of something “broken on purpose”:

For the kind of person you want to reach — they want to read a complicated difficult to understand graph and get the satisfaction of figuring it out, because then they get it…. Sometimes the best thing to do is break it for the people you don’t care about and just make it work for the people you do.

Agree?

Watch the rest of the talk as well. It’s a very funny, pointed critique of bad information and product design.

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

April 9, 2009, 6:30 am

Charts Rule!

By Kirsten Robinson

From the folks at PBS Kids, it’s “Conjunction Junction” for the info vis set. Although, I’m sure some of my colleagues would take issue with the 3D pie charts.

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Comments (2) | Filed under: Information Design

March 19, 2009, 1:25 pm

An Introduction to Information Design: A Manual for Advocacy Groups

By Maia Garau

Tactical Tech and John Emerson of Backspace have published a useful information design manual for NGOs looking to strengthen the impact of their campaigns:

Information design uses pictures, symbols, colors, and words to communicate ideas, illustrate information or express relationships visually… It is not the same as graphic design, nor is it only about making something aesthetically pleasing. It’s not about branding, style, making a glossy product or something that looks “corporate.”

They add that information design is not about making something aesthetically pleasing, but about making your data clear, compelling and convincing (to which I would add memorable).

The authors make a convincing case for using information design to effect social change at many levels. Information design is a powerful tool not only for storytelling but also for the earlier stages of discovery (finding patterns) and decision-making (making comparisons and weighing options).

Download the pamphlet here or or request a copy.

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

February 24, 2009, 12:40 pm

Global Problems Demand Good Maps

By Henry Woodbury

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

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

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

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

Changes in physical and biological systems, 1970-2004

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

January 9, 2009, 10:34 am

History of Visual Communication

By Kirsten Robinson

Elif Ayiter, a doctoral student at the University of Plymouth, has pubished an illustrated history of visual communication on the web, covering everything from cave paintings to graphical user interfaces. I was particularly struck by the transition from illuminated manuscripts to printed books and how much uglier the mass-produced books were by comparison.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Information Design

December 17, 2008, 11:03 am

Rivermap Visualization by Kerr | Noble

By Lisa Agustin

Rivermap

The recently announced breakup of design studio Kerr | Noble prompted me to revisit some of their work, including “Rivermap” from 1999, in which the meandering contours of the River Thames are depicted using the John Banck’s poem from 1783, “A Description of London.”  The map uses the Caslon font, which was designed at the same time that the poem was written.  Lovely.

See the London Design Museum’s site for an interview with the duo, including samples of their work.

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

November 19, 2008, 11:32 am

Up in Smoke

By Lisa Agustin

Up in Smoke Interactive Visualization

GOOD magazine offers an interactive visualization illustrating where people in the U.S. are still smoking — an interesting question, given recent smoking bans in eating and drinking establishments.  Roll over a state to see which bans are in place (none, workplace, restaurant, bar), what percentage of the state’s population smokes, and the price for a pack of cigarettes.  The state’s national ranking with regard to number of smokers and pack price are also presented. Overall, it’s a good approach: users can focus on single states, and also get a nationwide picture of bans and smoking populations.  But I found the use of visual metaphors — a cigarette for smoker percentage and a pack of cigarettes for the pack’s price–to be distracting.  (I originally mistook the cigarette as a bar graph measuring two different variables.)  For example, it’s unclear if a cigarette that extends the full width of the column equals 100%, and what the tallest pack of cigarettes cost (my guess was $7.00).  A better approach would be to eliminate the symbols, and place the percentage and cost closer together so the user can review them as a pair, with national figures placed closer to each for comparison.

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

November 3, 2008, 3:48 pm

Microsoft Chart Advisor — Consider the Source

By Mac McBurney

The prototype Chart Advisor for Excel 2007 from Office Labs sounds like a step in the right direction:

This add-in uses an advanced rules engine to scan your data and, based on predefined rules, displays charts according to score. Top scoring charts are available for you to preview, tweak, and insert into your Excel worksheet.

An early post by Program Manager Scott Ruble describes the Excel team’s motivations, which at first glance seem admirable. On second thought, Ruble’s understated description of the group’s noble “intent” and responsiveness to strong feedback reminded me not to get my hopes up. (Emphasis and sarcastic comments added by me):

When Office 2007 was released [and not before then?], one of the strong pieces of feedback was Excel needs to do a better job guiding users in the proper selection of charts to effectively communicate their data. Though it wasn’t our intent [I feel so much better now], some of the new [and the old] formatting options [and defaults] such as glow and legacy 3D charts can [only] be used inappropriately, which obscure[sic] the meaning of a chart. Some people [silly, silly people] felt that these features contributed to creating more “chart junk.” In an effort to improve this situation, we have created a prototype called the Chart Advisor.

Mr. Ruble is being too modest. The new features and default settings — like the old features and default settings — guarantee more chart junk. This team wasn’t born on the day Office 2007 was released — quite the opposite. Saying that inappropriate use and obscuring the meaning of a chart was not the team’s intent seems, frankly, laughable.

I expect an upgrade from Microsoft to include new features — new things that users could do. Giving good advice about what a user should do is more difficult and risky, and it would ultimately be much more valuable. This is ambitious, and let’s hope it signals a greater focus on improving the real-world capabilities of Excel users, not just increasing the capabilities of the Excel software.

So far, Chart Advisor is in no danger of becoming an artificial Edward Tufte inside Excel. The add-in still serves a side order of chartjunk with your data.

Tim Mays reported that Chart Advisor ignored a whole column of source data and then (not surprisingly) recommended the wrong chart type. At first, Excel guru Jon Peltier didn’t even get that far.

Hey, that “advanced rules engine” is just a prototype. (More on the rules engine). If the wizards at Microsoft succeed in upgrading Excel’s brain, here’s hoping they have the courage to give it a heart and good taste as well.

Chart Advisor intro video

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Comments (2) | Filed under: Charts and Graphs, Information Design, Technology

October 31, 2008, 10:51 am

Dynamic Diagrams Poster Part of Award-Winning Conference Presentation

By Mac McBurney


Congratulations to Colette Hannan on winning the Young Scientist Award for best poster presentation at the 17th International Conference of Racing Analysts and Veterinarians. Colette won the award for her presentation, “Controlling therapeutic substances – a European harmonised approach: Determination of the detection time for lidocaine following an administration to horses.”

Dynamic Diagrams designed posters for five research studies conducted by BHP Labs in Limerick, Ireland, where Colette works as a chemist. The studies tracked how long drugs like lidocaine and morphine remain — or remain detectable — in race horses. These drugs are legitimate veterinary medications, but they’re a big no-no if your horse tests positive on race day.

The posters present research data and findings to a scientific audience, so we retained the organizing principles of a scientific poster or paper (methods, results, conclusions). In the central graphs, a circular blow-up shows the data of greatest interest. A timeline down the center shows when blood and urine samples were collected from the horses.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Dynamic Diagrams News, Illustration, Information Design, Scholarly Publishing

October 16, 2008, 11:08 am

The Cortical Homonculus

By Henry Woodbury

I recently came across two classic examples of visual explanation: neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield‘s two-dimensional map of brain functions and its three-dimensional cohort, the cortical homonculus:

A cortical homunculus is a physical representation of the primary motor cortex, i.e., the portion of the human brain directly responsible for the movement and exchange of sense and motor information (namely touch: sensitivity, cold, heat, pain etc.) of the rest of the body.

Sensory and motor homunculi

More information about brain function and Penfield’s maps can be found here.

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

October 7, 2008, 3:09 pm

The Literal Version

By Henry Woodbury

What the storyboards say:

What you actually meant.

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

September 25, 2008, 3:48 pm

The Wire Meets 43F

By Tim Roy

One of my all-time favorite television series is “The Wire” and one of my all-time favorite blogs is Merlin Mann’s 43 Folders.  Imagine my joy at finding that Merlin has written an extensive posting on “The Wire” as a close-to-perfect example of how a story arc should be constructed.

Here at Dynamic Diagrams, we spend a lot of time talking with our clients about visual story-telling.  Part of this involves developing a narrative arc that allows an audience to connect to the story being told. Cognitive issues come into play here — establishing tension and then release, as well as providing the necessary “rests” so as not to create information overload.

Merlin writes: “…you very much do have the power to design the arcs you make, starting today. And even if you haven’t figured out how your final episode ends, consider how the pieces you want to lay down might fit together. And how the string that you gather might crack a case you hadn’t expected.”

If your own work is missing a narrative arc, take a look at The Wire: Writing Into Your Arc.

To quote Omar: “I’ll do what I can to help y’all. But, the game’s out there, and it’s play or get played. That simple.”

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

September 5, 2008, 10:16 am

Political Word Clouds

By Henry Woodbury

McCain Word Cloud

Both The New York Times and the Belmont Club blog have a feature today on the frequency of certain words in recent political speeches in the U.S. presidential race. Richard Fernandez at Belmont Club compares Sarah Palin’s Republican Convention speech to John McCain’s while the Times compares Democrats to Republicans with an additional breakdown of key words by politician.

The word count analysis reveals a few surprises, such as the fact that the Democrats were more likely to mention their opponent’s name than the Republicans. But word count analysis lacks context. If an opponent’s name is not mentioned, it may be because the opponent is better known, or referenced in other ways. It is, perhaps, the combination of words that matters, as indicators of key themes and rhetorical style.

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

September 5, 2008, 8:31 am

Google Chrome Comic Overshadows Product?

By Kirsten Robinson

It seems like everyone’s talking about the Google Chrome announcement — yeah, that’s right, the announcement, maybe more so than Chrome itself! In case your network connection has been down the last couple of days, the announcement is in the form of a comic book illustrated by Scott McCLoud, author of Understanding Comics. Here’s a sample:

Google chrome comic original

And, in the “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” department, the spoofers (warning: adult content) weren’t far behind:

Google Chrome comic spoof

Anyway, it’s the first time I’ve read most of a 38-page product announcement in a long time. Although, I would have put the information with broadest appeal first (about the UI) and the developer-focused information last. And a progress indicator (“page 1 of 38″) wouldn’t hurt.

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

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 25, 2008, 9:55 am

Designing a Better Ballot

By Henry Woodbury

Palm Beach Butterfly Ballot

Debates about voting access often focus on the way votes are tallied: paper vs. electronic; touchscreen vs. optical scan. But a report from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law asserts that consistent design and clear instructions are possibly more important than technology:

When it comes to ensuring that votes are accurately recorded and tallied, there is a respectable argument that poor ballot design and confusing instructions have resulted in far more lost votes than software glitches, programming errors, or machine breakdowns. As this report demonstrates, poor ballot design and instructions have caused the loss of tens and sometimes hundreds of thousands of votes in nearly every election year.

The report, Better Ballots (PDF), emphatically states the importance of good design — and good design practices, such as usability testing:

Usability testing is the best way to make sure that voters can use the ballot successfully, confident that they actually voted for the candidates and positions they intended to vote for. Usability testing allows election officials to observe individual voters using a ballot — before the electionin order to see where they have problems. This allows election officials to analyze the design and language choices to determine the cause of those problems. They can then redesign and rewrite the ballot to eliminate those problemsbefore the election. Unfortunately, the vast majority of jurisdictions do not conduct usability testing of their ballots before an election. Of course, all ballots will eventually receive a usability teston Election Day. At that point, unfortunately, finding out that a ballot is confusing to voters is most unwelcome news.

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Current Events, Information Design, Usability

June 24, 2008, 12:15 am

Your Risk of Death, Annotated

By Mac McBurney

Update (27 June): The comments posted by Wired Science readers are an amazing case study in information design, how well-intentioned readers get confused, limitations of the Google Motion Chart. I chronicled my own confusion and suggestions on a screen shot.

Interactive Chart: Your Risk of DeathWired Science wants to know if a Google Motion Chart helps explain that smoking could kill you. So far, you only includes men born between 1933 and 1973, but that’s not what makes the interactive graph confusing.

Author Alexis Madrigal chose to experiment with this data set, “because the researchers had the stated goal of presenting health-risk data in ways that could let people see the true risks associated with smoking.”

Comments on the blog point out a variety of confusing bits and suggest ways to improve this particular plot and the Google Motion Chart in general.

Interactive Chart: Your Risk of Death

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Information 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

April 23, 2008, 9:49 am

Charts, Unjunked

By Henry Woodbury

For 100% applied Tufte you can’t do better than the Junk Charts blog. The author, Kaiser, takes charts that appear in mass media venues, analyzes how they go wrong, and redraws them for accuracy and easier interpretation (similar to what we did with Nightingale’s Rose).

Most interesting are the possibilities that arise when a chart has sufficient data to benefit from a variety of approaches. An active comments section provides sophisticated feedback to Kaiser’s posts.

In one recent post, for example, Kaiser redraws a chart of tertiary education by country that originally appeared in Atlantic. The original is shown below on the left, with the first of Kaiser’s redrawn versions on the right:

Tertiary Education Chart, Original (Atlantic Monthly) Tertiary Education Chart, Kaiser Version 1

In the comments, zuil serip links to another set of redrawings, including this one:

Tertiary Education Chart, zuil serip version

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

April 4, 2008, 12:18 pm

Forget the Parachutes and Cheese: Meet Johnny Bunko

By Lisa Agustin

Many information architects and designers are familiar with Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, which explains the mechanics of the medium while shedding light on the principles of visual communications. Now comes Daniel Pink’s new book, The Adventures of Johnny Bunko, a graphic novel that claims to be “The Last Career Guide You’ll Ever Need.” The book follows the protagonist as he learns the six secrets to a satisfying career, courtesy of a sprite named Diana who can be conjured by splitting a pair of magic chopsticks. (I’m not kidding.) The book is written in the Japanese style of comics called Manga. Why? According to Pink:

Because most career books just plain stink. They’re too long, too boring, and too quickly outdated. Today most people get their tactical career information online — how to write a resume, what questions to ask in an interview, who to use as a reference, etc. What they want in a book, or so people tell me, are what they can’t get from Google. They want strategic lessons — and they want it presented in an accessible, to-the-point way.

It’s an interesting approach, newer in the U.S. than in Japan where, Pink claims, 22% of all printed material is in Manga, covering topics as diverse as “how to help you manage your time, learn about Japanese history, or find a mate.” Will the format work? You decide.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Books and Articles, Comics, Illustration, Information Design, Visual Explanation

April 2, 2008, 8:58 am

Where the Singles Are

By Henry Woodbury

Author and researcher Richard Florida tells us where single men and women outnumber each other with a map and accompanying essay (originally published in The Boston Globe). The blog reprint gives commenters a chance to get into the discussion.

Tom kicks off the comment thread with a decisive point:

I think this map would be more informative if it was based on percentages rather than raw numbers.

One hopes Florida will respond. As he chatters on about the extreme cases of “greater New York” and “greater Los Angeles” I look at his map and wonder about Memphis and Miami. Why does greater Memphis, with a population around one million, have a greater singles-gender imbalance than Miami-Ft. Lauderdale with a population about five times that?

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

March 18, 2008, 9:32 pm

User Experience: Crash Test Version

By Henry Woodbury

One exhibit at the New York Auto show is a car like this:

Crash-tested Ford Taurus

The point is to show off the Ford Taurus’s five star crash rating. What makes this interesting as information design is that it’s literally a) a car crash and b) interactive:

Show goers will be allowed to sit in the post-crash Taurus to see what a crash test dummy sees after a 35-mph meet up with an offset concrete barrier.

It is easy to forget in the online world, but the best user experience is being there.

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

February 27, 2008, 1:06 pm

The Movie Money Landscape

By Henry Woodbury

The New York Times has a very nice interactive chart on The Ebb and Flow of Movies: Box Office Receipts 1986 – 2007, partially captured below:

The Ebb and Flow of Movies: Box Office Receipts 1986 - 2007

This visual explanation does many some things well. It uses both sides of the horizontal axis to double the amount of data displayed in a vertical slice of time. It avoids unnecessary gridlines and tick marks. It uses color to clarify the area plot for “total domestic gross” allowing easier comparison between movies with short and long runs (compare Shrek to Hannibal, for example). A “Find Movie” feature helps locate any release in the time frame and highlight it among its contemporaries.

All that is missing is a single view of the entire chart. Even a static thumbnail image would help illustrate seasonal and macro trends. Here’s a sample view of 1986 – 1990.

The Ebb and Flow of Movies: Box Office Receipts 1986 - 1990, Macro View

Update: Thanks to commenter “tomp” I’ve made a few edits. My original “double the amount of data” statement was off base. By using both sides of the horizontal axis, the chart may increase the number of peaks, but since the data is stacked (not overlapping as I originally assumed), this technique does not increase data density. The macro view would, in fact, be much easier to analyze if all the data was stacked in the same direction (upwards). I also replaced a reference to The Animal with Hannibal so that my point about total domestic gross would actually make sense.

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Comments (4) | Filed under: Business, Charts and Graphs, Information Design, Visual Explanation, Web Interface Design

January 9, 2008, 4:06 pm

Nightingale’s Rose

By Henry Woodbury

Two ways of reading the word area — its general vs. its mathematical meaning — leads to confusion in this otherwise superb article on Charts in the Economist. The chart in question is Florence Nightingale’s “Diagram of the Causes of Mortality in the Army of the East.” The data is plotted by month in 30-degree wedges. In each month, red represents deaths by injury, blue death by disease, and black death by other causes:

Diagram of the Causes of Mortality in the Army in the East

The Economist explains how to interpret the diagram:

As with today’s pie charts, the area of each wedge is proportional to the figure it stands for, but it is the radius of each slice (the distance from the common centre to the outer edge) rather than the angle that is altered to achieve this.

Herein lies the confusion. In fact, the areas of the wedges are not proportional. The data actually maps to the radius of each wedge. It appears that in her annotation, Nightingale used the word area in the generic sense of section or range. The great sweep of blue around the center of each chart is an artifact of the unusual radial plot. Perhaps unintentionally, Nightingale overdramatized the facts that made her case.

Our Creative Director, Piotr Kaczmarek, recalibrated Nightingale’s chart to correct this error. The diagram below uses all the elements of the original, but makes the data proportional to area:

Diagram of the Causes of Mortality in the Army in the East, Adjusted

Nightingale’s diagram, often referred to as Nightingale’s Rose or Nightingale’s Coxcomb, represents one of the inherent risks in visual explanation. An image may be so visually interesting — so iconic (a rose, a coxcomb) — that we assume its conclusions without examining its data.

This is better: a stacked bar chart that introduces a scale (!), more readable labels, and a single chart for the entire 1854-1856 period. These changes provide context and continuity, and make clear the two campaigns of the war:

Diagram of the Causes of Mortality in the Army in the East, Stacked Bar Chart

UPDATE (January 14, 2008): In the comments, hstern recommends separating the three data types to allow better comparison. As it happens, Piotr created that chart as one of his alternatives to the radial plot. I’ve uploaded it below.

Diagram of the Causes of Mortality in the Army of the East, Bar Chart

UPDATE (November 22, 2010): In a BBC News Magazine article titled “Diagrams that changed the world” Marcus du Sautoy includes a link to this post. Welcome BBC readers!

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Comments (17) | Filed under: Charts and Graphs, Information Design, Visual Explanation

December 6, 2007, 11:30 am

Foodpairing Diagrams

By Lisa Agustin

chocolateThe Foodpairing web site takes a scientific approach to recipe creation. Diagrams of 250 ingredients show the major flavor components of each using a series of branches where ingredients with shorter distances between them have more in common. By selecting a flavor from each branch of the product diagram, the chef creates new and tasty combinations:

“If I want to reconstruct the basil flavour without using any basil…search for a combination of other food products where one contains linalool (like coriander), one contains estragol (like tarragon), etc…. So I can reconstruct basil by combining coriander, tarragon, cloves, laurel.”

It’s an interesting idea, making innovation in cooking less of a guessing game and more systematic.

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

December 4, 2007, 7:23 pm

Online Chart Chooser for Excel and PowerPoint

By Mac McBurney

No time to kick tires and sing praises at the moment, just a quick tip o’ the hat to the folks at Juice Analytics. Nicely done.

Introducing Chart Chooser – Juice Analytics
Chart Chooser

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

November 28, 2007, 3:18 pm

Improving Excel Charts

By Kirsten Robinson

Recently I was preparing a presentation for a client to summarize the findings from a survey. I was frustrated with the appearance of the default charts from Excel — ugly colors, slanted labels, a scale that went to an impossible 120%, and various other bits of chart junk got in the way of the data. After experimenting with formatting options, I was able to improve the appearance. Here’s what I changed:

Excel chart - default formatting

And here is the final chart:

Excel chart - after changes

If you’d like to try this yourself, you can find these formatting options by right-clicking on different parts of the chart. You can also modify settings in the chart wizard while creating the chart.

Now, if only I could save my preferences to use in future charts.

In case you were wondering, the survey question was, “How do you currently use the Web for teaching?” Teachers could select any or all of the five options. I converted the scale from raw numbers to percent of respondents to normalize the results between middle and high school teachers.

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Comments (3) | Filed under: Information Design

October 4, 2007, 1:28 pm

Visualizing Digg

By Lisa Agustin

Digg ArcMaking sense of the activity on Digg is the mission behind Digg Labs. The Labs offer four different views of Digg data: Arc (shown at left), BigSpy, Stack, and Swarm. Like the Digg site itself, each visualization tracks similar information, including the newest stories that users “digg,” story popularity (number and frequency of “diggs”), and the names of “diggers” themselves. Best of all, the visualizations are in real-time, making the energy and behavior of the Digg community a palpable one. But while the tools give a new perspective on Digg activity, they fall short on helping users see any obvious patterns or draw specific conclusions. Some critics even consider them confusing. Despite the criticism, these data visualizations have provided direction on how to improve the Digg user experience, according to Digg creative director Daniel Burka:

“After seeing users congregate around stories and examining their relationships, we’ve tweaked our algorithms to take [content] diversity into account when determining how popular a story really is,” Burka says. This allows a wider range of subjects to show up on the home page, for example. “Many of the lessons we’ve learned in the Labs are also influencing future feature development and the general direction of the site.”

An article in Technology Review offers further details on Digg Labs: http://www.technologyreview.com/Infotech/19079/?a=f

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

August 13, 2007, 11:27 am

Timeline and Timeplot: Open Source Tools from MIT

By Mac McBurney

Two cool ways to display events and overlay data on a timeline, from the SIMILE group at MIT. Just add XML.
“Timeline is a DHTML-based AJAXy widget for visualizing time-based events. It is like Google Maps for time-based information.” Be sure to check out the filtering and highlighting functions in the Dinosaurs example.

http://simile.mit.edu/timeline/

Timeplot is newer (maybe buggier) and allows additional data to be plotted on a timeline.

http://simile.mit.edu/timeplot/

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Information Design

August 13, 2007, 11:11 am

Many Eyes

By Mac McBurney

This project from IBM’s Alphaworks is like Flickr for information visualizations. Warning: Contents may be addicting (especially for readers of Information Design Watch).

From the site: “Many Eyes is a bet on the power of human visual intelligence to find patterns. Our goal is to “democratize” visualization and to enable a new social kind of data analysis.”  Hear, hear!

Post a data set, then choose one of the predefined visualization types. Or, let other users find clever ways to graph the data. Browse “topic hubs,” post comments and ratings, save your favorites to a watch-list. You get the idea. On the horizon: ordinary users can post visualizations, not just data. The possibilities are even more dazzling than the work so far.
http://services.alphaworks.ibm.com/manyeyes/home

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Comments (2) | Filed under: Information Design

July 24, 2007, 9:59 am

Visualizing Network Dynamics

By Lisa Agustin

Wikipedia Power Struggle

The submissions from this year’s Visualizing Network Dynamics competition (part of the larger NetSci07 meeting) represent an intriguing collection of the different ways to represent the complex structures of dynamic networks. A mix of both movies and still visualizations covering a wide range of subjects, including citation pathways in BioMed Central, ideological alliances on the Supreme Court, and editing patterns on Wikipedia (above), the entrants all set about to map real world networks that are dynamically evolving over time in response to their usage. This year’s winner was Aaron Koblin’s Flight Patterns Movie, an animation of North American flight travel paths based on aircraft data collected by the Federal Aviation Administration. Set to music, this hypnotic visualization offers insights on multiple levels, including the environmental. According to one of the competition’s judges: “In an age of climatic crisis and carbon footprints, the [patterns] are rhetorically powerful as ecological visualizations showing the almost absurd degree of mobility in the USA.”

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

July 13, 2007, 3:50 pm

Graph Design I.Q. Test at Perceptual Edge

By Kirsten Robinson

Stephen Few at Perceptual Edge has posted a Graph Design I.Q. Test. It’s not difficult, but it does make you stop and think about your past sins…. Who among us has not been tempted by Excel’s 3D capabilities?

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

May 10, 2007, 9:09 pm

Hyperbolic Views: Mapping the Blogosphere

By Mac McBurney

map of the blogosphereDiscover Magazine discusses a series of maps of the blogosphere created by Matthew Hurst.

Discussion of the pros and cons will have to wait for another day. Until then, here are two more hyperbolic tree visualization examples:

Interactive Tree View of the LexisNexis Directory of Online Sources
National Science Digital Library

Tell us what you think.

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

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

April 16, 2007, 2:15 pm

On Tufte and Napoleon’s March

By Mac McBurney

Napoleon's MarchIn February, the Dynamic Diagrams staff made a field trip (some might say pilgrimage) to Edward Tufte’s day-long seminar, “Presenting Data and Information.” If you’ve ever heard of Edward Tufte, you have probably seen Napoleon’s March to Moscow, Charles Josef Minard’s visual explanation of Napoleon’s disastrous attempt to conquer Russia in 1812.

Tufte says, “it may well be the best statistical graphic ever drawn.” The graphic appears repeatedly in Tufte’s books, posters and brochures. At the recent seminar, I realized that the image has become a defacto corporate logo of Tufte and Graphics Press. At the seminar, the graphic was used in a sign directing participants from the hotel lobby to the upstairs lecture hall. It worked: Napoleon’s March quickly caught my eye and confirmed I was headed in the right direction.

Conventional wisdom v. six-variable masterpiece of information design

Because Napoleon’s March is so innovative, so lauded, so pervasive in Edwardtufteland and so emblematic of Tufte’s teachings, it was (I’m chagrined to admit) not easy for me to see that it undermines, rather than supports, the conventional view of the historical events. (Thanks to Piotr, creative director at d/D, for leading the way.)

Minard created his map to show the horrors of war. Tufte uses it to explain grand principles of data display. Both are succeessful, but Tufte misses an opportunity to emphasize just how powerful Minard’s graphic is. Tufte repeats the popular belief that “General Winter” defeated Napoleon’s army. I haven’t studied the history since high school, but this fits the image that sticks in my head: soldiers freezing to death.

In fact, according to Minard’s map, nearly three times as many French soldiers were lost (never mind the Russians) before the retreat and before the coldest weather. 90,000 died on the retreat–horrible to be sure — but 250,000 were lost before that. Only because the map follows Tufte’s grand principle number one, show the data, are we able to really question the conventional wisdom, ask useful questions and formulate alternate narratives. Now that I’m re-thinking my own understanding, I wonder why Tufte even mentions General Winter as the moral of the story.

Recency bias

In addition to temperature itself and the impending threat of winter, I suspect another factor strengthens the prevailing interpretation: recency bias. Only ten thousand French soldiers lived to tell the tale. They had just endured three months of immense suffering and witnessed the deaths of 90,000 comrades (90% of the retreating force). It’s hard to imagine their state of mind, but the previous summer was probably a distant memory.

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Cognitive Bias, Information Design, Maps, Marketing, 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 23, 2007, 6:29 pm

Politically Convenient Misunderstanding

By Mac McBurney

Aircraft noise in your neighborhood could increase by almost 1000 percent! Are you scared yet?

Before: decibels. After: sones.Call it the politics of ear.

Late last year, a map of suburban Philadelphia — using data from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) — became a hot topic among citizens and candidates for local office. The map estimates how “noise levels” would change if the FAA approves new flight patterns in the area. Zip Code areas are color-coded on a scale from negative 56% to 925% increase. Not surprisingly, citizens were concerned and politicians made much of the dramatic statistic. What does 925% more noise sound like? Perish the thought!

No one questions the underlying FAA data change in decibels. The issue here is not accuracy, but validity. It turns out that the decibel is not a valid measure of the sensation you or I would call noise. Noisiness is mostly in your head, as much a function of perception as physics.

The student newspaper at Swarthmore College makes the confusion clear:

While the decibel is used to measure the relative difference in power or intensity, the sone is the unit of loudness as perceived by a person with normal hearing. Some people who examined the maps provided by the Delaware County Planning Department erroneously interpreted the projected increase in decibels as equivalent to a linear increase in noise level.

A Swarthmore engineering professor brought the misinterpretation to light a few weeks before election day, but the sensational misinterpretation had already spread far and wide. Plus, “1000 percent” just sounds so much more electable than, well, the truth. When did the map makers finally correct the error? Two days after the county election.

Local parent and partisan Daddy Democrat gives it the sniff test:

Given that [candidate] Tom Gannon had essentially staked his entire re-election bid on his stance on the FAA…he needed that data to be overwhelmingly bad. Rep. Gannon continued to claim that the potential noise increase would be upwards of 1000% — even in the final days before the election. Even though the error had been pointed out weeks before. It just doesn’t get people worked up into sufficient lather if you say that there might be 10-90% increases in noise levels. 90% is not 1000%, even though it may be damned loud.

I don’t want more planes flying over my head. And I expect my representatives to protect our local interests to the fullest extent possible. But I also don’t like flouting the truth about data.

Check out the revised maps on the Delaware County site. If the decibels and sones maps don’t quench your thirst for confusing information design, don’t miss the one called “Percentage Increase/Decrease in Population Already Highly Annoyed by Aircraft Noise.”

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

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

July 11, 2006, 2:24 pm

Applying Open Source to the Realm of Font Design

By Lisa Agustin

Considered primarily an approach to programming, the “open source” method is now being applied to the unlikely area of font design, specifically for Linux.

Open source type design is not a completely new idea. In 2003, a font family called Vera was developed for open-source use. Under the license terms, anyone was permitted to make new fonts based on Vera, as long as the derivatives were given a different name. The latest effort in this movement is tied to DejaVu, a Vera derivative that has sparked the interest of different Linux players:

DejaVu has caught on widely enough for it to be the default font for Dapper Drake, the latest update to Ubuntu Linux. It may also become the default font for Red Hat’s Fedora version of Linux.

“DejaVu, from purely a user perspective, seems to be the one that has the momentum and benefits behind it,” said Rahul Sundaram, one of nine board members for the Fedora Project, which governs the Linux version.

Taking a collaborative approach to type design has been particularly helpful in addressing practical concerns for making fonts, such as the creation of special characters or glyphs for other languages:

In the software world, creating a new offshoot is called “forking.” The freedom to do so is one hallmark of an open-source project. Several designers launched their own Vera forks… The designers had initially created limited extensions to include Western languages such as Welsh or Catalan, then later took on larger and more ambitious extensions, such as Greek and Cyrillic.

The renewed interest in improving this aspect of Linux goes beyond improving typeface presentation for its own sake–it demonstrates that elements of the user interface are just as important as performance factors in offering Linux as an alternative to the Windows operating system.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Implementation, Information Design

June 19, 2006, 4:30 pm

DesignBusinessArchitectural Thinking

By Mac McBurney

This recent Business Week article calls Patrick Whitney, director of the Institute of Design (ID) at IIT in Chicago, a design visionary.

Traditionally, design education is based on visual expression, and students learn through drawing, model making, and studying the work of other designers. That is still the case in most design schools. Little emphasis is placed on how design fits into a business context.

Whitney pioneered a completely different model. The ID curriculum focuses directly on design strategy and innovation. Some 80% of the school’s courses don’t involve making things. User Observation & Early Prototyping aims at understanding consumers’ wants, the crux of the innovation gap. In New Product Development, students also learn how to read a balance sheet. In Design Languages, they learn how to make effective business presentations. In Systems Design, students look at designing business organizations…

“Most designers don’t understand business,” says John Seely Brown, the former director of Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center. “Patrick has done more than anyone in crossing this chasm.”

ID graduates and faculty made a strong impression on me at ID’s Chicago neighbor Doblin (www.doblin.com). On ethnographic research and innovation projects, designers combined forces with (for example) anthopologists from the University of Chicago and MBAs from Kellogg. Now, in addition to educating innovation-savvy designers, ID now offers a dual Master’s degree with IIT’s business school. From ID’s web site:

The first program of its kind in the world, IIT’s MDes/MBA marks an important milestone in the co-evolution of design, management, and innovation. As design becomes regarded more and more as an essential business resource, professional education that links the two fields is becoming increasingly important.

Could a triple-Master’s degree, adding anthropology or social psychology, be next? Whether companies acquire these skill sets by forming interdisciplinary teams, or by hiring a single cross-trained individual, more companies seem to be waking up to the benefits.

Unfortunately, Business Week applies a caricature of business schools to over-hype an already important point.

Corporations have traditionally mined the best B-Schools for by-the-numbers managerial talent. But who really wants to hire people with masters degrees in “administration” when today’s business culture demands managers who can master the process of innovation.

Historically, b-schools may come by their stereotype honestly, but equating today’s top MBA programs with a 1950s-style “degree in ‘administration’” isn’t fair. More importantly, it’s unnecessary. Programs like the one at ID are newsworthy and valuable even by today’s standards.

For their part, many business schools are offering courses on innovation and contextual research methods along side the finance and economics. What ID would call design thinking, Toronto’s Rotman School of Management calls “integrative thinking.” This is more than another business buzzword: Rotman’s integrative thinking pages contain seminar notes, videotaped speeches by Malcolm Gladwell and Jack Welch, as well as a coherent, detailed explanation of the term. See also: ID’s collection of research and ideas.

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

June 19, 2006, 1:01 pm

Who Are We Designing For, Anyway?

By Lisa Agustin

Consumers? Customers? Users? These are the words that we’ve grown accustomed to using when referring to the person who will benefit from the latest object or information we’ve designed. According to author Don Norman, these are derogatory terms that continue to look at the (pardon us) end user from the company-centered perspective. Says Norman, why not look at them for what they really are — People:

If we are designing for people, why not call them that: people, a person, or perhaps humans. But no, we distance ourselves from the people for whom we design by giving them descriptive and somewhat degrading names, such as customer, consumer, or user. Customer — you know, someone who pays the bills. Consumer — one who consumes. User, or even worse, end user — the person who pushes the buttons, clicks the mouse, and keeps getting confused.

The related terminology is no less impersonal, since these users–in their various “roles”–”perform tasks” to get “results” and hopefully avoid “errors” in the process. Norman’s suggestion to “wipe out words such as consumer, customer, and user from our vocabulary” may not be possible; rather, the takeaway for designers should be to strive for an understanding of and empathy for those who will hopefully benefit from well-designed information or products.

http://www.jnd.org/dn.mss/words_matter_talk_ab.html

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Information Architecture, Information Design, User Experience

June 16, 2006, 2:29 pm

Design Does Not Get More Hands On Than This

By Henry Woodbury

Remember subliminal advertising? A Time.com article on “menu engineer” Gregg Rapp details the totally visible design tricks a restaurant will use to steer patrons to higher profit selections:

The way prices are listed is very important. “This is the No. 1 thing that most restaurants get wrong,” he explains. “If all the prices are aligned on the right, then I can look down the list and order the cheapest thing.” It’s better to have the digits and dollar signs discreetly tagged on at the end of each food description. That way, the customer’s appetite for honey-glazed pork will be whetted before he sees its cost.

One ongoing difficulty in the design business is quantifying return. This is not so for Rapp:

Rapp is so sure of his menu makeovers that he offers a money-back guarantee that his menu will raise profits–and in his 25 years in the business, he has yet to issue a refund.

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Comments (2) | Filed under: Business, Information Design, Marketing

June 8, 2006, 1:25 pm

Bar Graphs at Em Height

By Henry Woodbury

In his forthcoming book, Beautiful Evidence (2006), Edward R. Tufte explores the idea of “sparklines,” simple graphs whose y-axis is scaled to the height of a line of text. A draft chapter of Beautiful Evidence provides many examples of the concept and is accompanied by additional comments from Tufte and others.

I came across sparklines on David Pinto’s Baseball Musings site, where he has recently experimented with text-height graphs for such data sets as strikeouts per game (Jason Schmidt) and hits per game (Joe Mauer vs. Alex Rios).

Pinto credits Joe Gregorio who created the Baseball Musings sparklines on his online image generator. Gregorio, in turn, links to Tufte.

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

April 20, 2006, 3:06 pm

The PowerPoint Minimalist

By Henry Woodbury

We recently came across Garr Reynolds Presentation Zen, a superb blog on presentation design. With entries like “Learning from the World of Judo” and “2-D or not 2-D? (That is the question)”, Reynolds offers a wealth of quirky but eminently usable advice.

As his blog title suggests, Reynolds is an advocate of clarity and restraint. In one of his popular posts, “What is good PowerPoint design?” he examines how simplicity in design must be driven by context, not formula:

Simplicity is often used as a means to greater clarity. However, simplicity can also be viewed as a consequence. A consequence, that is, of our careful efforts to craft a story and create supporting visuals that focus on our audience’s needs in a clear and meaningful way.

In another post, Reynolds contrasts the presentation styles of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, in amusing form:

Mr. Gates needs to read Cliff Atkinson’s Beyond Bullet Points, ironically published by Microsoft Press…

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Information Design

March 17, 2006, 9:22 am

What is Information Design, Again?

By d/D

The Design Council, a UK organization that advocates good design, provides a lot of cross-disciplinary information on its sprawling Web site. If you need to reaquaint yourself with the meaning of information design or explain it to colleagues, take a look at Sue Walker and Mark Barratt’s About: Information Design article. For example, here the two explain the relationship between information design and information architecture:

“Information designers order and structure information on behalf of users. The information architect — a new role created by large websites and information systems — is part information designer, part information scientist, part information systems professional. They create the order, taxonomies and navigation interfaces that allow us to use today’s million-page websites efficiently.”

With sections like “Why it matters to business,” “Why it matters to public,” “Examples,” “Facts and Quotes,” and so forth, the article offers a number of entry points for different audiences.

http://www.design-council.org.uk/webdav/harmonise?Page/@id=6004&Session/@id=D_gou02lMiiVHBhxYvT42d&Section/@id=1305

Our own white paper Information Architecture for Web Sites can be found here:

http://www.dynamicdiagrams.com/splash/iawp.html

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

April 7, 2005, 1:27 pm

Game Flows and Shot Charts

By d/D

The sports pages have long inspired dense presentations of information, most uniquely in the form of the box score. Now, many online sports venues are turning statistics into interactive charts and visuals. Consider the “Game Flow” chart in this recap of the recent NCAA Division I College Basketball Championship (scroll down and mouse over):

http://sports-att.espn.go.com/ncb/recap?gameId=254000063

Another example is the interactive shot chart that ESPN creates for each National Basketball Association game:

http://sports.espn.go.com/nba/shotchart?gameId=250403002

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

March 11, 2005, 2:03 pm

Learning Objects Online

By d/D

“Learning objects” are self-contained content modules that educators may use independently, add to lectures, or aggregate into a broader course of study. At Wesleyan University, a dedicated team is using the Internet as a distribution medium for multimedia-based modules:

“We are working with faculty to develop interactive learning tools and animations that will help students understand difficult concepts. These modules can be shared across campus, with faculty at other institutions and be used both inside and outside of the classroom.”

http://learningobjects.wesleyan.edu/

The team’s projects show the range of possibilities, from an interactive map of the temples of Palenque to a simulation of protein synthesis.

http://learningobjects.wesleyan.edu/palenque/map/map_high.html

http://learningobjects.wesleyan.edu/proteinsynthesis/flash.html (Flash)

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

February 11, 2005, 2:10 pm

Editing as History

By d/D

InfoWorld’s Jon Udell has a fascinating analysis of how a collectively edited Wikipedia article, “Heavy metal umlaut”, changed over time. Udell provides a voice over for a series of screen shots that show the evolution of the article’s content and organization. His discussion also covers several different attempts to place umlauts over various letters (specifically the letter “n” in “Spinal Tap”) and an incident of vandalism (WARNING: includes obscene language).

http://weblog.infoworld.com/udell/gems/umlaut.html (NOTE: Scroll down if you do not see the audio controls when the page first loads.)

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Information Design

August 12, 2004, 3:40 pm

Update: The Tube as Template

By d/D

We recently came across another example of the London Underground map as design template. In this case it is repurposed as “A subway map of cancer pathways”:

http://www.nature.com/nrc/poster/subpathways/index.html

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Information Design, Maps, Scholarly Publishing

July 9, 2004, 3:46 pm

The Tube as Template

By d/D

U.K. designer Martin Kay has taken the Harry Beck map of the London Underground and turned it into a template for process diagramming:

“The standard box, circle and arrow style of flowchart is the main style of process map used in business, but these are often poorly produced and even with good ones, you do not get the users saying ‘I want one’. The tube-map style creates really good process awareness because people just like looking at them. Adhere to the design principles and you create familiarity even if the process itself is unfamiliar to the user — especially if they are someone who uses the London tube to get to work!”

It’s a quirky idea that brings up some interesting points. Successful visual explanations often build upon a viewer’s experience with such visual tools as maps, graphs, and charts. Reusing a well known visual model can be an efficient way to present data with a similar structure and may reveal unexpected possibilities as the model is tailored to the task at hand. Other data sets demand a completely new approach. When this happens, the challenge is developing a visual system that still triggers a viewer’s intuitive understanding.

http://www.kaywebs.co.uk/process_maps.htm

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

March 9, 2004, 9:26 am

A “Call to Action” from the Year 2000

By d/D

Looking back, it’s interesting to contrast Clare Hart’s comments described here with an article in the April 1, 2000 issue of CIO Magazine. “Call to Action” describes the importance of “actionable” information, information “distilled to its essence and organized so that it gets its meaning across effortlessly.”

“But the truth is, companies are painfully short of actionable information, and their CIOs are not using information design practices to create it. In spite of the fact that IT leaders rate actionable information important for decision making –4.8 out of 5, on average — most are not on a track to get there.

While Hart focuses on technologies for visualizing data, “Call to Action” emphasizes the role of information designers. These two viewpoints reinforce each other. Tools for mining data simply gives information designers more opportunities to prioritize, condense, and illuminate.

http://www.cio.com/archive/040100_action.html

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Information Design

March 9, 2004, 9:18 am

Angles on the Information Industry, 2004

By d/D

Information Today, Inc., has compiled a list of 2004 predictions from 11 captains of the information industry. The responses focus largely on technology and business issues, but there are some interesting remarks on information design practice, in particular, those of Clare Hart, President and CEO of Factiva:

“Text analytics and visualization technologies will further enrich the user experience in the decision-making process. Such technologies rapidly recognize associations among textual elements and can then present them graphically. This ability will permit executives to identify trends at the early stages of development or display material relationships that might signal customer, partner, or supplier activity. Acting quickly upon information will reduce risk and benefit the organization. Without these technologies, this information might otherwise be buried in a mountain of information that would be impossible to navigate.”

http://www.infotoday.com/IT/jan04/whatsahead.shtml

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Information Design

January 8, 2004, 9:43 am

Looking at the Real Underground

By d/D

Transportation for London provides a simple Flash movie on its Web site that shows three versions of the London Tube map: the classic 1933 Harry Beck map (shown below), the current map, and the current map as it would look if it matched actual geography.

At http://tube.tfl.gov.uk/content/tubemap/default.asp, click on “The Real Underground (Flash Movie)”.

The map’s schematic treatment of geography and scale is one of its most compelling aspects. The relative placement of stations along the lines, and the lines to the river (the only surface feature shown) provide users of the Tube all the orientation they need.

A more detailed geographically-aligned version of the map can be found at http://www.kordy.dircon.co.uk/misc/lul.gif. A history of London Tube Maps can be found at http://clives.members.easyspace.com/tube/tube.html (site loads very slowly).

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

December 8, 2003, 9:49 am

A Map of the Internet: Art or Information?

By d/D

The value of maps and other visuals, even when generated by an information-gathering process, may be more artistic than informational:

“A project to create a comprehensive graphical representation of the Internet in just one day…has already produced some eye-catching images.”

http://www.newscientist.com/news/news.jsp?id=ns99994434

The sheer complexity of some representations makes them hard to use analytically. By using labeling or filtering mechanisms, one can begin drawing information out of such complexity. In the instance of the Opte project described above, an option to display IP addresses along a traceroute (via a preset preference, or, for an interactive display, by mouseclick), would begin to make the Internet map more maplike. More information on the Opte project is at http://www.opte.org/.

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