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

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 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

December 2, 2011, 5:20 pm

Electrotyping Animation Now Online

By Henry Woodbury

The Electrotyping Animation we created for the Metropolitan Museum of Art has now been posted online. It is currently the featured video on the Met’s MetMedia page.

Here it is on Information Design Watch:

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

November 25, 2011, 11:41 pm

Orientation Ratio

By Henry Woodbury

Folks well into Apple mobile development may have already run across Adam Lisagor’s take on the iPad’s aspect ratio.

If not, here it is.

Aspect Ratios of iPad and iPhone

To elaborate a little, the visualization points to more than just dimensions:

But it was clear in the device’s orientation when Steve first pulled it out, and in the orientation of the Apple logo on the back, that the iPad (…) is meant primarily to be used in portrait mode, that its function as a video device is really secondary to its function as a reading device. And 9:16 is now, and will probably always be too damn skinny for a screen.

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Illustration, Technology, Visual Explanation

November 22, 2011, 3:44 pm

Electrotyping Animation at the Met

By Henry Woodbury

Opening today is a new exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art: Victorian Electrotypes: Old Treasures, New Technology. The show presents a selection from the museum’s archive of electrotypes — Victorian-era copies of European decorative artifacts.

One of the main pieces of the show is the Bryant Vase, designed by Tiffany and Company. The vase itself was copied by electrotyping and the exhibit accompanies the original with its copper molds. Using the Bryant Vase as the main character, Dynamic Diagrams created a short animation explaining how the electrotyping process works.

Brant Vase with electrotyping animation in background

Bryant Vase with electrotyping animation in background

The video starts with slow zoom of a photo of the original vase. We then transition to a 3D model which we animate to show the steps in which a mold is created and immersed in a copper-sulfate bath. A “microscopic” view explains how copper ions transmit in the the bath from a positively charged copper bar to the negatively charged mold. Finally, we show how individual pieces are reassembled into a near-identical copy of the original and plated in silver.

By using 3D modeling software we are able to give exhibition visitors a greater understanding of the technology behind the works they are viewing.

Update: The Museum has posted an exhibition page.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: 3D Modeling, Art, Dynamic Diagrams News, 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

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

October 6, 2011, 10:48 am

HeadsUP! Competition Invites Designers to Visualize Global Issues on a Large Scale

By Lisa Agustin

How do we make complex and urgent issues like global warming both understandable and memorable? HeadsUP! is an international competition that challenges designers to visualize critical global issues and create a shared sign for the public space– in this case, Times Square², the Thomson-Reuters/NASDAQ digital signboards in Times Square. The goal of HeadsUP!:

Working with global data on issues such as global groundwater levels, climate change and ocean acidification, designers will create a series of visual displays to translate abstract metrics into recognizable and actionable news. It is an opportunity to transform planetary data into a common sign combining the metaphorical power of the Doomsday Clock with the authority of data visualization and the immediacy of activist electronic billboards: a HeadsUP! Display for the planet.

The first challenge is a visualization of global groundwater trends, which indicate that groundwater reserves are currently threatened due to overuse. The winning entry will premiere on World Water Day, March 22, 2012, and run for one month. I do love this idea, although to me, the success of it will not only depend on making the data easier to understand, but giving passersby concrete steps they can take to make a difference.

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

September 28, 2011, 9:54 am

A Taxonomy of Pasta

By Lisa Agustin

Leave it to an architect to diagram the pasta family tree. George L. Legendre has profiled 92 different kinds of pasta in his new book, Pasta by Design, classifying them into types using ‘phylogeny’ (the study of relatedness among natural forms). From the publisher’s site:

Each spread is devoted to a single pasta, and explains its geographical origin, its process of manufacture and its etymology – alongside suggestions for minute-perfect preparation.  Next the shape is rendered as an equation and as a diagram that shows every distinctive scrunch, ridge and crimp with loving precision. Finally, a multi-page foldout features a ‘Pasta Family Reunion’ diagram, reassembling all the pasta types and grouping them by their mathematical and geometric properties!

Check out this one for Cavatappi:

Cavatappi

Many of the pasta shapes are diagrammed on the Z-axis (a d/D favorite!), showing the delicate shapes in their full undulating glory (view more pasta diagrams on the NY Times site). I’m hungry already.

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

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 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

August 3, 2011, 1:09 pm

A New Chart for Financial Indicators

By Henry Woodbury

The financial numbers generated by the U.S. and worldwide economic crisis have informed many charts and graphs but most are rudimentary. I have hoped to pull some into this blog, but haven’t seen any worth discussing as visual explanations.

Here is an exception. Bill McBride’s Calculated Risk blog offers a set of charts built on an elegantly different model. For example (click through for others):

Real Gross Domestic Product: Percent of Previous Peak (Calculated Risk)

McBride explains:

The … graphs are all constructed as a percent of the peak in each indicator. This shows when the indicator has bottomed – and when the indicator has returned to the level of the previous peak. If the indicator is at a new peak, the value is 100%.

The key mental construct is to remember that as positive indicators trend upward they define a new value for 100%. That is why periods of growth are represented as a plateau.

At The Atlantic, where I saw these graphs, Derek Thompson explains the graphs by simile:

The outcome reveals each recession in the last 50 years as a kind of hanging icicle.

The bigger the icicle, the bigger the problem.

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

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 24, 2011, 5:56 pm

Herschel and the Orreries

By Henry Woodbury

Self-taught astronomer William Herschel discovered the planet Uranus through a series of observations in the winter and spring of 1781. The discovery was widely published the following year. “Instantly,” writes Richard Holmes in his splendid history The Age of Wonder, “all orreries were out of date” (p. 105).

While Dynamic Diagrams’ digital orrery include Uranus (and Neptune), it is inaccurate in a way common to almost all maps of outer space: that of relative distance. Uranus is more than twice the distance from our sun as Saturn. The distance to the stars is ever more impossible to project. While Herschel was one of the first astronomers to conceive of deep space, not even he guessed at its vastness. In a footnote Holmes writes:

No astronomer yet had the least idea of the enormous distances involved, so huge that they cannot be given in terms of conventional ‘length’ measurements at all, but either in terms of the distance covered by a moving pulse of light in one year (‘light years’), or else as a purely mathematical expression based on parallax and now given inelegantly as ‘parsecs.’ One parsec is 3.6 light years, but this does not seem to help much. One interesting psychological side-effect of this is that the universe became less and less easy to imagine visually. (Holmes’ emphasis, p. 88)

Here is a challenge to champions of visual explanation and yet I fear Holmes is right. An example can be drawn from the use of parallax to measure astronomical distances. In another footnote, Holmes writes:

As with road directions, a diagram is a much better way to explain parallax than a written sentence. But it is interesting to try…. Stellar parallax is a calculation which is obtained by measuring the angle of a star from the earth, and then measuring it again after six months. The earth’s movement during that interval provides a long base line in space for triangulation. (p. 90)

Could Pantheon Books not provide Holmes a designer? Let me try a sketch:

Stellar parallax, in concept (left), and reality (right)

The difference in angles A and B allow a simple trigonometric calculation with a baseline of about 300 million kilometers (left). However, astronomical distances are so great, the actual angles are nearly equivalent (right).

William Herschel and other 18th-century astronomers did not have the instruments to measure that difference. It wasn’t until 1832 that Thomas Henderson used parallax to calculate the distance to our closest star, Alpha Centauri. It wasn’t until the 1920s that Edwin Hubble was able to calculate distances between galaxies using the red-shift method (p. 90).

Holmes describes one other picturesque scene, a “human orrery” played by the poet John Keats as a schoolboy:

Keats did not recall the exact details, but one may imagine seven senior boy-planets running round the central sun, while themselves being circled by smaller sprinting moons (perhaps girls), and the whole frequently disrupted by rebel comets and meteors flying across their orbits. (p. 113)

One must assume that like mechanical orreries and the dD Orrery, the position of the planets was calculated in reference to the sun, not to each other.

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Books and Articles, Maps, 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 22, 2011, 9:29 pm

Crayola Century

By Henry Woodbury

From artist and scientist Stephen Van Morley:

Crayola Color Chart, 1903-2010

Quote:

The number of colors doubles every 28 years!

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

Crayola Color Chart Tests

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

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

June 18, 2011, 10:00 pm

Follow the Dots, not the Lines

By Henry Woodbury

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 2, 2011, 7:01 pm

Corn and More Corn

By Henry Woodbury

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

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

Kitchen Gardeners International White House Garden Comparison

The data is from the Farm Subsidy Database.

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

May 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 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 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 22, 2011, 10:46 am

Want to See My Etchings? Visualizing “Language as a Window into Human Nature”

By Tim Roy

RSA Animate has produced another wonderful visualization, this time animating a lecture by Steven Pinker deconstructing the manner in which language can be used to create meaning.

The piece, which runs almost 11 minutes, “breaks” the commonly-held belief about the ideal duration of online video (2-3 minutes tops) and is a solid example of an exception to the rule.  The combination of the engaging style of Pinker’s narration, complete with examples from Fargo, When Harry Met Sally, and James Thurber, and the visual rendering of his words, held my attention effortlessly.  It is an apt demonstration of how words and images can combine to create immersive experiences.

For those interested in the substance as well as the form, there is much to digest.  Pinker’s views on the tension between relationship models, actions, and use of language are important facets to consider when presenting information.  We have always been told that words are important; this piece provides solid insight into why.

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Language, Visual Explanation

February 1, 2011, 11:37 am

How Big Really?

By Lisa Agustin

We’ve previously posted on methods others have used to make large numbers understandable, including visualization of the number and making the number more intuitive. Large sizes and long distances offer a similar challenge (toilet paper rolls to the moon, anyone?)  Now comes Dimensions, a map-based tool that allows you to see historical events, ancient civilizations, and great distances super-imposed on a region or address that’s familiar to you.  Built by BERG design consultancy for the BBC, Dimensions is a prototype whose goal is “to bring home the human scale of events and places in history.”  Layering data or current events on a map is nothing new.  But what I like best about this take is both the ease of the user interface (pick an event from one of 9 categories, type in your address and hit GO) and the introduction of ancient history into the mix.  It’s difficult enough to understand the magnitude of current events (e.g., the Gulf Oil Spill) but somehow the added aspect of time makes ancient entities and events like The Colossus of Rhodes and Mount Vesuvius (above) even more difficult to grasp.  Dimensions successfully communicates ancient history by putting it in the context of the user’s here and now.

(via Very Short List)

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Comments (2) | Filed under: Maps, Visual Explanation

January 27, 2011, 12:50 pm

The State of the Internet

By Tim Roy

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

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

Thoughts on this kind of visual?

The original can be found here at Focus.

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

January 21, 2011, 2:14 pm

The Power of Concept

By Henry Woodbury

In its Digital Gallery, The State Records Authority of New South Wales offers an exhibition on the design of the Sydney Opera House. The exhibition is really just the online presentation of two documents, the competition drawings by Jørn Utzon and The Red Book, by the same:

This 1958 report (known also as the Red Book) was presented by Jørn Utzon to the Premier and the Opera House Committee in order to “give … a project which realizes in practical form the vision of the competition”. The report comprises: plans, sections, elevations, photographs of models of the Opera House; and reports by other consultants.

The technical plans are intersticed with Utzon’s free-form drawings and conceptual studies, creating, as a whole, an extraordinary essay in realized imagination.

Sidney Opera House sketch by Jørn Utzon

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Comments (2) | Filed under: Art, Books and Articles, Illustration, Visual Explanation

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

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 7, 2010, 3:26 pm

What Color are Your Tentacles?

By Henry Woodbury

Build a Squid InterfaceThanks to the Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa, you can build your own squid.

The Build a Squid interactive is akin to the avatar-builders associated with online games and social media sites. It is a great example of the advantage of fewer choices. There are six components, each with three options, and, for all but eyes, the same palette of 14 colors, blends and patterns. All the naming and design options are accessible all the time. You can cycle through options using “Next” and “Previous” but there’s no need to be sequential.

Also refreshing, for a man who has spent a number of hours logging his children into Disney web sites, is the absence of terms, permissions, and validations. Which isn’t surprising since once you create your squid and drag it back and forth across your screen, you’re pretty much done. All you can do is release your virtual creature into the virtual deep.

How interesting is that?

Interesting enough I guess. After you release your squid, it is easy to find it again using its name or your email. You can check its age, weight, and mileage and drag it around the screen again.

Since the real point of Build a Squid is to drive traffic to Te Papa’s colossal squid exhibition it would seem to be doing its job. The application is two years old and hosts plenty of squid.

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Social Media, 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 25, 2010, 1:39 pm

A Thanksgiving Visualization

By Tim Roy

For our readers who celebrate Thanksgiving, a visualization of Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant” seemed the perfect post. Have a great holiday!

and, Part 2 (it’s a long song…):

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Illustration, 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 19, 2010, 11:26 am

Two-fer Friday: Science Visualizations Way Small and Way Big

By Lisa Agustin

There’s never a shortage of science to visualize.  Molecular animations were the focus of a recent article in the New York Times, and one such animator, Dr. Drew Berry, was recently recognized as a genius (above:  a still from Dr. Berry’s “Apoptosis” animation).   The Times article raises the interesting question of whether it’s acceptable for animators to take liberties with their depictions:

Indeed, while enthusiasm runs high among those directly involved in the field, others in the scientific community are uncertain about the value of these animations for actual scientific research. While acknowledging the potential to help refine a hypothesis, for example, some scientists say that visualizations can quickly veer into fiction….Dr. [Gael] McGill [chief executive of Digizyme] acknowledges that showing cellular processes can involve a significant dose of conjecture. Animators take liberty with color and space, among other qualities, in order to highlight a particular function or part of the cell.

That said, the fact is that these animated visualizations represent such a vast improvement in explaining complex phenomena that were previously bogged down in text and textbooks, that taking such liberties at this time is acceptable if it helps understanding.

On the (way) bigger side of things,  SciencePunk steered us toward Colin Douglas Howell’s gallery of dinosaur size comparison charts, a fun peek at how your favorites stack up to the average adult man or young girl.   My only issue on these is lack of a scale for the human-sized figures– should we assume six feet (1.83 m) for the unsuspecting fellow about to get trampled (above)?

And finally, the results are in on Cosmic Variance’s survey: “What is the one concept in science that you really think should be explained better to a wide audience?”  Results for “big” concepts include:

  • Evolution (IIIIIIIIII)
  • Entropy/Second Law (IIIIII)
  • Quantum mechanics (IIII)
  • Time (IIII)
  • Gravity (IIII)
  • Genetics (III)
  • Supply and demand
  • Energy
  • Climate change
  • Math
  • Cognition
  • Complexity
  • Emergence
  • Quantum field theory

I’m not sure how many of these can be explained in a visual explanation; the results for “specific” concepts might fare better.

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Comments (4) | Filed under: Visual Explanation

November 18, 2010, 4:00 pm

How 529 Plans Work

By Lisa Agustin

I really like that Mint.com aims to make financial concepts accessible, especially through its use of infographics.  The site’s latest offering focuses on how 529 plans work, something I have a personal interest in as a parent trying to save for two college educations.  The title of the infographic suggests that the viewer will get a step-by-step walkthrough of how these college savings plans work, but after looking it over, I feel this infographic isn’t as strong as it could be.  While all of the relevant pieces were there, these were not organized in a way that would necessarily help my decision-making process.  The infographic includes two kinds of information: background information (e.g., who may be a plan beneficiary) and information that helps me decide which 529 is best for me.  It would be great to see these two types of information better delineated.  For example, the piece would be more effective if  the section “Am I eligible?” were moved to the top of the page, so I could decide whether I should continue to learn about the plans.  From there, I’d like to see the Pre-paid vs. Savings options explained in a way clearly illustrating the pros and cons of each, to help me make a decision.  That said, I felt the best areas of the infographic were ones in which the graphics facilitated comparisons, namely the middle section (Pre-paid vs. Savings options side-by-side), and the chart of “The Best 529 Plans” at the bottom.  (It was also reassuring to see one of the plans I’m considering on the list.)

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Illustration, 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, 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 25, 2010, 3:49 pm

Requests from the Audience?

By Tim Roy

Over the past month, we have expanded the range of topics covered here on Information Design Watch.  By looking more broadly at art, museums, culture, and some of the earlier work at Dynamic Diagrams, we are discovering connections to our core focus of visual explanation and user experience that had not previously been considered.  We have also become much more active on both Twitter and Facebook with the intent of creating additional channels for expressing our ideas and interacting with both clients and peers.

Dynamic Diagrams has enjoyed its own share of exposure in years past.  We were featured in Richard Saul Wurman’s Information Architects, d/D founders Paul Kahn and Krzysztof Lenk created Mapping Web Sites, and the company was fortunate enough to contribute a chapter to Understanding USA, Richard Wurman’s book commemorating the 10th TED conference (TEDX).  Several of our friends and advisors have suggested we consider writing a new book and perhaps this work on the blog will help us to focus that idea.

More of this?

In the interim, we would like to hear from you, our readers, as to what areas you would like us to cover.  More pieces on museum interactives?  Continued coverage of terrific work in visualization?  Book reviews?  Interviews?  More work on presentation theory (I have a new piece on Shakespeare that I am almost ready to publish)?  I know that our coverage of user experience will certainly continue as we are constantly expanding our expertise in understanding user behavior and information design.

Or this?

The “Remodeling Dynamic Diagrams” series has a number of installments left and we are working to develop additional regular features.  And if the current eclectic mix of visualization, storytelling, user experience knowledge, and pointers to the fascinating work we come across is working well, let us know that too.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Dynamic Diagrams News, User Experience, Visual Explanation

October 24, 2010, 3:00 pm

Visualizing Scale at the Tate Modern

By Tim Roy

One of the most common requirements for our visualization work is to “show all the data at once”, a request made by clients who want to make certain that the audience is able to see the “whole” as well as the individual elements of which it is comprised.  We often explain the challenges associated with this: the inability to provide detail or context, the potential for disorientation, and the challenges associated with a large number of data points.  We have been fortunate enough to develop techniques for solving this business challenge and have been able to produce visualizations successfully presenting tremendous amounts of complex data.

It was for this reason I was drawn to a new exhibit at the Tate Modern in London: Ai Weiwei: Sunflower Seeds 2010.  This installation takes the idea of representing a large number of objects to new extremes.  The piece, on display at the Tate from 12 October 2010 to 2 May 2011, showcases 100 million hand-painted porcelain sunflower seeds.

100 million hand-painted porcelain sunflower seeds on display at the Tate Modern

Juliet Bingham, Curator at the Tate Modern commented:

“Ai Weiwei’s Unilever Series commission, Sunflower Seeds, is a beautiful, poignant and thought-provoking sculpture. The thinking behind the work lies in far more than just the idea of walking on it. The precious nature of the material, the effort of production and the narrative and personal content create a powerful commentary on the human condition. Sunflower Seeds is a vast sculpture that visitors can contemplate at close range on Level 1 or look upon from the Turbine Hall bridge above. Each piece is a part of the whole, a commentary on the relationship between the individual and the masses. The work continues to pose challenging questions: What does it mean to be an individual in today’s society? Are we insignificant or powerless unless we act together? What do our increasing desires, materialism and number mean for society, the environment and the future?”

While not a typical visualization (but then again, what is?), I was fascinated by the contrast between the scale of the overall work and the intricacy of the individual pieces.  More than 1600 artisans from the Chinese city of Jingdezhen, worked to produce this collection under the supervision of Ai Weiwei.  The results, while physically beautiful, also invite a far deeper intellectual inquiry about the idea of scale and presentation.  The accompanying video, despite its 14 minute length, is a fascinating study in the process and context for this project.

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Art, 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 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 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 16, 2010, 1:46 pm

Hello E. Coli, You’re Looking Large

By Henry Woodbury

E. Coli Bacterium

Start with a coffee bean and zoom down to a carbon atom. That’s a journey in scale from millimeters to picometers.

To experience that journey, try out the interactive Cell Size and Scale application created by the University of Utah’s Genetic Science Learning Center. It is a tool of elegant simplicity. Move the single slider to the right and sets of increasingly tinier biological objects come into view. At micron scale, you’ll encounter the E. Coli bacterium with its friends lysosome and mitochondria. A gang of viruses make their appearance. And you’re only halfway to the atom.

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

July 22, 2010, 9:01 am

Fastball, Cutter, Slider

By Henry Woodbury

In an appreciation of New York Yankees’ closer Mariano Rivera, the New York Times has put together an impressive animation that shows how he pitches. Even if you are not a baseball fan, this is worth a look for its artistry and integrity. By modeling and animating a season’s worth of data the visualization connects process — how Rivera throws the ball — with outcomes — a scatter plot of where his pitches cross the plate.

One highlight of the visualization is the comparison of three pitches — fastball, cutter, slider. Each is distinguished by a different spin, created by a different grip and release.

Still from Mariano Rivera Animation

Credit for the visualization goes to Graham Roberts, Shan Carter, and Joe Ward.

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Comments (1) | Filed under: 3D Modeling, Charts and Graphs, Sports, Visual Explanation

July 13, 2010, 3:20 pm

Information is Light

By Henry Woodbury

Look down from the sky at a city at night and it falls into two dimensions. In simple dark and light patterns you can see roadways, population centers, and other aspects of urban development.

Inspired by the view from a plane, data visualization engineer Doug McCune decided to use the appearance of city lights at night to present spatial data (just “for fun” he emphasizes). Using publicly available crime and city planning data, McCune has created a number of beautiful visualizations.  For example, the image below shows all the trees planted by the city of San Francisco since 1990:

Trees by the City of San Francisco since 1990 by Doug McCune

Click through to see more examples, all linked to larger versions.

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

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 4, 2010, 10:21 am

Visual Explanation, 17th Century Version

By Henry Woodbury

Flora's mallewagen, Allegory of the Tulip Mania, by Hendrik Gerritsz Pot

Flora’s mallewagen, Allegory of the Tulip Mania, by Hendrik Gerritsz Pot:

The goddess of flowers is riding along with three drinking and money weighing men and two women on a car. Weavers from Haarlem have thrown away their equipment and are following the car. The destiny of the car is shown in the background: it will disappear in the sea.

(via Walter Russell Mead)

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Art, Illustration, 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 27, 2010, 11:15 am

We Promise to Use Our Powers Wisely

By Henry Woodbury

From the Harvard Business Review comes a cautionary tale of bias and visualization. Visual information can make people overly confident in predicting outcomes. In the study described in the article, viewers who watched a computer animation of driver error “were more likely to say they could see a serious accident coming than those who actually saw it occur and then were asked if they had seen it coming.”

The way human brains process the sight of movement appears to be one reason for this outcome. The visceral reading of trajectory events — such as an animation of moving cars — creates an anticipatory judgment that is highly persuasive to higher brain functions.

Also important is the fact that every visualization incorporates a point of view, one that is all the more convincing for its visual immediacy:

The information can be conveyed with certain emphases, shown from certain angles, slowed down, or enlarged. (In a sense, all this is true of text as well, but with subtler effects.) Animations can whitewash the guesswork and assumptions that go into interpreting reconstructions. By creating a picture of one possibility, they make others seem less likely, even if they’re not. (my emphasis)

In essence, this is what we do on purpose. Whether for marketing, analysis, or scientific reportage, we quite explicitly present the story of the strongest possibility (which may well be that there are multiple possibilities). We do it ethically; we rely upon validated data to tell a story and honor the integrity of that data as we work. The Harvard study cautions us not to let our visual tools — especially our analytical tools — persuade us too easily of what the real story is.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Books and Articles, Business, Cognitive Bias, Marketing, Technology, 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

May 25, 2010, 11:38 am

Saint Ginés Wins MUSE Award

By Henry Woodbury

Dynamic Diagrams and the J. Paul Getty Museum have won a  2010 Silver MUSE award for the Getty-produced video Making a Spanish Polychrome Sculpture. Dynamic Diagrams created the 3D animation that opens the video and shows how the XVII century sculpture was assembled. The Getty integrated this animation with live action footage that shows carving and surface treatment techniques. The effectiveness of this combination was noted by many of the judges:

This is a fine example of technology effectively used to clearly demonstrate an intricate artistic process. It’s the combination of the digital imagery with the live footage of an artist that makes this video exciting and fascinating for all kinds of audiences

The MUSE awards are presented annually by the American Association of Museums’ Media and Technology committee. They recognize “institutions or independent producers which use digital media to enhance the museum experience and engage new audiences.” We are proud to work with The Getty on projects of such scope and distinction.

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Comments (1) | Filed under: 3D Modeling, Art, Current Events, Dynamic Diagrams News, Technology, Visual Explanation

May 19, 2010, 12:52 pm

Explore the Display Cabinet

By Henry Woodbury

Augsburg Display Cabinet at The Getty MuseumOne of the masterworks in The Getty Museum’s newly opened European sculpture and decorative arts galleries is the Augsburg Display Cabinet, a lavishly decorated 17th century cabinet that once would have stored a collector’s curios and precious objects.

The cabinet features many panels and doors beyond those opened for display. To give visitors a look inside the cabinet and help them understand the details of its decoration and construction, The Getty asked Dynamic Diagrams to create an interactive 3D model of the artifact.

Working closely with Getty curators and media professionals, we used a comprehensive set of photographs to build the model and apply surface details. We then coded our application to import text and zoomable images from an external source, allowing Getty staff full control over the descriptions and detail views that accompany the model.  

Our application is presented in the gallery on a touchscreen display, as seen at right in this photo from the Daily News of Los Angeles.

The Getty has also placed the application on its web site allowing you to explore the wonders of the Augsburg Cabinet on your own computer.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: 3D Modeling, Art, Current Events, Dynamic Diagrams News, Visual Explanation

April 16, 2010, 1:48 pm

Planes or Volcano?

By Lisa Agustin

Looks like another day of closed airports in Europe, due to the all-encompassing ash cloud from the volcano in Iceland.  In the meantime, author David McCandless ponders the question: What’s emitting the most CO2 per day? (If you’re curious about the data sources, you can check them yourself via Google docs).

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Charts and Graphs, Current Events, 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

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 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 19, 2010, 12:11 pm

Life in One Cubic Foot

By Lisa Agustin

Sometimes the simplest visual explanations are the most powerful.  Case in point:  David Liittschwager’s series of photographs in which he shows how much life can be found in one cubic foot. Liittschwager’s team visited five diverse environments including Central Park, New York and Moorea, French Polynesia.  At each location, the team used a 12-inch metal-framed cube to carve out a mini-ecosystem, then observed the plants and animal life that moved in and out of the space, down to one millimeter.  In all, more than a thousand individual organisms were photographed.  Says Liittschwager: “It was like finding little gems.”  Seeing the inhabitants of each environment assembled together, the sheer volume of the collection is awe-inspiring.  One improvement I’d like to suggest: to give each environment some context, I’d like to see the specimens arranged by groups or the layers in which they were found.  Be sure to check out the videos that show how the team documented each eco-system.

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

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

January 20, 2010, 10:33 am

The Known Universe

By Lisa Agustin

Check out “The Known Universe,” a stunning animation developed by the American Museum of Natural History that takes the viewer on a journey from The Himalayas to the afterglow of the Big Bang and back again.  The video is part of the Rubin Museum of Art’s exhibition “Visions of the Cosmos: From the Milky Ocean to the Evolving Universe,” on view until May 10, 2010.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Visual Explanation

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 17, 2009, 12:24 pm

Last Slide Standing

By Lisa Agustin

The New York Times recently profiled biologist-turned-stand-up-comic Tim Lee, who describes his act as a “parody of a seminar.”  And what seminar would be complete without PowerPoint?  It seems to come in handy when describing the similarities between nuclear fission and sports bars.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Visual Explanation

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 2, 2009, 12:45 pm

Visualize Italy

By Henry Woodbury

In Tim Parks lyrical and learned history, Medici Money, he provides this description of Italy:

Let us dispense with the “boot” image and imagine a cylinder topped by an inverted equilateral triangle. The cylinder is surrounded by the sea and mostly mountainous, the triangle is generally flat but shut off to the north by the Alps. (p. 66)

It is an interesting gambit, this delineation of a visual idea with prose, yet the result is quite odd. The cylinder is a three dimensional volume; the triangle is a two dimensional plane. Parks creates this juxtaposition intentionally, to drive home the geographic difference between the mountainous south and the flatter north. The poor fit of the two shapes also evokes the political and cultural disagreement between the north and south of Italy throughout its history.

It is a visual explanation, but one that exists best in a mental space. Made graphic, it adds little to the map.

Italy: Map vs. Idea

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

November 18, 2009, 8:55 am

Resume as Infographic

By Kirsten Robinson

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

Anderson resume infographic

View the full-size image.

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

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 6, 2009, 4:04 pm

Making Your Data Intuitive

By Lisa Agustin

How can we make data intuitive–that is, so it “hits home”?  We’ve posted previously on the technique of making large numbers meaningful by using a clever or shocking image.  But this method has its limitations.  A big number explained with a visual analogy may get people to say “Hey, you’re right, that IS a big number.”  But in order to get the audience to act (rather than just react), it takes extra effort to translate that statistic into something they can relate to on a personal level.

Consider the funding coming through the U.S. government’s Recovery Act: $787 billion. Sure, that sounds like a lot of money.  But is it too much?  Too little?  It depends.  Authors Dan Heath and Chip Heath explain it this way:

How can you relate to this monstrous figure in the daily-life zone?  Well, there are roughly 112 million households in the United States, with a median household income of about $50,000. So an $800 billion stimulus works out to be the rough equivalent of seven weeks’ income for an American household. Is that worth it? By way of comparison, we already work three or four months a year just to pay our federal, state, and local taxes. So maybe this seems like a no-brainer to you: seven weeks’ worth of work to stave off a potential depression. Or maybe you’re appalled. Regardless, we can finally have a real argument, because we have a better idea of what we’re arguing about.

Well said.

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

November 6, 2009, 10:35 am

The Final Frontier

By Henry Woodbury

Sean McNaughton of National Geographic and Samuel Velasco of 5W Infographics have produced a majestic map of the nearly 200 lunar, solar, and interplanetary space missions over the past 50 years.

At the National Geographic, the map is presented in a “Zoomify” Flash object.

Better is the full size image placed by Adam Crowe on Flickr.

What I really need is a wall-sized print.

Fifty Years of Exploration

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

October 23, 2009, 3:45 pm

The Mummy Animation Joins the Mummy

By Henry Woodbury

At the J. Paul Getty Museum’s Getty Villa Malibu, our 3D animation of the of Mummy of Herakleides is now installed in the gallery:

Mummy of Herakleides Exhibit at the J. Paul Getty Museum’s Getty Villa Malibu

It’s a perfect day for a trip to Malibu.

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

October 16, 2009, 10:10 am

Infographics for Web Workers

By Lisa Agustin

xkcd-map-of-online-communities

Web Design Ledger offers a collection of infographics of special interest to web workers, including process flows, data driven visualizations, and musings (like xkcd.com’s Map of Online Communities, above).  Enjoy.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Art, Charts and Graphs, Maps, Technology, Visual Explanation

October 15, 2009, 9:22 am

What Are the Odds?

By Lisa Agustin

death-odds1

Just out this week, the Book of Odds claims to be “the world’s first reference on daily life.”   Normally, I’m not too interested in finding out my odds of surviving a plane crash or ever having eaten pizza for breakfast, but with its broad collection of statistics, articles (“Behind the Numbers: the Sharks and the Vending Machines”), and a personalized feature for creating your own book of odds, the site makes for a fun diversion.  Browse statistics by area of interest (Accidents & Death, Daily Life & Activities, Health & Illness, and Relationships & Society), or use the Visual Browse tool to view odds on a keyword of your choice.  But don’t let the title fool you:  while the site is about numbers, it doesn’t offer gambling or predict the future (too bad).

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Charts and Graphs, 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 8, 2009, 1:02 pm

The Max Baucus Health Care Lobbyist Complex

By Lisa Agustin

The current health care reform debate has presented plenty of opportunities for visual thinkers (and aspiring ones) to clarify the issues and explain possible solutions.  My current favorites have been Dan Roam’s “back of the napkin” series on fixing health care and the flow chart prepared by the office of Congressman John Boehner (R-OH) showing the Democrats’ health care proposal. (Should we assume that the awfulness is on purpose?).

But subtler visualizations grab my attention more for what they imply.  Consider “The Max Baucus Health Care Lobbyist Complex,” which was developed by the Sunlight Foundation, a group whose goal is to “use the power of the Internet to shine a light on the interplay of money, lobbying, influence and government in Washington in ways never before possible.”  The Max Baucus visualization is named for Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), who heads the Senate Finance Committee, which has been singled out by advocates and news organizations as the toughest obstacle for the President’s health care priorities.  The visualization shows the connections from Baucus to five of his staffers-turned-lobbyists to their health care sector clients, which, in some cases, overlap.  Most of the organizations are directly involved in the health care or insurance industries.

baucus-viz-large1

According to the Foundation:

In his many years on the committee, Baucus has amassed a wealth of connections to the health care and insurance industries, often through his ties to former staffers turned lobbyists.  These connections expose how close the many organizations seeking influence on health care reform are to one of the most powerful players in Washington.

Data for the visualization was provided by OpenSecrets.org.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Charts and Graphs, Current Events, 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 26, 2009, 1:29 pm

Mummy of Herakleides

By Henry Woodbury

The Mummy of Herakleides at the J. Paul Getty Museum’s Getty Villa Malibu is an Egyptian mummy from the Roman period (about A.D. 150). To explain the mummification process, the Getty asked Dynamic Diagrams to create a short movie for display in the gallery.

This particular mummy has several unique features, revealed by CT scans, including the removal of the heart (more commonly the lungs were removed) and the placement of a mummified ibis on the abdomen of Herakleides within the final wrapping.

Using 3D modeling software we animated the process by which the nearly 2000-year-old artifact was created. The final cut, with voice over, has now been posted to the Getty web site and YouTube:

A higher resolution version is also available on YouTube.

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

August 19, 2009, 9:50 am

You Are…

By Matt DeMeis

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

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

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

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

June 29, 2009, 2:08 pm

Sunny Days Over 3D Cities

By Henry Woodbury

The Chinese firm Edushi (“E-city”) has created 3D models of over 40 Chinese cities, including Hong Kong:

Edushi Hong Kong

Google Map-like pan, zoom, and search features make it easy to explore these candy landscapes, until one reaches the edge of the model and the world either fades or flattens — as in the screen capture of Guangzhou below.

edushi-guangzhou

Oddly, the Edushi artists generally point North 45 degrees off vertical (counterclockwise). This means that the 3D maps don’t align with common roadmap or satellite views.

(via PopSci.com)

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Comments (2) | Filed under: 3D Modeling, Illustration, Maps, Visual Explanation, Web Interface Design

June 2, 2009, 1:08 pm

The Break of the Curve

By Henry Woodbury

Here is a very cool optical illusion — with an equally interesting (to me) real-world example.

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

April 23, 2009, 9:12 am

The Carnivore’s Dilemma

By Lisa Agustin

Showing large numbers in a way that both grabs the attention of an audience and also compels them to think about their relationship to the data can be a challenge for statistics-based visualizations. Animal Visuals has just released an animation depicting the rate of slaughter of chickens, pigs, and cows in the United States in 2008:

Initially, I found the speed of the animation to be somewhat distracting, but the effect of the animals moving/twitching along the conveyor belt gave me a visceral feeling that was hard to ignore. In a way I wonder if this was really the point of the graphic, rather than making me think about the numbers themselves.

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Comments (2) | Filed under: Visual Explanation

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

March 24, 2009, 8:24 am

At Least We Know It’s Being Spent Wisely

By Kirsten Robinson

The folks over at PageTutor have come up with a visualization to show what the huge sums of money being bandied about by banks, insurance companies, Bernie Madoff,  and our government actually look like, using stacks, shopping bags, and pallets of $100 bills.

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

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

March 9, 2009, 8:49 am

Successful Teams Don’t Communicate Only With Words

By Kirsten Robinson

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flickr concept model by Brian Glass

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

March 5, 2009, 1:52 pm

Correlation is not Causation, not Even on Facebook

By Henry Woodbury

Caltech graduate student Virgil Griffith stirs the statistical pot:

Griffith used aggregated Facebook data about the favorite bands and books among students of various colleges and plotted them against the average SAT scores at those schools, creating a tongue-in-cheek statistical look at taste and intelligence….

Griffith came up with the idea as a way to show how to take two separate sets of data that were pretty straightforward on their own – in this case, the average SAT score and the favorite books among students at various universities – and combine them to become more interesting. Griffith says, “Their unity is hilarity incarnate. This is to inspire people to think creatively about the data sets that are on the Internet.”

Given Griffith’s puckish sense of humor, I read “think creatively” as “be skeptical.”

His other well-publicized “be skeptical” project is WikiScanner a tool that that uses IP addresses to identify anonymous Wikipedia edits made from corporate and government domains. (In my mind the joke here is the idea that Wikipedia is trustworthy in any fashion, but that’s just me.)

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

March 4, 2009, 1:19 pm

Visual Explanation of the Credit Crisis

By Kim Looney


The Crisis of Credit Visualized from Jonathan Jarvis on Vimeo

For any of you visual thinkers still struggling to understand how this country got into this current financial mess, take a look at Jonathan Jarvis’s narrated video. I didn’t really start to put the pieces together until the bombs appeared, but then I began to get it. Now we need one for corporate bail-outs!

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Current Events, 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

February 18, 2009, 8:53 pm

3D Modeling Reveals Construction of Saint Ginés

By Henry Woodbury

In conjunction with a current exhibition of Luisa Roldana’s Saint Ginés de La Jara, the J. Paul Getty Museum created a video of the techniques used to create the medieval polychrome statue.

Dynamic Diagrams work is featured in the first section of the video, in which 3D modeling software is used to recreate the assembly of the XVII century wooden sculpture.

Still for Saint Gines Video

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

February 3, 2009, 3:55 pm

How We Read Graphs

By Lisa Agustin

reading_graphs1

Cognitive Daily offers up some recent research into how we read graphs, including some results gleaned from using an eye-tracking device, a tool more commonly used in evaluating web sites.

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

February 3, 2009, 9:28 am

Lego Minimalism

By Henry Woodbury

Christoph Niemann has another abstract city column up.

Tuna Sushi / Polish Flag / Wasabi

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

January 21, 2009, 11:31 am

Examples, Symbols, and Signposts

By Henry Woodbury

Comics impresario Scott McCloud takes on the TED conference and delivers an engaging and funny talk titled “Understanding comics.” The title doesn’t do McCloud justice. He’s really talking about vision. And it’s a great presentation.

One reason for that is McCloud’s playfulness. Even as he unpacks his thesis, he tells stories, plugs in cross-references, and puns on his own ideas. When he gets to talking about comics he uses simple, but effective animations and symbols to highlight concepts such as directionality, space, and time.

Ah, but maybe this is too easy. He’s a comic artist, talking about comics, and his examples are comics.

Not true. When McCloud is talking about ideas, he is equally creative. Except for one key sequence, there are almost no words on his slides. Instead, McCloud offers visual references — a picture of Jung when talking about Jung, a sequence of Ray Charles, Albert Einstein, Wernher Von Braun, and Thomas Edison as he describes his father: ”a blind genius rocket scientist inventor.” He also uses simple, but effective symbols such as an eye to symbolize science, “where what we see and can ascertain are the foundation for what we know.”

(hat tip to Garr Reynolds at Presentation Zen)

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

January 16, 2009, 10:39 am

Gerrymander Away

By Henry Woodbury

Computers have arguably made the gerrymandering of U.S. Congressional Districts easier and more egregious. They should be able to make the problem go away. That is, if anyone can figure out an algorithm:

…it is surprisingly hard to define, or at least reduce to a set of rules, what a “gerrymandered district” is. Writing a formula for drawing districts requires us to define how funny-looking is too funny looking. And what is funny, anyway?

“The idea is that circles are the best shape for districts,” said George Washington University’s Daniel Ullman, talking about one school of thought. “Unfortunately, they don’t tessellate well.” This was apparently a joke, because the room burst out laughing. For the rest of the afternoon, the word tessellate never failed to produce giggles. (Tessellate means to tile together, as in an M.C. Escher drawing.)

Mathematicians and lawyers are focused on improving the reapportioning process coming up in less than two years. Another use of their analysis is simpler – to find the worst offenders and shame the politicians that put them in place. Is this too funny looking?

Illinois 4th District

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Current Events, Technology, 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

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

December 12, 2008, 12:17 pm

Creating Guideposts for the Visual Design Process

By Lisa Agustin

Droid SansA web site’s design is the marriage of the analytical and the aesthetic. The analytical side involves sifting through the front-end research (strategic documents, content inventories, user interviews, etc.), and translating these into a positive and engaging user experience.  Coming up with the architecture is a creative activity, but it has its roots in research activities that most clients understand and accept.

Developing the site’s visual design is usually the bigger challenge, since this is when subjective concerns like personal preference may come into play. Personal opinions about design may put the project at risk (read: endless review cycles) if these are not managed correctly.  With our projects, we frame design discussions in the context of project goals and best practices.  Conversations about the site’s desired look and feel are as specific as we can make them: Are there corporate brand guidelines?  Does the site have to complement other sites and collateral?  Are there sites you like/don’t like and why?  This approach has served us well. Still, there have been exceptions where we’ve created a visual design concept that clearly meets all the requirements, but the client is not satisfied with the result.  In the best scenarios, the feedback is specific and actionable. But then there are other design reviews where the response is a little more cryptic: “It’s not quite I was looking for,” or the dreaded “I know it when I’ll see it.”  What then?

I thought about this when I read how Droid, the font for the new G1 cellphone, came to be. Google wanted a font that was “friendly and approachable” with “common appeal.”  The iterations developed by font studio Ascender Corporation ranged from an early typeface that was considered too “bubbly” to the more “techno” computer-based font, which was also rejected.  Because the definition of an “approachable” font isn’t exactly clear-cut (at least to me), I suspect debates about the options used some kind of visual scale, a more complex version of the continuum graphic at the top of this post.  Seeing the range of options would be easier than just talking about them, and it would then be possible to pinpoint the desired result. We’ve developed such tools ourselves, adding information about what the advantages and tradeoffs may be in choosing one direction over another.

Another example of this design continuum is the perceptual map used to guide the design development of the Xbox 360 game console (scroll down for the perceptual map).  The project team arranged seven console designs on a grid that used “architectural/organic” vs. “mild/wild” axes, with the existing design as a reference.  This tool ensured that the conversation was about design language and not about design preference, while also giving non-designers a way to compare the different console designs. (For more on the Xbox 360 design process, see this earlier Information Design Watch post.)

I would love to see more examples of visual tools that can help guide the design process. Readers, have any of you successfully adapted or developed similar tools for guiding design-related discussions with clients?

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Prototyping, Typography, User Experience, Visual Explanation, Web Interface Design

December 3, 2008, 9:45 am

I Heart Coffee

By Henry Woodbury

I heart coffee

Christoph Niemann brews up a brilliant illustrated essay on one man’s history with coffee. Don’t miss the chart on coffee-bias-over-time about halfway through (oh sure, it could be improved, Tuftelike, but that’s not the point).

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Comments (2) | Filed under: Art, Charts and Graphs, Illustration, Visual Explanation

December 1, 2008, 9:44 am

The Blogofractal

By Henry Woodbury

The Blogofractal

The text version is good too.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Art, Comics, 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 12, 2008, 2:00 pm

Crisis Metaphors

By Henry Woodbury

To explain the baffling complexity of the current U.S. and global financial crisis, Marketplace Senior Editor Paddy Hirsch has become a man of metaphors.

Here, he explains CDOs (Collaterized Debt Obligations) as a champagne fountain.

Other videos in this series include The credit crisis as Antarctic expedition, and Margin calls and the financial markets decline with girl scout cookies and barbie dolls as collateral.

Also recommended is Michael Lewis’s old-fashioned personality-based history of the CDO crash. As Hirsch demystifies the transactions that fueled the crisis, Michael Lewis tracks down those responsible. His article is simply titled “The End.”

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Business, Current Events, Visual Explanation

November 7, 2008, 3:44 pm

Best Business Books of 2008 #5: The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures

By Henry Woodbury

The list is by Jon Foro, a books editor at Amazon.com.

The book is by Dan Roam.

Anyone read it?

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Comments (2) | Filed under: Books and Articles, Business, Current Events, Visual Explanation

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

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 17, 2008, 10:22 am

Personal Visualization Project

By Kirsten Robinson

Flowing data held a contest for the best “personal data visualization.” Here’s one example:

Giving up Coke

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Visual Explanation

September 16, 2008, 1:50 pm

Why Kids Have Tantrums (Visualization)

By Kirsten Robinson

The New York Times has published a time series of brain scans, colorized to show how a child’s brain matures from age 4 to 21. This appealed to me as a parent, cognitive science enthusiast, and information designer.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Visual Explanation

September 12, 2008, 2:46 pm

12 Beanbags for Nine Planets

By Maia Garau

Nine Planets Wanted installationIf every person on Earth generated as much CO2 as the average North American, our planet’s carbon emissions would reach nine times the sustainable level — hence Nine Planets Wanted, the title of a striking installation designed by Zago for the United Nations Lobby in New York. The installation marks the launch of the United Nations Development Programme’s One Planet, One Chance campaign on climate change and social inequality.

Manuel Toscano and his team at Zago have taken a thoughtful and provocative approach to visualizing data from this year’s UNDP Human Development Report. Twelve giant bean bags spread throughout the hall capture the comparative emissions of different countries, while offering visitors soft, comfortable seats on which to take it all in. The largest is the one that represents the United States per person per capita yearly emissions — it is 30ft in circumference!

Present at the inauguration, the President of the General Assembly Father Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann said that the great problems facing humanity need more than words — they need novel means of communication that will enable people to absorb and respond to information in new ways.

The installation runs until October 5th. More information is available at http://nineplanetswanted.org/

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Visual Explanation

September 4, 2008, 3:16 pm

Visual Storytelling in the Great White North

By Tim Roy

Having just returned from a two week car trip in Canada, I wanted to post my observations that information design challenges seem to be just about everywhere.  My time in Montreal created some interesting experiences with regard to the balance between French and English signage (especially exciting while on a six lane congested highway trying to decide if this is the right exit).

Leaving the city and moving into the Province of Ontario saw a reversal of the same — English signs became dominant with a secondary nod towards French. Finally, arriving at the obligatory visit to Niagara Falls, it became clear that even here, presenters of information struggle with the fundamental principles of communication.  In this case, the info-graphics seem to do a reasonable job of telling the story, but they certainly do not convey a message of “unusual.”

ice-sign.jpg

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Visual Explanation

September 4, 2008, 10:31 am

There Will Be Visualizations

By Lisa Agustin

Arctic Gold Rush Oil MapGiven the impact of rising fuel prices on, well, nearly everything, it’s not a surprise to see some oil-related visualizations cropping up online.

Portfolio magazine offers a starting point, with an interactive map of gas prices around the world. View the spectrum of prices worldwide, or zoom into a given region to see how individual countries rank (good for putting gas-pump gripes into perspective — I’m glad I don’t live in Turkey).

Other visualizations focus on mapping sources of oil.  The Sierra Club’s campaign to discourage new off-shore drilling includes a map of existing leases in the U.S. The map is a good start, but it could be improved by showing the gap between what’s been drilled and what’s leased but remains untouched (68 million acres, according to SC). Science Daily reported on Durham University’s mapping of disputed Arctic territories and who may lay claim to untapped oil resources (see left).  Showing how the Arctic cap might be divided is no easy task, thanks to a combination of international law and geography.  Take Russian claims (in green), for example:

“Russian demands relate to a complex area of law covered by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea Convention (UNCLOS). Under that law, any coastal state can claim territory 200 nautical miles (nm) from their shoreline (Exclusive Economic Zone, EEZ) and exploit the natural resources within that zone. Some coastal states have rights that extend beyond EEZ due to their continental shelf,…the part of a country’s landmass that extends into the sea before dropping into the deep ocean. Under UNCLOS, if a state can prove its rights, it can exploit the resources of the sea and the seabed within its territory. Russia claims that its continental shelf extends along a mountain chain running underneath the Arctic, known as the Lomonosov Ridge. Theoretically, if this was the case, Russia might be able to claim a vast area of territory.”

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

August 28, 2008, 11:28 am

Groovin’ with Some Energy

By Henry Woodbury

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

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

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

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

August 28, 2008, 10:57 am

Infoviz Art on Slate

By Lisa Agustin

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

The Dumpster

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

August 20, 2008, 9:33 am

Pop vs. Soda

By Henry Woodbury

My brother sent me a link to the “The Great Pop vs. Soda Controversy” along with this comment:

When I got to BYU I found it funny that one of my Rocky Mountain friends referred to Soda as Pop.  I said, “Pop is what you call your dad!”  He said, “Soda is a cracker.” Apparently some folks mapped out the colloquial use of Soda vs. Pop and it proves that both my friend and I were right!

The Pop vs. Soda site includes an interactive version of the map below, as well as a more sophisticated rendering of the data by county. You can also submit your own data. The most recent map on the site dates back to 2003, but a stats table appears to be updated daily.

Pop vs. Soda

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

August 6, 2008, 11:38 am

Housing by the Numbers

By Henry Woodbury

Carl Bialik, The Numbers Guy at The Wall Street Journal (WSJ.com), directs attention to a new site that culls public government data to map neighborhoods, cities, and states by real-estate values, demographics, income and other indices:

PolicyMap was created by The Reinvestment Fund, a Philadelphia-based organization that finances urban development. The group found that it needed mapping tools to help it choose neighborhoods for investment, and also to help investors track their projects in the context of neighborhood characteristics rather than through unenlightening pie charts. [my emphasis]

The result is a Google-Maps-like tool that easily maps geographically-based information using mostly public data (additional data sets and projections of public data are available to subscribers). For example, the sample below shows household income in our home city of Providence, Rhode Island (USA) in some of the neighborhoods around Brown University.

Sample PolicyMap output, Providence, Rhode Island

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

August 1, 2008, 10:38 am

The Pop Charts

By Henry Woodbury

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

From GraphJam:

World events according to Vizzini

From Song Chart Meme:

Countries that should cry for me

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

July 17, 2008, 11:59 am

Wardrobe Infographic of the Week

By Lisa Agustin

Do these pants make me look…like a criminal? They might, if you’re in Flint, MI, where police officers are under orders to arrest anyone whose pants expose underwear and, well, maybe more. (Thanks, CR Blog)

Saggy Pants Infographic

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Comments (3) | Filed under: Current Events, Visual Explanation

July 10, 2008, 9:52 am

Talking Call to Action

By Henry Woodbury

At The Girl Effect, a call for educating girls in the developing world is presented in a powerful animation that uses just typography and music to hold our attention.

Still from The Girl Effect movie

The animation leads into a microsite — essentially an executive briefing — that identifies key points and provides links to more detailed information in PDF format and at partner sites like The Center for Global Development.

There are a few stumbles — they almost lost me with “turn this sinking ship around” — but overall The Girl Effect is a great example of how to communicate a message and make it stick in the mind by paring down the details to a single narrative.

At first I thought the links I mention above were too difficult to find, but it occurred to me that they aren’t the point. The call to action is to share the story. And here we are.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Marketing, Visual Explanation, Web Interface Design

June 26, 2008, 11:52 am

Running the Numbers: A Portrait of America

By Lisa Agustin

Van Gogh Skull and Cigarettes Cigarette Boxes

To photographer Chris Jordan, today’s American culture is the product of daily and often unconscious decisions made by individual citizens. Further, these decisions can add up, to the detriment of the environment or the population (“One million plastic cups are used on airline flights in the US every six hours.”)

While such statistics are important, these large numbers are also abstract, harder to comprehend, and therefore easier to dismiss. Jordan’s exhibition, Running the Numbers, addresses this by visualizing such data in a way that makes these numbers tangible and accessible. Each large-format photograph is the result of assembling many small images (or individual choices, if you prefer). For example, the image “Skull With Cigarette, 2007″ (based on a painting by Van Gogh) is an assemblage of 200,000 packs of cigarettes, or the equivalent of Americans who die from smoking every six months.

From the artist’s statement:

My hope is that images representing these quantities might have a different effect than the raw numbers alone, such as we find daily in articles and books. Statistics can feel abstract and anesthetizing, making it difficult to connect with and make meaning of 3.6 million SUV sales in one year, for example, or 2.3 million Americans in prison, or 32,000 breast augmentation surgeries in the U.S. every month…Employing themes such as the near versus the far, and the one versus the many, I hope to raise some questions about the role of the individual in a society that is increasingly enormous, incomprehensible, and overwhelming.

Jordan’s approach to visualizing statistics addresses a common challenge in visualizing complex data. Statistics themselves will do little to convince or persuade an audience and can even have the opposite effect. (When was the last time you were inspired by a pie chart?) But presenting data in the context of a visual analogy or story makes the numbers easier to grasp, more memorable, and more likely to motivate.

For more on Chris Jordan, see: http://www.chrisjordan.com/

For his related talk at this year’s TED conference, see: http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/279

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Comments (2) | Filed under: Art, Visual Explanation

June 26, 2008, 10:59 am

New York City Waterfalls

By Henry Woodbury

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

Waterfall and Brooklyn Bridge

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

How the Waterfall Works

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

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

June 20, 2008, 10:32 am

A Radiated Library and the Televised Book

By Henry Woodbury

Still from The Man Who Wanted to Classify the WorldIn the canonical history of the origins of the Internet, Belgian Paul Otlet does not make an appearance. He was, perhaps, too early and too utopian, setting forth a plan for “a global network of computers” in 1934. Otlet’s vision derived from his life’s work creating the Mundaneum, a “universal bibliography” cataloged on index cards. For a fee, anyone in the world could mail or telegraph a request that Otlet’s small staff of professional librarians would investigate.

As the Mundaneum accumulated millions of entries, Otlet realized that his index-card-based system was becoming too cumbersome to manage. At that point he began working on ideas for electronic data storage and a totally paperless system — in his words, “a radiated library and the televised book.”

Eventually lack of funding and the onset of World War II doomed the project. Only recently have Otlet’s writings and the remnants of the Mundaneum archive begun to receive attention.

In this vein, The New York Times article linked above provides a history and appreciation of Otlet’s work, a visual explanation of the Mundaneum card cataloging system, and a clip from the documentary film The Man Who Wanted to Classify The World.

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

June 17, 2008, 2:38 pm

Because All Politics is Local Politics

By Lisa Agustin

Patchwork Nation US MapIn recent U.S. elections, classifying voter opinion has been reduced to describing a state as “red” (voting Republican) or “blue” (voting Democratic). While this approach gives the final outcome at the state level, it says little about the factors influencing voter decision. The Christian Science Monitor’s Patchwork Nation Project explores what voters care about most during this year’s presidential campaign by slicing the American populace into eleven distinct voter communities (e.g., Monied ‘Burbs vs. Evangelical Epicenters) and examining how each community’s issues may affect residents’ votes. Visitors can follow the campaign in real time through blog posts by local community writers, public messageboards, and an interactive visualization that tracks how many times candidates visited each type of community (a particularly interesting feature when it came to following the Democratic primaries).

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

June 4, 2008, 12:37 pm

Olympic Medals: Small is Beautiful

By Lisa Agustin

With the Beijing Olympics just around the corner, the Economist’s Daily Chart presents a different way of considering wins per country. Using the 2004 Athens Olympics as an example, the typical approach is to show the total number of medals won by each country. As one might expect, the bigger “superpower” countries make up the top ten. But slicing the data a different way — in this case, medals per million citizens — puts the Bahamas in first place. It’s an interesting take; an added plus would have been some reference to total populace for each of these smaller countries to put it all in perspective.

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Current Events, Sports, Visual Explanation

May 20, 2008, 9:34 am

Obesity, Organ by Organ

By Henry Woodbury

Click on a body part and get grossed out.

I must say that much of the effectiveness of this presentation is not in the virtue of the content, but in the visceral impact of the imagery. Organs, guts, that sort of stuff. Add to that the fact that the cutaway child, mouth agape, is illustrated to look ill.

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

May 12, 2008, 3:42 pm

How Time Travel Works

By Henry Woodbury

The Wikipedia entry on the 2004 film Primer provides this helpful diagram:

Time Travel Method in Primer

If I just had the time, I’d diagram Robert Heinlein’s By His Bootstraps.

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Visual Explanation

May 5, 2008, 2:05 pm

Harvard Business Review Discovers “Emerging Science of Visualization”

By Mac McBurney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 2, 2008, 10:02 am

A New (Old) Subway Map

By Henry Woodbury

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

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

New:

New York City Subway Map by Massimo Vignelli, Revised

Old:

New York City Subway Map by Massimo Vignelli, Original

Part of a continuing series:

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

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 10, 2008, 11:40 am

Let the Penguin Explain

By Henry Woodbury

In a few weeks an AOL penguin will begin educating users about advertising cookies. Here’s a sample storyboard from the ad campaign:

Frame 4 of 7: An ad company sends a cookie to Mr. Penguin's computer, recording his visit.

A penguin?

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

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 26, 2007, 2:00 pm

Proton Therapy

By Henry Woodbury

The New York Times explains proton radiation therapy with a superb visual explanation. In addition to describing how the technology works, the visualization tells a second story — why proton therapy is so expensive.

Proton therapy visualization

One thing the Times doesn’t do (at least in the online version) is present the visualization on the same page as the photograph that accompanies the article.

A proton therapy treatment room at at Loma Linda Medical Center

Presented together, both visual explanation and photograph gain in impact. Compare the size of the human figure and nozzle in each image. Then look at the photograph and imagine all the superstructure you do not see.

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

December 19, 2007, 9:34 am

The Visceral Timeline

By Henry Woodbury

The opening credits of The Kingdom race through a century of Saudi Arabian history using a mixture of archival video, photographs, and animated text and diagrams.

The Kingdom Opening Credits

It’s a narrative aimed at setting the stage for the movie. So what’s been left out?

(via GoodExperience)

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Current Events, 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

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

October 4, 2007, 12:31 pm

Access Control Poster

By Henry Woodbury

Model Access Control Poster, DetailI was discussing a new project with a colleague yesterday, one in which we need to turn a preliminary framework into a detailed process model, when I realized that a past project might help us out.

Back in 2002, we designed a Modeling Access Control Poster for that year’s ASIS&T Information Architecture Summit. We intentionally challenged ourselves to explain web-based access control systems on a conceptual level, rather than show a particular case.

This approach now helps us, internally, to define the appropriate requirements-gathering baseline for a newly conceived system.

The printable poster is here: Modeling Access Control Poster (PDF, 287K).

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

September 26, 2007, 12:34 pm

Map of Endangered Languages

By Lisa Agustin

Enduring Voices Map A joint effort between the National Geographic Society and the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages, the Enduring Voices Project “strives to preserve endangered languages by identifying language hotspots — the places on our planet with the most unique, poorly understood, or threatened indigenous languages — and documenting the languages and cultures within them.”

The narrative on the National Geographic site provides some statistics to describe the gravity of the situation (“Every 14 days a language dies”), but it’s the project’s interactive map that is particularly engaging. The map offers two levels of exploring the extinction threat levels. A bird’s eye view of the Earth shows the four levels of hot spots globally, while clicking on an individual location provides more detail into the history and uniqueness of the language and the specific nature of the threat.

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

September 13, 2007, 2:41 pm

Mindmapping Wikipedia

By Lisa Agustin

WikimindmapWhile Wikipedia is rich in content, approaching a given topic can seem overwhelming. The visual design for each entry steers users to approach the information in a linear way, top to bottom. In addition, the interconnections between subject areas are difficult to grasp at first glance, since hyperlinks to other subjects are found only by reading the text. Wikimindmap uses the concept of mindmapping to make researching any topic on Wikipedia more efficient and approachable. After running a search on their desired topic, users can size up a topic and what it covers at a glance, including crosslinks into related topics. Clicking on a node’s (+) icon lets users expand that node, while clicking on the green arrow icon reorients their view to focus on one of the crosslinked topics. Interestingly, if an entry contains many crosslinks, these will dominate the visualization, suggesting to the uninitiated that an entry is more about hypertext links than core subject content.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Visual Explanation

August 30, 2007, 10:50 am

Dance Notation Bureau Rebounds

By Henry Woodbury

Satyric Festival Song NotationAfter flirting with insolvency in 2005, the Dance Notation Bureau has new funding and a broader mission, including the digitization of its entire collection of “scores, films, videotapes, photographs, programs and posters.”

Students of visual explanation may be familiar with the concept of dance scoring through the works of Edward Tufte. The Dance Notation Bureau uses Labanotation, a particularly specialized system:

Rudolf van Laban, a Hungarian-born choreographer and dance theorist, developed his system of notation in the 1920s. (Systems have existed since the 15th century, but Labanotation and Benesh notation, developed in Britain in the 1950s, are the two types most used today.) Like music notation it uses graphic symbols on a staff. But the extreme complexity and detail needed to represent timing, direction, impulse and dynamics make it the province of very few specialists.

The debate about the usefulness of the visual tool is interesting. Dance notator Sandra Aberkalns contrasts the “nuance and depth” of a score to the “dancer’s interpretation” presented in video or photographs. Some choreographers have doubts:

“The notation is based on an agreed-upon form of moving, which I believe is misleading,” Mark Morris said after his “All Fours” was staged from a score at Ohio State University last year. “It’s nearly impossible to accurately communicate dynamics and phrasing, although I grudgingly admit that it was a far better tool than I had anticipated.”

The Dance Notation Bureau web site is here.

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

August 23, 2007, 11:03 am

How Google Works

By Henry Woodbury

Condé Nast Portfolio offers this “infographic” on How Google Works. (The text version is here.)

Interesting stuff, and nicely visualized — especially step 3 on “The Cluster”.

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

August 5, 2007, 5:57 pm

Around the Bases — 500 Times

By Henry Woodbury

I’ve often been critical of New York Times interactive graphics, but this one works for me, a chart of home runs by age for the 22 Major League Baseball players who have hit 500 or more. Hank Aaron’s line in bold red is the default. A mouse rollover on any other line highlights it and identifies the player responsible.

Paths to the Top of the Home Run Charts

For followers of baseball, the most statistically-minded of sports fans, each line on the chart tells a story: the injuries that cut down the output of Mickey Mantle; the lost years of Ted William’s career when he served in WWII; the late start of Mike Schmidt; the early decline of Jimmie Foxx; the extraordinary consistency of Hank Aaron.

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

August 4, 2007, 3:14 pm

A Beautiful Orbit

By Henry Woodbury

A foam boomerang with LED lights creates a beautiful visual explanation showing the path and rotation of the device from launch to landing. The picture accompanies a Popular Mechanics article on the sport and science of boomerang throwing.

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

August 3, 2007, 9:47 am

Are Pixels Better Than Piecharts?

By Lisa Agustin

Afterlife infographic “The Way We Live Now: Eternity for Atheists” in last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine included an infographic illustrating what Americans believe will happen to them after they die. Is this just a trendy twist on the piechart, or are we meant to glean more information from this technique? Presumably the main advantage of the pixel view is that each square represents a known quantity with which the viewer can estimate the actual number of people. A good idea, except there’s no key telling us what a pixel represents (or even a total number of people surveyed so we can extrapolate numbers ourselves). And what does the white rectangle in the middle represent — agnostics? The brightness of this shape makes me focus on it, rather than the data surrounding it.

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Comments (2) | Filed under: Visual Explanation

July 27, 2007, 10:32 am

Map Markup

By Henry Woodbury

The New York Times takes note of internet mapping tools, highlighting the non-expert angle:

“It is a revolution,” said Matthew H. Edney, director of the History of Cartography Project at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. “Now with all sorts of really very accessible, very straightforward tools, anybody can make maps. They can select data, they can add data, they can communicate it with others. It truly has moved the power of map production into a completely new arena.”

Most of the sample maps linked by the article are better described than seen, for the actual visual product is a cookie-cutter hodge-podge — often just a Google or Microsoft Map overlaid with clunky icons. While this is a new way to serve up data, it is not really a new approach to mapmaking. Many local, printed trail guides, for example, benefit from the contributions of non-experts, hikers who annotate U.S. Geological Survey Maps with descriptions of trail markers and landmarks. I remember my dad planning cross-country vacations with end-to-end road maps and highlighters. Anyone always could — and did — make maps, they just couldn’t share them as easily.

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

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 16, 2007, 11:31 am

All Fundraising is Local

By Henry Woodbury

The New York Times provides an interactive visualization of U.S. presidential campaign fundraising. Click on a candidate to see their activity. Click on a time series at the bottom to watch fundraising over the last six months.

Barack Obama's Campaign Finances

The results are not surprising. Every candidate raises a lot of money in their home state: Hillary Clinton and Rudy Guiliani in New York, Barack Obama in Illinois, Mitt Romney in Massachusetts.

But Mitt Romney does better in Utah than Massachusetts and draws well in Michigan, reflecting, I assume, his religious and family connections. Meanwhile Clinton leads all fundraising across the country, but Obama does significantly better in Denver. Denver?

The visualization does not explain. Designed to fit the narrative of fundraising as horse race, it has no revelatory power. What demographics apply to the numbers? How does local fundraising compare on a per-capita basis? What accounts for high points in the time-series data? Is the spike for most candidates at the end of March an artifact of reporting requirements or something else? You can either backfill your own research or wait for the next feature story.

Update: Some editing, addition of an image, and a full rewrite of the last paragraph on July 19, 2007 at 1:00 pm

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Current Events, 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

June 30, 2007, 12:12 pm

Simple Physics

By Henry Woodbury

A simple, interactive Flash application at thecleverest.com offers a mesmerizing glimpse into classical mechanics. By adjusting the location of two “planets” and the location and angle of two planes you can send a cascade of bouncy balls flying into space — or into orbit.

It’s like the spare, algorithmic, interactive version of this.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Visual Explanation

June 29, 2007, 10:03 am

Defining InfoVis

By Lisa Agustin

Brad Paley of Information Esthetics has set up a series of tests for determining if a program intended for creating data-driven visualizations can be considered a true information visualization tool. While these tests could be used to assess an application, they are just as relevant for examining the image itself. Criteria range from the Basic (“Does it contain data?”) to those that tend to be harder to meet, such as Reliability (“Are the smallest or largest meaningful differences in the subject visible?”) and Operations (“Does it display all relevant data needed to answer a question or complete a given task?”) My favorite: the Parsimony criteria, which evaluate the tool’s appropriateness in terms of its visual attributes, method, and technology: Is this program the right tool for the job, or is there a easier, simpler way to answer the big questions?

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Visual Explanation

June 21, 2007, 9:05 am

The Eisenhower Interstate Highway System

By Henry Woodbury

Driving across country never looked so easy (courtesy of the addictive Strange Maps blog).

Eisenhower Interstate Highway System, Simplified

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

May 23, 2007, 2:09 pm

Worry Indicator

By Henry Woodbury

For all our focus on diagrams, sometimes illustration is the best explanation.

http://www.bearskinrug.co.uk/_articles/2007/05/17/the_worry_constant/

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

May 4, 2007, 9:20 am

Visual Tool at the Gonzales Hearing

By Lisa Agustin

During last month’s hearing on the U.S. Attorneys firing scandal, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales just couldn’t seem to produce the proof needed to convince the Senate Judiciary Committee that the dismissals were anything but politically motivated. In contrast, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) managed to put together some convincing evidence in the form of a chart detailing the protocol for contact between the Bush White House and the Department of Justice.  According to Slate magazine’s Dahlia Lithwick:

One of the finest moments comes when Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of R.I., busts out a big, big chart. Which happens after almost everyone has gone home. The chart compares the Clinton protocol for appropriate contacts between the White House and the DoJ on pending criminal cases with the Bush protocol. According to Whitehouse, the Clinton protocol authorized just four folks at the White House to chat with three folks at Justice. The chart had four boxes talking to three boxes. Out comes the Bush protocol, and now 417 different people at the White House have contacts about pending criminal cases with 30-some people at Justice. You can just see zillions of small boxes nattering back and forth. It seems that just about everyone in the White House, including the guys in the mailroom, had a vote on ongoing criminal matters.

See Senator Whitehouse’s presentation of the chart on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iibnQfK-2ho

Bush Protocol Chart

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

April 24, 2007, 9:48 am

The Reasoning of “I’m Hot”

By Henry Woodbury

Rob Harvilla in the Village Voice has a brilliant send-up of the breakout rap single “I’m Hot” and pseudo-scientific reasoning all in one music review. Consider this “proof” by Venn chart:

Mims is hot because he’s fly. But it raises the question: Does being hot guarantee one’s being fly? “You ain’t ’cause you not” would seem to clear that up:

Fig. 2. Not.

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

April 20, 2007, 12:32 pm

The Walmart Projection

By Henry Woodbury

On a Mercator grid, artist Benjamin Edwards presents a Walmart projection: a world map that sizes nations by the number of goods they sell in Walmart.

The data was compiled in 2001 using a simple methodology:

Go to the nearest Wal-Mart from your present location. Inside each store, count as many objects as possible while noting their countries of origin.

To represent this data, Edwards roughly scales each country by percentage of the total product count, removes countries with zero results and places those remaining in approximate orientation. The result is crude but graphically effective.

But if you approach the map neutrally (elide the word “Walmart” from your brain), what does it mean? Compare the Walmart map to WorldMapper’s Total Population map.

Benjamin Edwards' Walmart Map fo the World Worldmapper Total Population Map

Now my question is not “why is China so big?” but “why is India so small?” (And, “why Italy instead of France, Germany or Spain?”)

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Comments (2) | Filed under: Business, Cognitive Bias, Maps, Visual Explanation

April 16, 2007, 8:28 pm

If Tufte made a music video…

By Mac McBurney

Since I’m on a Tufte jag…

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

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

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

April 16, 2007, 9:59 am

Google Presents Gapminder

By Henry Woodbury

We last mentioned Hans Rosling and his stunning displays of economic data in reference to his 2006 TED Conference presentation (view it on YouTube).

Now Rosling offers Gapminder World on Google. As with Rosling’s other shared statistical applications, you can define your own indices and run your own animations. And, with Google’s Subscribed Links feature, you can target the Gapminder World dataset when you do a Google search.

You can still view or download other Gapminder applications on the Gapminder web site.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Visual Explanation

April 5, 2007, 3:56 pm

The Neurological Case for Diagrams

By Henry Woodbury

Researchers at the University of New South Wales say the brain is not equipped to read and listen at the same time:

The findings show there are limits on the brain’s capacity to process and retain information in short-term memory.

John Sweller, from the university’s faculty of education, developed the “cognitive load theory”.

“The use of the PowerPoint presentation has been a disaster,” Professor Sweller said. “It should be ditched.”

It is effective to speak to a diagram, because it presents information in a different form. But it is not effective to speak the same words that are written, because it is putting too much load on the mind and decreases your ability to understand what is being presented.” (my emphasis)

Powerpoint is everyone’s favorite target these days, but of course, it’s how people use Powerpoint that is the problem.

Also interesting: People learn by studying already solved problems. Learn a solution and you have a better chance of applying it the next time you run into a problem.

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

March 7, 2007, 8:49 pm

“PowerPoint gives the game away”

By Henry Woodbury

PowerPoint despair makes it to the Guardian Unlimited, in this essay by Jonathan Wolff:

What is it about PowerPoint? Perhaps it is the only thrill left to the jaded academic: not knowing whether the technology you are using will actually allow you to give your talk.

While Wolff mocks the dog-and-pony-show marketing of PowerPoint, he focuses on a larger point:

For those who prefer to project the idea that a talk is a unique event, a voyage of discovery that could go in any one of a number of directions, and may well go in all of them, PowerPoint gives the game away. As someone once said: “The art is hiding the art.” With PowerPoint, everything is on display. Elegantly effortless performance is hard enough as it is. PowerPoint makes it impossible.

As another well-known detractor points out, PowerPoint is relentlessly sequential, undermines a presenter’s ability to present rich data in context, and sets up “a speaker’s dominance over the audience.”

I doubt Edward Tufte is going to change his mind, but if Wolff ever watches Steve Jobs at work he might acknowledge that elegantly effortless performance with presentation software is possible.

Okay, so Jobs uses Keynote. But it’s not the software that makes the difference. It’s the approach.

We do a lot of work in PowerPoint. We have two fundamental strategies for creating elegant presentations. First, we approach the entire presentation as a single narrative or composition. Each slide is a storyboard that advances the theme. This lets us leverage PowerPoint’s sequential format to our advantage. We can set up suspense in one slide and resolve it in another. We can establish a motif, then evoke it again and again. We can use pattern and variation.

Second, we treat every slide as a potential visual explanation. Sometimes all you need is text, but with images you can represent concepts, show connections, and evoke emotion. Images also make presenters inherently more interesting. Instead of repeating bullet points on a screen (which people can read for themselves), the presenter speaks to that which the audience sees.

But Tufte and Wolff cannot be ignored. Sometimes the multimedia presentation is simply a bad choice of format. Let us give Wolff the last word. Referring to the power of the image (say, the portrait of a famous philosopher) he writes:

These days, of course, digital pictures of Descartes are cheaper than ten-a-penny, but I’m still unsure of the benefits of showing his bony face to the audience. They have already got me to look at. And if they are looking at me, rather than a screen, I can look back at them. And I can judge whether they have understood what I have just said, and, if not, have another go at making the point.

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Comments (3) | Filed under: Marketing, PowerPoint, Technology, Visual Explanation

February 26, 2007, 9:35 am

Visual Identity: Identicon

By Lisa Agustin

Reading a string of comments on a blog is not the most stimulating user experience.  Moreover, if a blog post is riveting enough to start an online conversation via comments, following the exchanges between participants may require closer reading to see who said what.  Enter the Identicon.  Programmer Don Park developed the Identicon as a way of enhancing the commenter’s identity by using a privacy protecting derivative of each commenter’s IP address to build a 9-block image to identify the writer. Referred to in its debut as “IP-ID,” the Identicon is written in Java and based on the first four bytes of SHA-1 (Secure Hash Algorithm).  The Identicon’s visualization consists of a small quilt of 9 blocks that uses 3 types of patches, out of 16 available, in 9 positions. To try this yourself, visit Park’s blog and scroll down to the comment form, which will display your current Identicon. Mine at the time of this writing:

lisa identicon

How it works: the Identicon code selects 3 patches: one for center position, one for 4 sides, and one for 4 corners. There are additional details in the code for determining positioning, rotation, color, and inversion of the blocks.

For users with dynamic IP addresses, their Identicons will change over time.  However, according to Park, it doesn’t appear to change often enough to affect identification beyond a “typical comment activity cluster” (presumably a single session during which a comment might be posted). Park adds:

I originally came up with this idea to be used as an easy means of visually distinguishing multiple units of information, anything that can be reduced to bits. It’s not just IPs but also people, places, and things. IMHO, too much of the web what we read are textual or numeric information which are not easy to distinguish at a glance when they are jumbled up together.

Besides the intended purpose of identifying individual users among a sea of many (e.g., wiki authors, customer tracking in CRM tools, etc.), there may be other uses as well, such as identification of individual computers within a large network.  Plus the Identicon seems to be gaining in popularity: a PHP version is now available, as well as one that works for WordPress.

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Implementation, Technology, Visual Explanation

February 20, 2007, 4:43 pm

Visual Information for Origami

By Henry Woodbury

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

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

Garden Spider Garden Spider Crease Pattern Longhorn Longhorn Crease Pattern

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

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

Further on, Lange expands on his last point:

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

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

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

February 9, 2007, 10:31 am

Strange Maps

By Lisa Agustin

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

Island of California

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

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

December 15, 2006, 10:27 am

Map of the Internet

By Lisa Agustin

IP Map of the InternetThe latest approach to visualizing the Internet space comes from former NASA researcher and sometime cartoonist Randall Munroe.

Munroe uses the Hilbert Curve fractal to preserve IP address grouping, showing how any consecutive string of IP addresses will translate into a single region on the “map.” Supporting comments on the visualization indicate that “the upper left section shows blocks of IP addresses sold to corporations and governments before the 1990′s before the RIRs [Regional Internet Registries] took over allocation.” It would be interesting to see how adding a dimension for time might affect the diagram. For more detail on his approach, check out the related blog entry.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Visual Explanation

December 14, 2006, 1:31 pm

Stock Chart Interface Design

By Henry Woodbury

The Yahoo and Google Finance pages both sport neat Flash-driven stock chart applications, worthy of comparison. Both show daily (or hourly) highs for a particular indexes, equities and mutual funds, allow you to specify a date range via a drag interface, and provide a variety of preset viewing options.

Google Chart, Dow Jones Industrial Average

One big difference between the two is the amount of historical data. Yahoo lets you track the Dow Jones Industrial Average back to the 1920s, offering the choice of a logarithmic or linear scale. On Google, while some individual stocks may take you back to the 1970s, the Dow Jones data starts in 2001.

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

November 30, 2006, 11:05 am

Scholarly Publishing Meets YouTube

By Lisa Agustin

One of the challenges in scientific research involves the transfer of knowledge:  explaining, and then understanding and learning laboratory techniques.  This can be a time-consuming process, especially if the techniques are state-of-the-art or experimental.  While written protocols are often quite detailed, even these can be prone to misinterpretation. The newly released Journal of Visualized Experiments wants to address the knowledge-transfer hurdle by offering video-based (“visualized”) biological research studies online.

By presenting research in the form of “video-articles,”  the equipment, samples, and steps taken become transparent.  (Supporting written documentation is also provided.) JoVE is similar to the traditional scientific journal in that researchers are invited to submit their work, which is then reviewed by an editorial board before being posted. In the future, JoVE plans to list their offerings in PubMed and other databases. In the true spirit of the Web, submissions and access to the journal will be free. One only hopes that this model will be able to sustain itself via funding or other means for the benefit of the larger scientific community.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Scholarly Publishing, Visual Explanation

November 8, 2006, 10:49 am

A Pair of U.S. Mid-Term Election Maps

By Henry Woodbury

Here’s CNN’s take on the Virginia Senate Race:

CNN's map of the 2006 Virginia Senate Race

What’s interesting: Color gradation makes it easy to see each candidate’s regional strengths. In effect, since “Other” did not make a showing, the full gradation is from saturated blue (DEM) through white (tie) to saturated red (GOP). The key could be redesigned to demonstrate this.

What’s missing: Names of cities. Ability to compare the separate “Webb Strength” and “Allen Strength” maps in tandem.

Here’s the New York Times take on the House of Representative races, nation-wide:

New York Times map of the 2006 U.S. House of Representatives races

What’s interesting: The geographical map first displayed morphs to present each congressional district as an equal unit. Click on any state to see the district numbers.

What’s missing: Ability to toggle back to a geographical view.

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

November 1, 2006, 3:15 pm

The One Page Powerpoint of Iraq

By Henry Woodbury

To track the situtation in Iraq, the United States Central Command turns to visual explanation. A slide shown in a recent classified briefing includes a one-dimensional heat map — what the New York Times calls a “color-coded bar chart” — to present an “Index of Civil Conflict”:

Iraq: Indications and Warnings of Civil Conflict

Befitting the news angle, reporter Michael R. Gordon focuses on the indicators that inform the index. From an information design angle, the most interesting part of the graphic is the gray arrow labeled “Last Week.” All it would take to create a two-dimensional line chart out of this graphic is to add a time axis and fill in the historical data.  To create a truly multivariate information graphic, the indicators could be indexed to the map, assuming a coherent algorithm for doing so exists. Of course all that information is classified.

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/01/world/middleeast/01military.html (free registration required)

Update: On my first go, above, I missed an obvious extra variable that should be integrated into the index: geography. Where a time series would illuminate trends, a heat chart overlaid on the map of the country would identify trouble spots. Add in the geographic location of the indicators and you could start seeing holes in the data.

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

October 31, 2006, 2:07 pm

Computer Culture

By Henry Woodbury

Computers may still be binary calculating machines, but their social impact is profound. According to a New York Times report on the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board “2016″ symposium, computers have become so integrated into scientific and popular culture as to drive qualitative changes in how people interact — and how social scientiest can study them:

The new social-and-technology networks that can be studied include e-mail patterns, buying recommendations on commercial Web sites like Amazon, messages and postings on community sites like MySpace and Facebook, and the diffusion of news, opinions, fads, urban myths, products and services over the Internet. Why do some online communities thrive, while others decline and perish? What forces or characteristics determine success? Can they be captured in a computing algorithm?

Don’t miss the “a Web Site as a Living Organism” diagram linked to the article. The format is a fairly typical node map, but adroit display of multiple properties of each node makes for an engaging graphic.

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/31/science/31essa.html (free registration required)

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Current Events, Technology, Visual Explanation

October 25, 2006, 2:32 pm

The Informational Power of Scale Models

By Henry Woodbury

Jeff Russell’s Starship Dimensions web site presents visual information of a single type, the scale model. The power of this approach is its universal applicability. Note Russell’s disclaimer:

This site is only intended to compare the actual physical dimensions of the starships herein, and makes no claims as to any other aspect of these ships (firepower, speed, etc.).

In displaying the models, Russell makes some elegant design decisions. The starships (and other objects) are grouped by size, on background-gridded pages scaled from 1m/10px, to the truly enormous 500,000km/pixel. The largest models on each page reoccur on the next, helping define a visual continuum. The site also allows you to drag and drop images on each page (Internet Explorer only), making direct comparisons that much easier.

Maybe I’m old school, but the most entertaining comparison for me was this one:

Boeing 747 vs. Orion Comparison (from Starship Dimensions)

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Visual Explanation

October 11, 2006, 9:36 am

Science and NSF Announce 2006 Visualization Challenge Winners

By Lisa Agustin

The results are in: Science magazine and the National Science Foundation recently announced the winners of this year’s Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge. Categories for competition include photography, illustration, infographics, and multimedia (interactive and non-interactive). The winning visualizations offer new perspectives on a variety of subjects: mathematical surfaces rendered as glass objects, how air traffic looks at night, cellular dynamics, the vasculature of conjoined twins, and the science behind daVinci’s work.

According to Felice Frankel, a senior research fellow at Harvard University and one of this year’s judges, good visualization plays a key role in advancing scientific thought:

The science community needs to discuss the enormous contribution good visual translations can bring to both communication and advancing the thinking behind the science. Critically thinking about what makes an honest and successful representation and raising our standards can only be beneficial for the science community as a whole.

The site includes a slide show of this year’s winners as well as links to results from previous years.

Materials Informatics slide

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Visual Explanation

October 4, 2006, 3:53 pm

Visual History

By Henry Woodbury

The Maps of War Web site currently features an animated map of the Middle East that asks and answers the question “Who has conquered the Middle East over the course of world events? See 5,000 years of history in 90 seconds…”

Roman Empire replacing Greek and Macedonian Empire

In its final sequence, the entire history is replayed in very fast time with the cities of Jerusalem and Baghdad as anchor points. The replay evokes a theme: impermanence, instability, an unknown future.

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

September 29, 2006, 3:23 pm

We Feel Fine

By Chris Jackson

There’s a bunch of ways to talk about We Feel Fine: It’s Web 2.0, social networking, Flash UI, and several other buzzwords. But the most interesting aspect to me is the synthesis of data from across the Web that makes a diary of Us.

The magic behind We Feel Fine involves a data collection engine, statistical analysis based on information in the blog (feeling expressed, age, gender, date, location, and weather), and a cool interface that presents the results in “movements.” In the first movement, blog entries are represented by dots and squares that swarm. When you click a dot, the other dots move away from it (to represent looking at someone apart from the group) and the “feeling” snippet from that blog appears. The other movements let you look at the data in different ways, each provoking a different way to respond. And you can filter the data: How were other males your age feeling on a rainy day in your hometown?

We Feel Fine Screenshot

Jonathan Harris and Sepandar Kamvar created the site/application as part of their “exploration of humans through the artifacts they leave behind on the Web.” Put together, these blog artifacts give a composite of our collective emotional state, while respecting our individualities (you can click through to the original blogs, and only publicly published data is displayed).

So what can we make of this, other than to admire the concept or spend some (or a lot) of time playing voyeur? What happens when we map the data against specific events such as the 2004 Red Sox Championship or the 2000 Election Complications? How can marketing people use this? What other information can be gleaned from the mountains of data we publish every second? What are we going to do with it?

Today, as a 39-year-old male in Boston on a sunny afternoon, I feel inspired. And a little nervous.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Visual Explanation

September 25, 2006, 9:12 am

Maps as a Tool for Creativity

By Lisa Agustin

social network mappingThe latest edition of BusinessWeek Online’s IN: Inside Innovation offers its picks for seven tools and trends that companies are using to jump-start creativity. Mapping is included in two instances: as a way of diagramming social networks within organizations, and also as a tool for visualizing collaborative work on wikis via IBM’s History Flow tool. While IN suggests that these tools and trends are used to “accelerate the creative process,” I wish they had elaborated on this point, especially with regard to social network mapping–e.g., Does a bigger network generate more (or better) ideas?

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

September 20, 2006, 4:37 pm

How to Generate New Ideas

By Henry Woodbury

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

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

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

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

Or, to repeat his quote of statistician John Tuckey:

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

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

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

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

September 13, 2006, 11:04 am

How Not to Sell Something

By Lisa Agustin

Spice AdWhile reading the Sunday paper, I came across this advertisement for McCormick spices. While I don’t have a background in advertising, my general understanding is that ads should:

  • Tell you what the product/service is;
  • Say why you need the product/service;
  • If appropriate, convince you that this product/service is better than the competition;
  • Inspire you to act (buy the product/service or do something else).

The other thing I assume is that, in most instances, all of the above should be accomplished in a relatively short amount of time (after all, this isn’t a PowerPoint presentation).

After my initial read, it was clear the ad was for McCormick Spices and involved figuring out the age of your spices. Other than that, the rest of it had me confused:

  • The ad has two spice containers, and the one on the left is clearly the McCormick brand. My first thought: Is the bottle on the right from a competitor (turned around to hide the name)?
  • But further reading (including looking at the teeny writing on the bottle) indicates that both containers are from McCormick and both are too old. Now what?
  • Is black pepper in a tin older? Or is the age of black pepper impossible to determine?

The text at the bottom clears things up only slightly: it asks me the question that should have been at the top of the ad. But then I’m instructed to visit the URL to calculate the age of my spices (assuming I even have a computer).

Two obvious points that may have improved the message:

  • Why not just come out and say what the web campaign suggests (yes, I gave in): For the Freshest Flavor, TOSS (Toss Old Spices Seasonally)? This is much clearer than this print ad.
  • Why isn’t there a picture of the bottle that I should be buying?

The whole experience made me think: Isn’t there an easier way to explain this concept and get me to buy new spices?

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Marketing, Visual Explanation

August 30, 2006, 2:30 pm

A Visual Re-telling of the 9/11 Story

By Lisa Agustin

9/11 graphic novelThe 9/11 Commission Report is now available as a graphic novel. Two veteran comic book creators, Ernie Colon and Sid Jacobson, undertook the task of graphically translating the 600-page volume in an effort to make it more accessible to anyone interested in understanding the findings and their significance. The project was inspired by Colon’s attempt to read the original report which was “well-written, but [made] times, places, and names hard to track.” According to its creators, The 9/11 Report, A Graphic Adaptation is not a sensationalized, dumbed-down comic book, but “graphic journalism” that quotes directly from the report, and aims to be non-partisan and respectful in its visual retelling. As Colon notes, “We’re in the business of clarification.”

From a personal perspective, I’ll admit that I’ve often thought that the Commission’s report is a must-read, not only for its historical importance, but because of its implications for our near future. But its length and density can make it seem inaccessible. Presenting the report’s findings and recommendations in this way will hopefully make it easier for a broader audience to understand, giving further proof of the power visual explanations can have in telling the most complex of stories.

To hear an interview with the authors on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation,” see: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5690970

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

August 11, 2006, 2:44 pm

Visualizing Algebra

By Chris Jackson

My daughters aren’t old enough to experience the joys of algebra yet, but when they are I plan to revisit Oliver Steele’s blog for some inspired thinking on how to explain algebra visually. Steele’s post Visualizing Basic Algebra begins with line drawings representing the associative property for addition:
Associative Property Illustration

and the commutative property for addition:
Commutative Property Illustration

He then illustrates the commutative, distributive, and associative properties for multiplication using squares and cubes. These illustrations could be recreated on a kitchen table with building blocks; they’re tactile (unlike algebra). By making the conceptual visual, they provide that “Yes, I see it now!” moment.

Steele’s post continues by showing visualizations for some more complex algebra concepts: the Product of Alternates, Triangle Numbers, and this one for the Difference of Squares, which states that the difference between perfect squares always is odd:
Difference of Squares Illustration

Steele’s visualizations result from his asking the question, “What would a proof that stayed grounded in visuospatial concepts look like?” In a few years, when one of my daughters grapples with her first algebra problem, I plan to ask her, “What might the problem look like?”

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Comments (1) | Filed under: Visual Explanation

August 10, 2006, 1:58 pm

Animations, Small Multiples and Alex Rodriguez

By Henry Woodbury

Baseball fans may be interested in this analysis of Alex Rodriguez’s current power dropoff.

Visual explanation fans may be interested in swing instructor Jeff Albert’s use of video clips (in the form of animated gifs) and small multiples to support his analysis. The video clip discussion, focused on subtle differences in hip rotation, is fairly technical. More interesting, visually, is Albert’s use of spray charts as small multiples. A spray chart is a scale diagram of a ballpark with a player’s hitting denoted by location and outcome (g for groundout, f for flyout, s for single, h for home run, etc.). Presenting spray charts from 2002 to 2006 (2004-2006 reproduced below), Albert shows that Rodriguez’s home run sprays look different when he is hitting better.

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Comments (2) | Filed under: Sports, Visual Explanation

August 1, 2006, 9:02 am

Podcasting, Literally

By Henry Woodbury

Wave sounds plotted to a cylindrical coordinate systemThe New York Times has a story today on the visualization of whale songs by engineer Mark Fischer:

Mr. Fischer creates visual art from sound using wavelets. Once relatively obscure, wavelets are being used in applications as diverse as JPEG image compression, high definition television and earthquake research, said Gilbert Strang, a math professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an expert on wavelets.

They are popular now in part because they can capture intricate detail without losing the bigger picture, and when presented in circular form (using a cylindrical coordinate system), repeated patterns are even more evident.

While the images have the candylike quality of� iTune’s “Visualizer” they may have practical application in identifying particular whale species and even individual whales. The patterns may also help researchers identify meaning and grammer in whale communication.

On Fischer’s web site, aguasonic.com,� he links to still images and� movies, such as this visualization of the song of a Northeast Pacific Blue.

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July 28, 2006, 11:33 am

A New Dimension to Cancer Research

By Lisa Agustin

New research at MIT indicates that there may be a better way of evaluating anti-cancer therapeutics. Currently, pharmaceutical companies use simplistic two-dimensional assays, or tests, to measure success in stopping metastasis, the process by which cancer cells break away from the primary tumor, settle in a new location, and divide. Researcher Muhammad Zaman discovered the cells move differently in three dimensions:

“Two-dimensional assays ignore the obstacles that cells face in their natural contexts,” said Zaman. “In 3-D, cells move through a thick jungle of fibers, or ‘vines,’ that hinder forward progress.”

Cells need at least some vines to move, as they latch onto the “branches” with claw-like proteins called integrins and pull themselves forward. When Zaman disabled some of these claws, in a manner analogous to the workings of certain anti-cancer drugs, the cells moving across the top of the jungle canopy (in two dimensions) needed a greater number of vines to keep up their pace, while cells plowing through the jungle instead needed fewer vines to maintain the same speed.

For his 3-D study, Zaman worked with one sample at a time, using a special confocal microscope at the Whitehead-MIT BioImaging Center to divide each specimen into virtual slices, generating a new stack of images every 15 minutes. According to MIT Professor Paul Matsudaira:

“[Zaman's] computational model predicted what would happen in virtual experiments and then he was able to go straight to test the predictions with these complicated 3-D experiments. As a result, the sophisticated models of cell movement enhance our understanding of key biological processes, including metastasis.”

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July 12, 2006, 1:11 pm

Architects Using Visualizations (No, We Do Not Mean Blueprints)

By Lisa Agustin

More interesting use of visualizations from the 2006 TED meeting: architect Joshua Prince-Ramus elaborates on the “hyper-rational” process he uses for developing architecture projects. In the case of the Seattle Public Library, the visualizations of client priorities that were literally translated into the Central Library’s physical space are particularly interesting. From the site:

Joshua Prince-Ramus is architect of the Seattle Public Library and principle of REX (Ramus-Ella Architects). Previously, he was U.S. Director of Rem Koolhaas’s Office of Metropolitan Architecture. Through a series of beautiful visualizations, he deconstructs the collaborative process of building the Seattle Public Library, and also offers a sneak preview of his works in progress (The Wyly Theater in Dallas, Texas and Museum Plaza in Louisville, Kentucky).

A “concept book” for the SPL Central Library (which includes details of the visualizations discussed in the Prince-Ramus talk) is located here.

“Ego trip” or accurate rendering? You decide.

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June 30, 2006, 11:20 am

Visual Explanation Meets MTV

By Tim Roy

I was recently sent a link to a YouTube video that someone thought I would find amusing. It turned out to be a music video containing an amazing series of visualizations. While some might enjoy the techno backdrop of this Norwegian band (Roysksopp), it is equally fascinating to turn off the sound and see the various elements both as stand-alone visualizations and the manner in which they are connected.

The visualizations themselves range from process-flows, to pure explanation. I enjoyed seeing the use of a brief isometric projection model, which is the approach we favor here at d/D. It was also nice to see one of our favorite diagrams, Harry Beck’s Map of the London Underground.

And so, to see the video, please click here: Roysksopp — Remind Me.

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June 29, 2006, 2:08 pm

Debunking Myths About the “Developing” World

By Lisa Agustin

For the first time, select presentations from the annual Technology, Entertainment, and Design conference are now available online, including a presentation by Hans Rosling from this year’s meeting. Rosling is a public health expert, director of Sweden’s world-renowned Karolinska Institute medical university, and founder of Gapminder, a non-profit that visualizes critical world development data. With the narrative style of a sportscaster, Rosling focuses on debunking myths about income and mortality in the “developing” world.

Key to his presentation are animated visualizations based on statistics from Human Development Reports of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). Created by Gapminder, these Flash-based animations rely on well-known visualization models, most notably the bubble map. This talk brings to mind two key issues with regard to information design and visualization: First, it underscores the importance of data visualization in representing complex statistical information (the viewer comes away with an understanding of the data more quickly than if it were simply presented in a written narrative). Second, it reminds us that representing complex information visually can only take you so far, and that providing an appropriate narrative may be a necessity, especially if the underlying message(s) are not that obvious.

Hans Rosling’s Presentation at TED 2006 is here: http://www.ted.com/tedtalks/tedtalksplayer.cfm?key=hans_rosling.

Gapminder’s animations are available at: http://www.gapminder.org/

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June 20, 2006, 1:05 pm

Designing On a (Really) Small Scale

By Lisa Agustin

Nanotechnology is science and engineering at the scale of atoms and molecules. Think about these futuristic-sounding scenarios, described by the New Scientist:

Imagine a world where microscopic medical implants patrol our arteries, diagnosing ailments and fighting disease; where military battle-suits deflect explosions; where computer chips are no bigger than specks of dust; and where clouds of miniature space probes transmit data from the atmospheres of Mars or Titan.

Now think about what would be involved in designing these materials and devices–objects that are so tiny that nothing can be built any smaller. The NS Technology blog recently posted a link to NanoEngineer 1, software that lets nanoengineers create moving blueprints for their nanoscale designs. The NanoEngineer site’s gallery of animations includes intricate gears and bearings, among them a first-time simulation of the Drexle-Merkle Differential Gear. (A much larger version of this kind of gear lets the wheels on a car rotate at different speeds as it goes around a corner.) While the static model did a good job of describing the gear’s internal assembly, the animation adds another level of understanding to how the various components work together.

For the New Scientist Technology blog: http://www.newscientist.com/blog/technology/2006/06/nanoengineers-toolbox.html

For more information on nanotechnology: http://www.newscientisttech.com/channel/tech/nanotechnology

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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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May 15, 2006, 11:29 am

Success by Design Conference, Providence, Rhode Island, 4/27/06

By d/D

Introduction

We recently attended the Success by Design Conference, an annual event sponsored by The Center for Design and Business in Providence, Rhode Island, USA (http://www.centerdesignbusiness.org/conf.html). The Center’s mission is to explore the intersection of design principles and business intelligence. This year’s conference focused on innovation in product design and service delivery. The following is a recap of our team notes and conclusions from several key sessions.

“Service Innovation: Design’s New Frontier” by Jeneanne Rae, Co-founder, Peer Insight, LLC

A nationally recognized thought leader for innovation management and design strategy, Jeneanne Rae of Peer Insight, LLC, (http://www.peerinsight.com/) helps organizations recognize and take advantage of critical business opportunities. Services currently represent 80 percent of the U.S. economy and is growing. As this market expands, companies need to think creatively about how to get a competitive edge. According to Rae, infusing service delivery with well-established design skills can lead to innovations in the customer experience. The designer’s skill set is a natural fit for improving service delivery because it encompasses the following:

Empathy. Designing a service experience requires understanding users — not just their goals, but also their emotional, social, and cultural needs.

Broader Thinking. Designers think about the possibilities: What if? What could be?

Visualizing and Prototyping. Designers are used to developing typical scenarios to better understand how and why a product might be used. Some service scenarios can be studied with a physical model (for example, a passenger train car, built to scale); others can benefit from getting user response to verbal, visual, or virtual scenarios.

Iterative Testing. Designers know that good products only become better by repeated testing and iterative improvement.

Integrated Solutions. Design takes into account the perspectives of both users and key stakeholders. Achieving a balance is key.
Rae acknowledged that innovation in service delivery is not without its challenges:

There is no product portfolio. A company that innovates a service will find it challenging to describe the offering in a way that has immediate appeal and can, at a glance, stand apart from the competition. This is where visualization can make a difference.

Services are fuzzy. Unlike products that can use a platform strategy and established pricing model, services require companies to think more conceptually about an offering that is intangible and perishable (can’t be inventoried).

It’s hard to go it alone. Innovating services delivery with design approaches requires some expert help; service companies need to recognize this and form professional partnerships as appropriate.

We found Rae’s talk to be both observant and insightful. Design isn’t (only) about making objects more attractive or fun to use. It’s about understanding what goes into the ideal customer experience, and working to achieve that through research, modeling and testing.

“Designing the Xbox 360 Experience” by Jonathan Hayes, Xbox Design Director, Microsoft

Jonathan Hayes was responsible for leading the development of the Xbox 360 (http://www.xbox.com/), the Microsoft entertainment system known not only for its powerful performance, but also its beautiful presentation. Microsoft’s goal of expanding the audience for Xbox beyond core gamers to a global market demanded a unique collaboration of artists, engineers and researchers. According to Hayes, “technology needs poetry.” But balancing the tension between technology and design required some ground rules:

Structure the process. Because the team was very large and distributed worldwide, establishing a process, milestones, and master timeline was essential to keeping the project on track. Groups worked on specific activities independently, but also had a clear idea of when to converge with the rest of the team to share results and feedback.

Structure the solution space. The subjective nature of design can lead to excessive iterations, sometimes without an end in sight (“The right design? I’ll know it when I see it.”) The Xbox team managed this risk by creating a visual framework for articulating possible solutions: a quadrant system that indexed “Mild to Wild” on one axis vs. “Organic to Architectural” on the other. Stakeholders and users were told to frame their feedback within the context of these terms. This allowed very different prototype designs to be evaluated at a thematic level with specifics deferred for later.

Predefine inclusive design values. Before beginning the design process, the team established the requirements that the new product had to meet. By doing this, the team eliminated the risk of personal preference steering the design solution.

Look at work in context and in person. Throughout the process, the team validated the proposed solution by testing the Xbox with potential users and eliciting their feedback.

Hayes’ session demonstrated that successful design solutions aren’t crafted in a vacuum and often require the input of other talented individuals such as researchers and technologists. To make such a collaboration work, there needs to be agreement on the criteria for success and how to get there.

“Innovate/Resonate: Tools for Change” by Stuart Karten, Principal, Stuart Karten Design

Stuart Karten Design (http://www.kartendesign.com/) is an industrial design consultancy that creates products using a user-centric approach. During his session, Karten outlined a specific process, “mode mapping,” that visually represents observational and ethnographic data. The mode mapping process for human activity typically involves the following key steps:

  1. Do the research, then determining personas for the research subjects and a common set of appropriate “modes.” For example, the modes for a person’s average day might include: family, friends, work, play, rest, transit, etc.
  2. Determine more specific modes for specific inquiries. Peoples’ relationships with their cars might generate modes like: chauffer, errand, commute, maintain, etc.
  3. Create sub-modes for the personas that tie into a primary person’s mode. A “parent” may link to a “child” or a “patient” may be linked to a “caregiver”.
  4. Map the modes against appropriate axes, such as “State of Mind” and “Time” or “Active / Passive” and “Time.”
  5. Add pressure points, or the fixed demands on individuals, features that do not change (e.g., soccer practice schedule).
  6. Mark decision points — points where subject has choices.
  7. Look for patterns across multiple subjects and label them with descriptive terms (e.g., “mad rush”)
  8. Look for ways to improve transitions and decisions within the key patterns.

Karten’s approach to solving product design challenges resonated with our own approach to discovering user goals and needs. Using visual methodologies to translate research into requirements is a powerful tool for creating successful design solutions.

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April 20, 2006, 3:00 pm

Media, Money, and Demographics

By Henry Woodbury

Based on the principle that democracy requires a knowledgeable citizenry, the Carter Center, FOCAL (Canadian Foundation for the Americas), and the University of Calgary have created Mapping The Media, a visual mapping tool that combines demographic data with information about media ownership and political financing:

The map, which will be ‘virtually’ housed and easily accessible on the Internet, also will illustrate connections between media ownership and the networks to which they belong, making evident at a glance if some portions of the country are served by only one media owner or news network or are served by multiple media outlets with the same political affiliation.

Unfortunately the application is astonishingly difficult to use. Compared to Google Maps, the zoom and pan interface is clunky and slow to respond. If you show more than one or two layers of data, the jarring combination of colors, patterns, and icons turns the map into a visual cryptogram.

Part of the problem is the ambition of the project. By differentiating so many separate data layers, only an experienced user will know which ones relate. Data that deserves per-capita presentation, such as campaign dollars, is given in gross figures. The fact that population density is offered as its own layer doesn’t help. The result is likely to encourage misreading of data, confusion between coorelating and unrelated factors, and casual invention of causal relationships.

Completed maps include Canada, Peru, and Guatemala.

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April 20, 2006, 2:47 pm

A Cartogram Portfolio

By Henry Woodbury

Using a population diffusion algorithm, a team at the University of Sheffield, along with Mark Newman of the University of Michigan, have been creating a compelling series of data-driven cartograms. Each shows a world map with territories reshaped to represent a different data set. The math is complex, but apparently highly versatile:

A recent development by Mark Newman and Michael Gastner (described in their paper Gastner and Newman 2004 [http://aps.arxiv.org/abs/physics/0401102/]) has led to the creation of this website; they recognised that the process is essentially one of allowing population to flow-out from high-density to lower-density areas, and hence borrowed the linear diffusion method from elementary physics which describes this process. The algorithm used to create the maps on Worldmapper is a variant of the Gastner and Newman one.

The site contains several dozen cartograms and hopefully more are on the way. Good design decisions, such as using similar colors for regional groups of territories, help with interpretation of the most distorted maps, such as this map of Net Out-Tourism.

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February 10, 2006, 10:04 am

Ambigrams and Inversions

By d/D

Scott Kim and John Langdon are two designers who play with letter forms to create interesting illusions and transformations. These ambigrams (Langdon’s term) and inversions (Kim’s) are easier to see than to describe, so we direct you to each artist’s gallery:

http://www.johnlangdon.net/ambigrams.html

http://www.scottkim.com/inversions/index.html#gallery

In addition to using a separate term for their common invention, Kim and Langdon exhibit different sensibilities. Kim has a mathematician’s instinct for puzzles and brain teasers. Langdon’s more artistic approach lends itself to logo and branding design.

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February 10, 2006, 10:02 am

Locating Last Names

By d/D

Recently we’ve come across two sites that use U.S. census data and other sources to shown the distribution of last names on a map. The results suggest patterns of emigration and influence, though you have to bring your own outside knowledge to intepreting them. Both tools have two major weaknesses. First is the lack of meta-data. For example, we don’t know the sample sizes for different states, a real handicap in interpreting the 1800s displays. Another weakness is the inability of the interface to allow comparisons, either by showing multiple maps at once, or by allowing quick transitions from name to name or date to date.

The geneological software maker, My Family, Inc., has data for both U.S. and England on its Ancestry.com Web site for the years 1840, 1880, and 1920:

http://www.ancestry.com/learn/facts/default.aspx

Hamrick Software provides a similar interface, only for the U.S., which includes data from 1990:

http://www.hamrick.com/names/

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January 13, 2006, 10:21 am

Style and Design Still Out of Sync

By d/D

Recently revised, Jeffrey Zeldman’s classic essay on the difference between style and design still rings true:

“Many young web designers … mistake Style for Design, when the two things are not the same at all. Design communicates on every level. It tells you where you are, cues you to what you can do, and facilitates the doing. Style is tautological; it communicates stylishness.”

The consequence, Zeldman points out, is that experimental Web sites often have little application to the improvement of Web usability:

“[A]fter ten-plus years of commercial web development, [Internet users] still have a tough time finding what they’re looking for, and they still wonder why it’s so damned unpleasant to read text on the web — which is what most of them do when they’re online.”

http://www.adobe.com/motiondesign/MDC_Dialog_Box.html?u%5FsLang=en&u%5FnTextSize=14&u%5FsFontType=sans&u%5FsContent=Style%5FVersus%5FDesign (requires Flash Player 8)

If you can’t see the Flash version above, you can read a PDF here:

http://www.adobe.com/motiondesign/content/en/Dialog_Box/Style_Versus_Design/Style_Versus_Design.pdf

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December 9, 2005, 10:34 am

Creating a Digital Past

By d/D

Conserving digital information is turning out to be a tremendously complicated endeavor. One response is the DSpace Digital Repository, an open source platform for archiving electronic files developed by the MIT libraries and Hewlett Packard. In an article in IEEE’s Spectrum, Mackenzie Smith of the MIT Libraries gets into the details:

[S]aving raw data solves only part of the preservation problem. We also want to be able to read, play, or watch these bits when we need to. Then there are pesky legal obligations, which demand that we be able to guarantee that certain records haven’t been altered by human hands or computer malfunction.

http://www.spectrum.ieee.org/jul05/1568

This is a project we were pleased to work on, creating a visual explanation that MIT can couple with articles and white papers to increase understanding of the technology.

Our DSpace case study on our Web site includes a PDF version of the diagram:

ttp://www.dynamicdiagrams.com/case_studies/mit_dspace.html

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December 9, 2005, 10:31 am

Remembering Saul Bass

By d/D

We suggest a moment of silence for Saul Bass’s AT&T logo, now replaced by a cartoonish revision. The AIGA site has a nice slideshow of Bass’s work in branding, logo and poster design (click on the picture).

http://www.aiga.org/content.cfm?ContentID=677

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November 10, 2005, 10:43 am

Mapping the City-States of America

By d/D

The CommonCensus Map Project presents U.S. Maps redrawn to show the spheres of influence of different cities. The underlying data comes from a short Web survey filled out by anyone who chooses to take to the time to do so.

“This information will finally settle the question over where disputed cultural boundaries lie (like between New York City and Upstate New York), contribute to the national debate over Congressional redistricting and gerrymandering, and educate people everywhere as to the true layout of the American people that they’ve never seen on any map before.”

http://www.commoncensus.org/index.php

The Maps page is here:

http://www.commoncensus.org/maps.php

The concept is reasonably apolitical, which hopefully makes vote-spamming unlikely. However it does represent a missed opportunity. By declining to draw more information from visitors (except for favorite sports teams!), the map of influence can’t be indexed against other data.

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November 10, 2005, 10:00 am

A Gallery of Complex Networks

By d/D

Manuel Lima’s VisualComplexity.com is a bravura attempt to display and describe a wide variety of network diagrams. Each thumbnail on the site’s home page links to a page with more views of the visualization along with details about its origins and meaning. By focusing on almost exclusively on complex networks, the site allows for intriguing comparisons between the different projects:

“The … main goal is to leverage a critical understanding of different visualization methods, across a series of disciplines, as diverse as Biology, Social Networks or the World Wide Web…. [A]ll projects have one trait in common: the whole is always more than the sum of its parts.”

http://www.visualcomplexity.com/vc/about.cfm

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October 10, 2005, 11:07 am

Media vs. Media

By d/D

An exhibition at the Science, Industry and Business Library of the New York Public Library allows visitors to compare ads made for print, radio, television and the Internet. How do these differ? The New York Times’ Sarah Boxer puts it this way:

“With radio and, oddly enough, even with television ads, the humor is largely verbal. With online ads, the wit is almost always visual. In this way they have the most in common with their oldest cousin, print advertising – another medium that doesn’t have a captive audience and must therefore rely on grabby graphics.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/03/arts/design/03boxe.html (free registration required

The exhibition Web site is here:

http://www.online-publishers.org/optin/

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October 10, 2005, 10:56 am

To Illustrate is to Enlighten

By d/D

Science magazine and the National Science Foundation have posted the results of its annual visualization challenge on the publication’s Web site. The inspiration for the challenge is eloquently stated by Curt Suplee and Monica Bradford in the contest’s Introduction:

“Some of science’s most powerful statements are not made in words. From the diagrams of DaVinci to Hooke’s microscopic bestiary, the beaks of Darwin’s finches, Rosalind Franklin’s x-rays, or the latest photographic marvels retrieved from the remotest galactic outback, visualization of research has a long and literally illustrious history. To illustrate is, etymologically and actually, to enlighten.”

http://www.sciencemag.org/sciext/vis2005/

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August 11, 2005, 12:31 pm

Hands-On Visualization

By d/D

Taking visualization to the third dimension, Lego Serious Play is a consultancy program that uses the colorful building blocks as the basis for corporate workshops. Participants use Lego bricks, joints, and gears to model work processes and business strategies. In a typical session, simple building exercises might be followed by more complicated endeavors:

“Groups are asked to capture a work process or dynamic using Lego, and again to explain their creations. The resulting ‘sculptures’ tell a rich story, [Consultant Robert] Rasmussen says. Examples include an upside-down pyramid balancing on its point and a vehicle with an elaborate design, but without the ability to move.”

http://www.idonline.com/features/feature.asp?id=1511

The Lego Serious Play Web site is here:

http://www.seriousplay.com

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July 11, 2005, 1:00 pm

Now You CAN be the Center of the Universe

By d/D

Within reason, of course. The Personal World Map Flash application lets you pick a starting point, then see the bounds of the world in terms of time and budget. The two are not the same:

“The main purpose of the Personal World Map is to give awareness of the user’s actual position in the world in relation to other places by taking into account the ‘effort’ needed to get to a certain destination. Because the Personal World Map is based on flight data, this effort is defined not only by time (travel time) but also by money (ticket fares).”

The quote above is from the “About” page linked at the bottom of the application. For developers, the “Data” and “Details” pages (linked from the “About” page menu) offer a nice overview of how the application is built.

http://www.personalworldmap.org/

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June 17, 2005, 1:13 pm

Name that U

By d/D

Here’s a diversion for designers. Joey Katzen has extracted letterforms from product and corporate logos. The game is to name the source:

http://www.joeykatzen.com/alpha/index.html

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June 17, 2005, 1:11 pm

Cool Clock

By d/D

This Flash-based clock was originally created by Insert Monkey and updated by Anne Jan Beeks:

http://home.tiscali.nl/annejan/swf/timeline.swf

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June 17, 2005, 1:09 pm

A Sideways Pyramid

By d/D

With the release of the new “Food Pyramid” the United States Department of Agriculture presents a case study of how not to develop a visual explanation. By attempting to fit a new data scheme into a existing concept, they’ve created an explanation that is metaphorically and visually incoherent. Without a concept of hierarchy, the pyramid becomes just an oddly-shaped area chart; readers must compare the sizes of skinny triangles to determine the department’s recommendations:

http://www.mypyramid.gov/index.html

The thinking behind the new pyramid is explained in an animated tour:

http://www.mypyramid.gov/global_nav/media_animation.html

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