October 9, 2004
Rock 'n Roll Timeline
My DSL is out, so I'm going to postpone checking this site out in depth, but you may want to go ahead and take a look at the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame Timeline (thanks to Thom on the ID-Cafe mailing list for the pointer).
July 28, 2004
Announcing UXnet: What Lou said...
I've been waiting for Lou to go first, and he has:
Besides a minor quibble (it was UPA and DUX that were scheduled at the same time), Lou has really said this wonderfully. Please read the whole post and not just the part I've shamelessly stolen. Or visit the UXnet site and become part of the community. As Lou says:
But there's so much promise in this concept; what we right need now is support, encouragement and, perhaps, a little courage. And soon, volunteers.
Oh, and we're working on the $$ issue too :).
July 12, 2004
A blog version of show 'n tell
Into photography? Like stories? Then you'd probably enjoy A Picture's Worth. Here's some info:
Officially launched on the 1st of August 2003, A Picture's Worth is a personal project that aims to highlight the inspiration that can arise from a photograph and to capture it in the form of words which in turn can reveal the true beauty of a photograph. Ultimately, the project seeks to inspire and enhance captivating story writing and beautiful photography.
Some of the photos are really amazing, and ya just gotta love how the whole "word of mouth" thing works. Now to find a photo with a good story...
July 2, 2004
Intro to web fonts
Another list goodie: All you wanted to know about Web type but were afraid to ask. If you like this, be sure to browse the full topic list for more.
February 26, 2004
is an inline browser applet for image comparison and manipulation. Users can import images into the applets display area, arrange them in any configuration simply by clicking and dragging, magnify them, and apply basic image processing. The Lightbox will be of potential interest to anyone presenting images on the Web in a context where active comparisonwhat John Unsworth calls a scholarly primitiveis desirable.
There's a screenshot that gives you an idea about how this might be used. Slick!
January 9, 2004
Norman on PowerPoint
Am I the only one who is getting tired of seeing David Byrne in the press as the counterpoint to Tufte regarding PowerPoint?
Well, glory hallelujah! It's not mainstream media (yet), but Cliff Atkinson (who is making a career out of fixing organizations' problems with PowerPoint) has an interview with Don Norman on the subject. I like it because it says exactly what I think about PowerPoint.
Here are some extracts I like:
PowerPoint is NOT the problem. The problem is bad talks, and in part, this comes about because of so many pointless meetings, where people with - or without - a point to make - have to give pointless talks. ...
It's hard to keep up on all the PowerPoint mentions lately, but a good resource if you're so inclined is sooper.org's powerpointless?
Some articles that haven't yet made it to that list but have appeared recently are:
Finally, while browsing the website of a design firm I worked at in the mid-1990's, I came across a real solution to the fundamental problem: designing PowerPoint presentations to serve only as a speaker's aid rather than to serve the audience. Evil Genius (The Good Side of PowerPoint) shows an option to take advantage of PowerPoint's notes capability to design slides that are visually interesting for audiences (and providing basic cues for speakers) and that have notes to support post-session use. The notes field can also be highlighted to support speakers who require more support than the basic outline provided by the visual slides.
January 5, 2004
I hadn't really meant to take a holiday break, but my short vacation from blogging meant a lot of catch up (see below). But I saved the best for last: the metamorphosis of Peter Bogaard's wonderful weblog into a international home for the information design community: InfoDesign: Understanding By Design.
This website is closely allied with a number of other ID-related initiatives, such as the Information Design Journal, the InfoD and InfoD-Cafe email lists, and a number of organizations, particularly the IIID.
Bookmark it ASAP! And if you're an RSS fan, there's a feed for you too.
Cool color wheel
December 31, 2003
Finally, a favicon!
Better late than never? I've finally gotten around to creating a favicon for IDblog (see right for the 32x32 version). Now that I'm using bloglines to stay current with my various RSS feeds, I began to suffer from serious favicon envy.
December 29, 2003
I was browsing IDblog's activity log and noticed that a visitor had searched for Florence Nightingale. In case you weren't aware, Nightingale was an early pioneer of information design, specifically in the field of statistical graphics. I had mentioned her in the chapter I did for Content & Complexity (primarily citing Robert Horn).
Finding this search entry prompted me to do a bit of Googling, and I found a handful of interesting resources. First, there's this gallery of historical milestones in data visualization from York University. In it, there are stories and graphics from those you may be familiar with (Minard, Playfair) and those you may not.
An excellent article for ID history buffs is this Nightingale biography from the University of St Andrews, where I retrieved the image at right, an example of what Nightingale called a coxcomb. In this graphic, each pie-shaped wedge represents a month from April 1854 (just north of 9 o'clock) clockwise to March 1855 (just south of 9 o'clock). The outer greenish wedges represent deaths due to diseases such as cholera and typhus, the inner pinkish wedges represent deaths due to wounds, and the brownish wedges represent deaths due to other causes. This illustrated clearly that the major cause of death in British field hospitals during the Crimean War was not directly attributable to battle.
Statistics fans will also find Florence Nightingale's Statistical Diagrams an interesting read. Finally, real fans may want to stay tuned, as the University of Guelph is undertaking an effort to publish the Collected Works of Florence Nightingale. It looks like the volume related to her statistical work is one of the later ones (volume 14?).
December 22, 2003
A Google hat-trick
How's this for the joy of a strong brand? You can obscure over half your logo and still have it be recognized:
This makes the third Google logo I've commented on (here are the first and second). There are many more worth mentioning (like the one for the Wright brothers anniversary). You can check out the whole series at Google's holiday logo page. If you visit, do be sure to read the 2002 interview with Dennis Hwang, the creator of all these fab images.
December 21, 2003
Tim Bray on PowerPoint
If youre going to escape the tyranny of the bullet point, you have to get away from the idea that whats in your slides is the content of your presentation. Slides arent big enough or rich enough or smart enough to themselves contain any presentation worth listening to for more than about ten minutes. Instead, your slides are a visual auxiliary to your material; no more, no less.
Am I being crass for suggesting this is another "not the tool, but the toolsmith" perspective?
December 19, 2003
Doc Searls on presentations
First, I've got to say I love PowerPoint, just like I used to love Persuasion, and before that I loved MORE, which was the original presentation program. In fact, I'm one of those guys for whom no software ever got in the way of anything other than the time I should spend away from the computer.
There's a lot more useful information about actually doing presentations, which I think supports my position that the problem is not the tool. The real issue is the lack of emphasis on designing something that really supports the audience rather than the speaker. Doc's got some useful real-world suggestions for changing the focus...check it out!
December 13, 2003
Still more Tufte
I'm not sure how I missed this...I must have added Design Observer to my latest RSS aggregator after this entry. Anyways, early in November, William Drentel added a part 2 on Tufte as a sequel to Jessica Helfand's part 1. I did blog the part 1, particularly since I didn't exactly agree with the point (nor did others...see the comments with the entry).
But I find a lot more to agree with in part 2. In particular, I think this is spot on:
...I want to suggest that PowerPoint was probably not a major contributor to the Columbia tragedy: it is pretty clear from the investigation and its final report that many people within NASA and Boeing thought the leaking foam was a (more) dangerous problem, and that the culture of NASA led to these voices being ignored.
Alas, I'm not quite ready, as Drentel seems to be, to buy into the view that PowerPoint is evil. One point that seems to be rather absent from these discussions is the fact that PowerPoint has other options than the bullet point to display information. The fact that speakers and corporations all over the nation (or globe) rely too heavily on bullet points is perhaps properly more an indictment of our bordering-on-zero visual design/literacy skills. There also seems to be very little discussion of the likelihood that the majority of slide authors make slides as a speaker's aid, rather than an audience (or reader) aid. From my current perspective, I wonder whether this might not be another "blame the author, not the tool" situation.
For others interested in this subject, I'm sure you'll want to check out the resources Drentel mentioned: Tufte's recent interview with I.D. magazine and Ian Parker's essay, originally published in the New Yorker: Absolute Powerpoint: Can A Software Package Edit Our Thoughts (published May 28, 2001).
Update, 12/14: Well, according to the NYTimes, PowerPoint isn't evil, instead PowerPoint Makes You Dumb. Yikes. Score another one for the Tufte/Nielsen "isn't spin great?" machinery.
Update, 12/15: Over on heyblog, Andrew echoes my thoughts re Helfand's issues with Tufte (though I didn't use the term "buttheaded rant" :). He does add some additional useful commentary re Tufte's Ask ET forums that's worth checking out. BTW, I work with Andrew's dad...how's that for small world?
December 5, 2003
Lies and statistics
Jeffrey Veen pointed to Jonathan Corum's fascinating analysis of California's state-issued, but misleading, graph of votes by county in the recent special election. A must-read for information graphics fans.
December 4, 2003
Aging eyes and tiny fonts
Over on Digital Web Magazine, Nick has a pointer to this article: Font Size: No Happy Medium. In it, Dave Shea argues that, at some point, it stops being the designer's fault if people aren't happy with text sizes on web pages:
The current standards movement seems to place an awful lot of responsibility on the designer. Its up to the designer to work around browser flaws by not using pixel-value text. Its up to the designer to consider people with perfect vision, low vision, and no vision. Its up to the designer to account for different monitor sizes and resolutions. Its up to the designer to make sure their layout doesnt break when fonts are at 100%, or 150%, or 200%.
Reading the comment trail (at 44 so far) has been quite interesting. I'm very sympathetic to the point that Jim Dabell is trying to make:
The issue of avoiding the users font size isnt about too small fonts. Its about the difference between font sizes on different websites. I have a good browser. I have a good font size. I dont like having to adjust the font size for every new website I visit just because lots of different designers have lots of different ideas on what the best font size is for me.
I have to admit, this has been a bit of a pet peeve of mine. I'm happily surfing along with my 11pt Verdana type and all of a sudden, I'm on an unreadable site. Here's how this looks...you're at a website like Digital Web, which is very readable:
And yes Virginia, I know how to resize type in my browser (I have to...bloug is too tiny for me to read by default as well). But I wish I didn't have to manually set it and unset it while surfing.
However, unlike Jim, I'm actually quite happy with the workaround that Jeroen Coumans provided -- set a minimum type size in Mozilla. For me, Verdana just isn't readable at 8 pts or less on my monitor (1280x1024, 20"). But 9 will do in a pinch. As Jim points out though, this may cause the page to lose relative sizes between styles. Unlike him, I'm willing to put up with this to make my life easier.
November 23, 2003
You may want to file this one away as an example of how graphs can mislead. Dave Weinberger notes that in "an otherwise balanced article on Linux's challenge to Windows," InfoWeek illustrates its points with some questionable graphics. Such as:
The casual reader may miss an important point...the scale on the two graphs. The Windows graph scale goes up to 80%; the Linux graph that appears very similar goes up only to 40%.
I don't know how the graphs were laid out in the print version of the article, though since they aren't on the same page in the online version at InfoWeek (except on the printable version), I suspect the print version is the one that caused Dave to cry foul.
The text of the article is less misleading, clearly noting that:
With Windows, 79% worry about software vulnerabilities and overall quality and 64% about high cost of ownership. With Linux, 40% cite concern about the lack of a complete and fully integrated software environment and 37% about accountability if problems arise.
Thanks to vanderwal.net for the pointer.
November 17, 2003
The DSL comes back tomorrow...yeah! Only two weeks after the move...guess it could be worse. I'll be back to more traditional blogging then. In the meantime, here are a few more interesting links for your blog surfin' pleasure:
November 13, 2003
Here's another collection of (I think) interesting links. As they say, your mileage may vary! What struck my fancy:
November 10, 2003
Future of information visualization
There's been an interesting discussion on the SIGIA list about information visualization. It was originally about the relationship about IA to infovis, which I thought a really cool topic, but it has morphed into a discussion about the general usefulness of information visualization, period.
I've always viewed information visualization as a technology-supported kind of information graphics. Where the latter tend to be two-dimensional and static (think USAToday), the former is typically software intensive, database-driven, and often representing attribute/value pairs that can be viewed in user-selected ways. I've been exposed to how cool infovis can be thru peripheral experience on a infovis prototype for DARPA.
Ah, but there's the rub. Can infovis be commercially successful? That's the gist of the recent discussion. Here are two interesting links that appeared on the list today. First, on the pessimistic side is this interview peterme did with Marti Hearst from UCBerkeley:
Marti forecasts a significant change in how visualizations are approached. In the past, they've been treated as standalone applications ... Where as the key for the future will be incorporating it as a small part in a larger system, integrating it with the rest of the interface. In doing so, this will require visualizations to seriously take the problem that users want to solve into account, a motivation currently lacking from many visualizations.
On the optimistic side, Ramana Rao looks forward to 2007, when he hopes we'll have overcome some past distractions:
We were willing to drop back considerably in interface quality for many years because of the rich sources of information and knowledge, new services, connections to other people available through the Internet. Only now are we getting back to considering simpler and richer ways of interacting with content, services, people.
Mo's design luv
I came across Moluv's Picks today. I'm on dialup for another week until Verizon gets my DSL moved, so I'm not going to surf this site too much for now. But design fans may want to check it out. Too bad there is no obvious RSS feed.
November 5, 2003
Helfand on Tufte
Over on the ID-Cafe list today, there was quite a bit of discussion about Jessica Helfand's recent weblog entry about Edward Tufte re his appearance with David Byrne in Wired (which I mentioned a while back).
It's an interesting read, but I'm not sure I get what seems to be her actual criticism:
Both Byrne and Tufte are self-proclaimed experts. Yet in spite of what they might have you believe, neither are artists -- in that formally attuned, conceptually rigorous way, for instance, that one might look at Jasper Johns or Andy Warhol ...
Huh? That's the criticism that can be leveled by one of the talents of the graphic design field? It's not that I disagree with another of her criticisms:
Tufte's expertise is not only self-proclaimed -- it is also deeply and irrevocably self-serving.
In this area, I think Tufte has much in common with Jakob Nielsen...both are as adept at media spin as they are in their field of expertise. That said, I would far rather see a criticism based on the merit of some of Tufte's actual work (much like this one at Boxes and Arrows re Nielsen) than to point out that Tufte isn't Andy Warhol.
October 31, 2003
A Google Halloween
Since I really enjoyed the Halloween edition this year, I felt it was time again to pay homage to Google's logo designer, Dennis Hwang.
If you're really a fan, you can pick up a couple of Dennis' logos on tees at the Google store. IMO, not enough selection...there should probably be a poster of logos per year at least!
October 30, 2003
Graphic Design USA
My apologies to those across the ponds for this US-centric entry, but I came across Graphic Design USA magazine in a Google search and thought it worth a mention. Turns out you can get a free subscription if you're stateside and remotely involved with the field. They also have a feature or two per issue online; you can review their archives page, which goes back to 2001.
This month's feature is on edgy stock visuals from leading agencies. My fave is the Rupert Everett lookalike in the desert (see right).
Other interesting features include designer-friendly companies (who "understand the creative community, develop products and services for that community, and support its endeavors and interests"), trends in logo design, and standout annual reports.
October 23, 2003
Congrats to Mike Lee on an amazing accomplishment: the first photo in the to-be-released-on-Monday photography compilation called America 24/7. You've probably heard of this project, but if not, all the photos in the volume were taken with digital cameras during a one week period last May. A (perhaps?) surprisingly few photos were from amateurs, which makes Mike's one-in-a-million contribution truly noteworthy.
The 24/7 folks (publishers Dorling Kindersley, who also do the cool Eyewitness Travel Guides) have previews of the covers of the state volumes that will be available a year from now. This may be damaging to the pocketbook, as I am very likely to pick up the volumes from states that I've spent time in (or want to spend time in). Too bad they don't have larger images...many of them are visually stunning.
As Mike notes, there is a tendency towards the sentimental, family-oriented photos, but the publishers aren't dummies...at the discounted prices ($35 at either Amazon or Barnes & Noble) this is likely to be one popular coffee table book. And the personalized cover option is a slick feature. This could make a very nice holiday gift this year!
October 20, 2003
Conrad on line thickness
Once again, Conrad Taylor does not disappoint. His Line thickness, a means of expression (PDF, 1.7M) looks at both the reasons why lines in illustrations are important from a cognitive perspective as well as how intentionally manipulating them (both in drawing and through computer-based tools like Illustrator) can aid in reader understanding. I can't wait for part 2!
October 19, 2003
Get yer icons here, hon...
I'm just back from a weekend in Baltimore, where the seven other program committee members and I turned over 400 proposals into what will be STC's 51st annual conference in May. Alas, you'll have to wait a bit before I give any sneak session previews!
We managed to spend at least as much time getting a look at all that balmer (as the locals say) has to offer attendees. From our fab location in the Inner Harbor, we walked or water taxi'd to places like the Aquarium, the touristy Harborplace and the more historic (but full of nightlife) Fells Point. This morning, a few of us took off a bit north for brunch at the very kitschy Papermoon Diner, which has to be seen to be believed...ya gotta love a place that hot glues hundreds of kewpie dolls to the walls for decor!
Anyways, the icon ref in the title refers to an article in Boxes and Arrows titled Learning to Love the Pixel: Exploring the Craft of Icon Design. I'm looking forward to taking some time and giving it the proper read it deserves. But I'm intrigued already by the top pullquote:
Discussing craft as a value of the user-centered process will expand upon typical issues confronting designers, highlighting matters of moral value, innovative potential, and aesthetic character.
Years ago, I did a special issue of Design Matters (PDF; the newsletter of the STC Information Design SIG) that focused on the future of information design as a profession. Some interesting responses there, and the topic of craft came up there as well...see David Sless' comment in particular.
October 16, 2003
More from Clement Mok
Oy, I've had to change the channel...the Yankees have tied it up :(. Courtesy of TiVo, I can watch the rest of the game later if it doesn't go even more downhill. In the meantime, here's a quickie post to take my mind off the game (and the MLB.com score card in the background).
The latest issue of NextD journal has come out with an interview with Clement Mok [ framed | unframed ]. This follows up on his recent Time for a Change call to design professionals, which has also appeared in Communication Arts.
Over on Contact Sheet, Scott provides an interesting take on this call. He also points out that you can get the snazzy version of of this pitch here. I don't mind the Flash presentation, but think it might not have been the best design to assume the reading speed they did. Making folks click next would be bad, but a small speed and/or rewind control wouldn't have hurt!
October 15, 2003
I came across the byrdhouse review today. It's tagline is "Smart talk about architecture, design, and photography." Very nice!
Two entries I particularly enjoyed were modHouse, which shows a series of logo comps that were developed for a client, and a recipe for color, which describes a neat way for coming up with a natural color palette for design.
The latter is cool just because it is such an easy technique to reproduce. The former is cool because it exposes something from the field of design that I'm not sure is common in the field of web design, and that's the idea of exploring lots and lots of solutions to a design problem.
I think this is related to the problem with high-fidelity prototypes. Once you get close to something that is real, it makes it much harder to go outside the box and consider a design that isn't simply an extension of a known design.
October 13, 2003
CFP: Visual and Spatial Reasoning in Design
Into visualization? This may work for you...it's the call for papers for VR'04: Visual and Spatial Reasoning in Design, which will be held at MIT in Cambridge, MA, next July 22-24, 2004:
The design process has become the focus of an increasingly intense research effort. Of central importance in designing is the interplay between two types of knowledge - abstract, conceptual knowledge and perceptually based knowledge. Visual and spatial reasoning are the cognitive and/or computational processes that link these two types of knowledge and it is this aspect of the design process that forms the focus of the conference.
Based on the last conference's accepted papers, this is fairly academic. Submissions due January 23, 2004.
October 2, 2003
Logo change wikipedia style
I was doing a paper on wikis and stumbled across an interesting logo design effort for the Wikipedia. On the left is the old logo; on the right is the new logo:
What's really interesting is how they went about changing their logo wiki-style. You can find information about the voting, the logo ratification process, among lots of others. But what's really interesting are the final logo variants -- they are already discussing alternates to the new logo. Some very slick designs there.
September 28, 2003
Where do bullets belong?
Speaking of PowerPoint, just what is the deal with outdented bullets? I think they are wacky. Maybe my problem with them is that setting something outside the primary left margin would seem to indicate that the object deserves more emphasis than the primary text--which is typically not the case with your average bulleted text. Or maybe it's some psychological need (read: Catholic guilt) from my youth, and the idea of going "outside" the boundary of the primary text is something you just don't do.
I'd love to hear two cents (or more) from the typography crowd.
NYTimes on PowerPoint
The recent media fascination with PowerPoint continues, with the latest coming from the New York Times (free, registration required):
Is there anything so deadening to the soul as a PowerPoint presentation?
The article goes on to rather superficially deal with the question of whether "PowerPoint-muffled messages have real consequences, perhaps even of life or death." The article summarized Tufte's analysis of one of the slides Boeing assembled related to the recent Columbia disaster this way:
Among other problems, Mr. Tufte said, a crucial piece of information that the chunk of foam was hundreds of times larger than anything that had ever been tested was relegated to the last point on the slide, squeezed into insignificance on a frame that suggested damage to the wing was minor.
As I just commented on the ID-Cafe list, I wonder if his analysis isn't really a bigger indictment of a human (or business?) tendency to either avoid saying something your superiors don't want to hear or the inability to actually find the relevant facts in a sea of data.
With all its faults, is PowerPoint really the reason that this key piece of evidence was buried where it was?
September 25, 2003
To caption or not to caption?
This recent First Monday article on the writing photo captions for the web is an interesting counterpoint to nowords.org, a photo gallery of satellite images and illustrations (the latter almost look like they could have been microscopic images). At least in the case of the satellite imagery, I would have loved to have known what I was looking at. Alas, no clue, not even ALT text.
September 12, 2003
Public domain images
Here's something that's worth bookmarking (gotta love wikipedia!). It's a list of public domain image resources. Do note the caveat:
The presence of a resource on this list does not guarantee that all or any of the images in it are in the public domain: you are still responsible for checking the copyright status of images before you submit them to Wikipedia.
Thanks to xblog for the pointer.
August 3, 2003
The emergence of New Media has stimulated debate about the power of the visual to dethrone the cultural prominence of textuality and print. Some scholars celebrate the proliferation of digital images, arguing that it suggests a return to a pictorial age when knowledge was communicated through images as well as through words. Others argue that the inherent conflict between texts and images creates a battleground between the feminized, seductive power of images and the masculine rationality of the printed word. Eloquent Images suggests that these debates misunderstand the dynamic interplay that has always existed between word and image.
Thanks to MGK for the pointer.
July 11, 2003
Are people still worrying about browser-safe palettes? Maybe I'm out of touch, but to some extent, it's hard to believe. I did an article back in 1997 for STC's magazine Intercom ("Coming to Grips with WWW Color") , and at that time, I provided a long explanation about the hardware and software issues related to web color. My advice at the time was to relax your expectations about web color...trying to match some specific PMS color was enough to drive anyone insane.
It's a fun site and extremely well done, so if you like to play with colors, by all means check it out. But are there really folks who still worry about browser safe? I find it hard to worry about that given the wall of TVs at Best Buy or Circuit City. All those different hues for the same programming? I think that giving up any ideas about color consistency online is the way one can enjoy life more :).
July 9, 2003
Over on today's Daily Report from Zeldman, he announced the availability of royalty-free stock icons for web developers (they're nice). But in his praise of them, he notes that at "US $350 per collection, they cost less than two hours of a graphic designers time."
I don't know about you folks, but we're not paying $175 per hour for graphic design. So...typo? Or something I'm just completely missing? (Is NYC that expensive?)
June 17, 2003
So, as most of us know by now, Tufte is extremely dismayed by the "trillions of slides" being turned out by presentation tools like PowerPoint. So much so, he wrote an essay on the subject, which he'll happily sell you for just a few bucks. If you'd like to get a preview before you consider plunking down your cash, I'd check out Aaron Swartz's funny (well, I thought it funny) PowerPoint Remix, Tufte's essay presented in essentially PowerPoint form.
But here are a few presentations I've come across recently whose slides really make me wish I'd been at the events. But the actual artifacts are pretty nice, and while I'd love more context, I found all of these interesting and informative.
Is a Picture Worth a Thousand Words? (PDF) by Jean-luc Doumont, at the inaugural meeting of STC's chapter in Eindhoven, the Netherlands (8 Mar 2001). I was lucky to get the opportunity to meet Jean-luc this past May at STC's conference in Dallas, where he presented a very popular workshop (twice, per my request) on understanding visual communication.
Sharing Knowledge is Better than Having It (PPT) by Peter Bogaards at STC Belgium's chapter meeting (23 May 2003). The sub-title is "Structure, Content, and Form in the Information Design/Architecture of Information Artifacts" and leads off by introducing what's in a name? What more could you ask for :)
IA as Conversation: It's Not Just What You Say but How You Say it (PDF) by George Olsen at the IA Summit in Portland (23 Mar 2003). George looks at how the metaphor of conversation can be used to do better designs.
The subjects are all interesting and relevant, but what is particularly nice is to see what happens when someone with good graphic/visual/comm design sense approaches their slides. BTW, Marc Rettig's interaction design history in a teeny little nut shell (presented at CMU in February 2003) is in this category too; I mentioned it back in March.
June 11, 2003
Designs & Destinations
Boy, I wish this conference was a car- or train-ride away (a two-day conference and an across-the-pond venue aren't exactly complementary). But folks near London may want to check out Designs & Destinations, which is being held July 3rd and 4th. Here are the themes:
Can better communication and well-designed information have
an impact on the bottom line?
Their website is a bit curious (no web conventions for them), but the sessions look worthwhile. If you're nearby and can afford 500 pounds, it might be worthwhile to go and rub elbows with Erik Spiekermann :)
June 1, 2003
Dilbert does Mars vs Venus
Hmm, not sure if this is Dilbet being behind the times or getting on the usability bandwagon, but it was amusing to see a variation of the Mars vs Venus (read: usability vs design) played out on the comic stage:
May 27, 2003
Images and context
What's the secondary information in the design of money? That Andrew Jackson had some spinal deformity not mentioned in the history books of my youth?
On the left is Andrew from the latest $20 bill. On the right is Andrew's portrait, which is mostly intact in the $20 used up to the mid-1990s. Can you say context is key? What is clearly high collar in one image is "spinal deformity" in another.
This site shows that Andrew made it relatively unscathed until 1996, when the US made its last change to the $20 bill, which did a tighter head shot compared to earier bills.
Given all this, it is funny to read the language on the US Treasury's press release: "The most distinctive change in the new currency design is the color. ... Even with the new colors and other features, the world will recognize the new notes as distinctly American. Everyone who sees the note will know instantly what it is and what it stands for. "
For some, it looks like that is osteoporosis :). Oops!
May 2, 2003
Clement Mok on design
Well duh. I stopped this morning at a bricks and mortar bookstore to pick up the May/June Communication Arts after reading this entry from Mark Bernstein. The link to the magazine site in Mark's blog goes to the magazine TOC, which provides no links. Yesterday I assumed that meant the column wasn't online. You know what they say about assuming :)
Anyways, after a little lunchtime URL hacking, I've found that Mok's Designers: Time for Change is indeed online.
Since this is a quick lunchtime blog, I don't have time to comment extensively, but as you might imagine, I certainly found this interesting given last week's discussion on IA and ID:
Currently, we spend way too much time as professionals explaining—often in contradictory terms—what it is that we do. The value of design is defined in thousands of different conversations in as many different individual vocabularies. While these views are doubtless sincere, they would be much more valuable if they were expressed in the context of a shared professional vocabulary and ethos. If every physician made up his own set of definitions and beliefs about anatomy and disease on an improvised basis, the medical profession would still be in the Dark Ages. Yet the design profession functions as if each individual designer is selling his or her services in some sort of terminological vacuum, with nothing more substantial than his or her personal charisma and taste to serve as the foundation for vast edifices of public influence.
I'm not sure what Mok is up to next. He's finishing up his term as prez of AIGA next month, and I see from the magazine that he's no longer with Sapient. I look forward to his next adventures!
April 28, 2003
I'm so old...
Hey, I thought I was done for the night, but this one caught my eye. The good news is that guru Zeldman is now doing an RSS feed. But the following caught me by surprise. The image on the left is the default button for this feed. The image on the right is the button for the mouseover.
Yee gads! I know I'm close to bifocals, but am I the only one who thinks that these two are so close to each other as to be, umm, less than entirely useful as far as cueing behavior goes?
Here's the main site if you want to check it out on your browser/platform. It occurs to me that the subtle change is more useful in the nav entries above the XML button, since this slight color change is at least more obvious against the standard color (which is what you see on the main nav items).
April 16, 2003
How to draw
If you are at all interested in issues of visual literacy, you'll probably want to take a look at Conrad Taylor's But I can't draw!
I agree with Conrad's assertions that this is a valuable skill that is underdeveloped because our educational system "prizes literacy and numeracy, but not visual thinking." And in fact, when I get a free moment, I'm going to follow up on the intro drawing class I took last summer.
April 15, 2003
Not a logo, but...
Yet another entry in the "hmmm, isn't that curious?" category. On the left, below, the standard Maryland license plate. And on the right, the new plate, which is meant to honor Maryland's farmers.
I'm sorry, but I find the new plate just a bit odd. Here in DC, the transient population is a given, so seeing out-of-state plates is not uncommon. So when I started seeing the plates on the right, I just assumed they were plates for New Mexico or Arizona. When I got a closer look, I was just a bit perplexed. I guess what really got me was the realistic farmscape on the bottom of the plate that just didn't seem to go with this Hawaiian sunrise thing they have going.
I wonder if the designer figured out that he/she needed to be considerably different from the other Maryland specialty plate (which I prefer to Virginia's Chesapeake Bay plate):
Maybe he or she thought that putting in a realistic blue sky for the farm plates might have been too similar to the Chesapeake Bay plates? Maybe. And it's not so much that there's anything wrong with the sunrise picture. But is it terrible to admit that when I think Maryland and red sky, the current political climate comes to mind in a not-so-pretty way?
April 10, 2003
More logo fun?
First of all, let me say that I've long held that it is far easier to critique than create. I know...duh. But hey, isn't that part of user experience? Knowing that the great unwashed may not even remotely appreciate the stuff the masters create?
I think it's fab that DWM provided this case study in logo design. It's a useful glimpse into the process, and they deserve lots of credit for making themselves a bit of a target by going public. But I wonder if this where they might have zigged when they should have zagged:
The concepts we picked along the way were strongly influenced by the personal flavor and suggestions of the reviewers and my style of design.
Interesting comment. Doesn't this suggest that you might wind up with a logo that is the equivalent of the company org chart on the home page? The folks who paid for it like it, but what about everyone else?
And to comment on a comment from the WebWord discussion, I didn't see the arrow in FedEx until Jared Spool pointed it out in a session he did at an STC conference years back. My recollection is that he said they spent just about 7 figures to get that white space the way they wanted it. (And then I recall he commented about the fact that the arrow points the wrong way--backwards--half the time :).
I probably shouldn't be the one to point out problems with logos. The logo/nameplate I've used for the ID SIG's newsletter, Design Matters, is one of those goofy "well, the red exclamation-like thing is like an idea, and the black circle is the team that hatches it" or something like that. The logo was designed by a CMU grad student, who it turns out was more text-based than graphic-based. The logo was designed in Quark, so I wound up re-doing half of it in Illustrator and the other half in Photoshop so I could give my printer the separations.
So that makes me just like the DWM folks...'cause I actually like our little nameplate. Tho I'm not too attached to it...I've offered to let folks redesign the sucker over the years, and haven't had a taker (what am I saying...we're nearly all tech writers...who would take on this task :).
Is it me, or is this something that is *really* well suited for focus groups? And isn't this what other media (particularly the film and television industry) have been doing for decades? I wonder how many "real" people got to comment about Burger King's new bun before they switched?
April 3, 2003
A new logo for UPS
A wrrl from DCWW alerted list members to UPS's recent change in logo:
Some were sorry to see an icon (the original UPS logo was designed in 1961 by Paul Rand) go. Others made comments to support why logo design is such a tricky business. One thought that adding the new logo to the front of redesigned UPS logos might suggest the impression of superheroes. Another thought the new logo reminded her of a fingernail. Oops!
This kind of comment reminds me of my first reaction to the revised Lucent logo (of a few years back) which reminded me of a soggy Cheerio. At the time, I'd heard that the cost for this logo was in the seven figures. In more recent times, I've heard the story that this logo was inspired by Carly Fiorina's mother.
Now if only someone could explain why USAir went to all the expense and trouble to become USAirways?
March 30, 2003
More monster downloads
I'm in the process of researching the issue of online branding and non-profits (have any good resources? drop a note below or email me). While surfing, I came across this PDF version of a PowerPoint presentation called Information design: a map to meaning. (1.3M) If you're current with your Wurman and Tufte, you won't find anything really new; this is a summary of their main points. That said, I did like this quote from the presentation:
Think of an expression of an idea as a map to its meaning.
I like to think that I'm reasonably proficient at communication. But every once in a while, I get a response back from someone (often when I've communicated via email) that suggests that we just didn't connect. The metaphor of the map is an interesting one, as it brings to mind the challenges inherent in navigating using one...and that some people are better than others at it. This reminds me of David Dobrin's Writing & Technique, which starts off with a story about the communication challenges inherent in giving directions.
The other download is a master's thesis on the subject of decoding visual language elements in news content (link goes to a main page). Here's part of the abstract:
News delivery in this country is increasingly comprised of carefully crafted displays of visual information. As consumers of information, however, most of us have never been taught to critically read or decode images and other graphic displays of information in the same ways that we have been taught to analyze verbal communication. ... This thesis builds on elements from [related] disciplines in order to create a prototype for the critical analysis of visual news content utilizing the tools of interactive visual design.
The thesis is 3.4M. Hat tip to Al Wasco for sharing this item on the citizendesign list.
March 25, 2003
E-publish and perish?
Ouch! That's what you can get for being nice. A free PDF download and if you're not so lucky, a bandwidth bill from your WSP for $15K :(. See "Publish (Electronically) and Perish?" from TidBITS.
More importantly, if you are doing PDF publishing, you may want to check out PDF Enhancer, which apparently does for PDFs what DeBabelizer does for graphics.
Thanks to Gordon Meyer of Usable Help for the pointer (and nice weblog).
March 18, 2003
InfoDesign and the NCAA
Hey boys and girls, it's info design and current events! (And no, it's not Iraq!)
Check out this great review of web-based NCAA brackets. This is also a fab interaction design example, but the presentation of the brackets themselves make it a very interesting ID application.
Now if only I cared about NCAA basketball :).
Fun with CSS
Over on webgraphics, Nate has found some great pointers to ways to use CSS to do (reasonably) compliant techniques related to background images and text for things like headers and drop caps.
March 12, 2003
This one is at least marginally related to information design :). They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, in the hands of some, a picture and a dozen or so words make for some very funny ready.gov satire:
The fun thing is that these pictures are so ambiguous they could mean anything!
For example, the government's caption for the image at right is:
March 7, 2003
Cool color tools
Here's a website with some cool color tools. It's EasyRGB, and my faves are the color harmonies and color calculator tools. But if you care about color matching for print or monitor calibration, you'll want to check out the rest of the site.
This'll be a long hat tip...thanks to Jenny, who got it from Zeldman, who saw it originally from Jeff. BTW, if you're into web design, you should check out Jeff's page, as he's got quite the list of links to browse.
March 4, 2003
Ode to John Tukey
Tukey is an important figure for information designers (particularly those who are interested in information graphics). In fact, Tufte credits Tukey as the inspiration for what later became his first book (The Visual Display of Quantitative Information).
March 3, 2003
An org for the font folks
Jason announces the formation of the International Font Technology Association (IFTA), whose roles are:
January 21, 2003
Kiss bad ads goodbye
Gunnar Swanson seems to be saying useful things on nearly every list I'm on (and that's a lot of lists). Today on the citizendesign list, he pointed out Andy Goodman's Why Bad Ads Happen to Good Causes:
Whether your work involves creating print ads from scratch or reviewing finished products, Why Bad Ads Happen to Good Causes can help you work smarter. Based on an unprecedented 10-year study of public interest advertising, and incorporating interviews with leading practitioners in the field, this book will help you understand once and for all what readers are looking for and whether or not your ad is giving it to them.
I haven't had a chance to give this a really solid look-through, but I won't be surprised if some of this is valuable to designers of information products other than ads. There's a free download, so I'd be sure to take a look!
January 14, 2003
Alright, the web tells me that "mishegas" is Yiddish for craziness. Not sure this entry applies, but as a former WBCN listener, I just like the word and figured it'd make a good title. So sue me if this isn't really "crazy." Shall we say it's just a bit more freeform than these entries have been in the recent past? Let's begin!
First of all, one of these days I am really going to have to do some kind of commentary about the weblog. One thing that struck me recently is how compelling a personal weblog is when it is dotted with even low-res photos (see Mike Lee's personal blog on Hiptop Nation as a terrific example). Mike does his normal design/IA blog at curiousLee. This blogging thing can be scary...my co-worker Amy (who is Mike's wife) is getting used to hearing about her personal life from her friends, family, and co-workers who are checking in on Mike :).
Anyways, I'm so glad I've been keeping up with Mike on Hiptop, as he posted a link to this fabulous story about a guy with a waterlogged camera that is now taking magic pictures. If you are a visual type, this is worth checking out.
Other things that have been compelling: a link from the folks at xblog that has led to a couple of interesting tidbits. First there's a neat idea for using a scanner to do illustrations. There's also a great page on using type as design. If you like these, you may want to check out their other tips as well.
This final entry compels me to ask...are IAs to PCs as IDs are to Macs? Anyways, Thomas suggests that the new 17" Powerbook has a heavy-duty lust factor. That was true in my office until I whipped out a piece of tabloid-sized paper, and the reaction was "gee, that wouldn't fit in my backpack." I think this plus-sized laptop may be nice for designers who need to do lots of on-the-road presentations. But it seems a tad large to be really "portable."
January 8, 2003
I continue to be fascinated by the US Mint's state quarters. So I followed the pointer peterme provided to a site that encourages California residents to vote for their favorite out of 20 semi-finalists. Kudos to Governor Davis who "believes that it is important to have commentary from the public to help realize this vision." They don't actually get to choose, but at least they get to provide some feedback.
Both peterme (and later Christina) wondered about some of the designs, noting that one or more were, ahem, not exactly the standard you'd expect for this stage of the process. The one in the upper right is my choice (here's the large version of it).
My rationale? First, only one of the first 20 states has used an image on their state's design that was specific to a single city within that state--New York, which used the Statue of Liberty. Oh, perhaps the race car on Indiana's is city-specific. And I see that the Illinois quarter (not in circulation yet?) has a tiny Chicago skyline on theirs. I just wonder if I was a California resident of San Diego, LA, or Sacramento (or any other city other than San Fran) whether I'd be happy if the Golden Gate Bridge was the primary symbol on the quarter. And I think those that tried to fit in multiple symbols (like film or trees or animals along with the bridge) were too cluttered...not elegant.
In addition, I don't know if I penalized the ones that didn't render their design in realistic fashion and/or give points to the ones that did. I appreciated the coin-like rendering, but I particularly liked those that incorporated the state-specific copy (California - 1850 on top, 2005, E PLURIBUS UNUM on the bottom). It's not a penalty if they weren't instructed to deliver their designs this way (and thus something the state should have thought of, perhaps). But I think it's that same lesson I learned years ago at the Four Seasons in Austin. Not eveyone will notice attention paid to little details. But if they do notice, they will likely think better of you (and your product). Either way, an interesting lesson, methinks.
Finally, I think that some of the designs had details that looked okay in their large versions but would get lost actual size...or as the Mint says, wouldn't be "coinable." But I love the idea of a quarter with the sequoia's rings radiating out from the center of the quarter; if they could coin the branches of that awesome charter oak for Connecticut, the rings should be easy). California's decision-makers may well decide that some other symbols (state border? gold rush? Hollywood?) need to be there. But for my money, I'll take #17!
Design Research News
From Ken Friedman:
DRN is now the largest design research publication in the world -- and one of the most successful electronic newsletters in any field. Despite the success of DRN, circulation is below critical mass for our field. Given the number of scholars, teachers, and research students active in design research around the world, we must grow several times more to approach critical mass.
December 10, 2002
December 7, 2002
New direction for AIGA
Back before there was an AIfIA, there were a number of associations who wanted to convince the IA crowd that they'd be a good home. One of these was AIGA ED, who reasonably felt that experience design was a great umbrella for what the IA crowd were doing. However, this was not an obvious fit, particularly for the polar bear IAs. For them, AIGA was about graphic design, a presentation layer field, while IA was more about things not quite so visible...a structural layer field. (Yes, I oversimplify, and I certainly don't speak for any particular IA.) I bet that it didn't help that there was also the high cost of entry for AIGA.
But one thing is true...AIGA has apparently made good on its plans to become more than an association for graphic design. From the recent issue of Communique, AIGA's monthly email newsletter:
At its fall meeting, the AIGA national board ratified a new direction for the organization. AIGAs highest priority will be to communicate the value of designingas a way of problem solvingto the business community.
Indeed. This is apparently reflected in the fact that the latest issue of GAIN, AIGA's Journal of Design and Business, has as its feature an article on the Airstream trailer. Not exactly a graphic design subject!
I think this is an interesting move. On the one hand, I wish they'd simply moved to focusing more on communication design...Lord knows there are still horrible information/communication products out there. On the other hand, an association that helps shine a spotlight on design, the useful business process, can only be a good thing.
I am curious about how much the new AIGA's mission overlaps that of the IDSA, the Industrial Designers Society of America. Of course, having somewhat overlapping missions doesn't seem to have hurt IEEE and ACM.
Finally, one last note about IDSA. I made a similar observation over a year ago, but this continues to amaze me. The IDSA site is essentially the same today as it was when it was designed by MAYA Design in 1996. I was there, though I didn't make any contributions to the design (but I comfort myself thinking I may have done just a little in the production!). Of course, had I contributed to the design, I would never have let them do a framed site :). But nonetheless, wherever Nick Sabadosh and Noah Guyot are today, they should be very pleased!
November 27, 2002
Tufte and IA
Dan Brown has done a nice article over on Boxes and Arrows titled Three Lessons from Tufte. Because he's talking about documentation (specifically IA deliverables), this is a good read for tech writers and info designers as well.
November 26, 2002
Sean's comment (on Monday...can't link to the entry itself) about the high cost of entry to AIGA got me to 1) comment and then 2) update the following list, which was originally posted to the old IDblog a year or so ago.
This new version adds in AIfIA and updates each listing with the association's student membership rate and policy.
November 12, 2002
Before & After's back!
What an unexpected surprise! I just received volume 6, issue 1, of Before & After in my mailbox. I had subscribed to B&A back in 1995, just after I had started work at MAYA and had my first real exposure to good design.
B&A was a great resource for folks new to design. In each short issue, editor John McWade walked you thru projects that, as he said, showed you how to "design cool stuff." Surely not a substitute for more formal training in design, B&A was nevertheless part design tutor and part tool tutor (McWade would also give tips on using Photoshop or Illustrator).
Alas, some time in 1997, B&A stopped publishing. Months later, a single issue appeared, only to have the pub go down completely in 1998. In this new issue, McWade pleads mental and emotional depletion. Though my memories at the time were that subscribers weren't handled all that well...or handled at all. I think I sent an email or two (one of which may have been a bit nasty, sigh), but finally gave up on the rest of my subscription.
Well, here's credit to B&A and publisher McWade. Per the recent issue, my "subscription has remained intact" and I'm on the hook for the next two issues too. Big yeah!
So caveat emptor, but...if you'd like to learn lots more about design, I'd definitely check out Before & After. It's not for hard-core designers, and it's probably not for those who wouldn't open Photoshop or Illustrator if you paid them. But it works for me. (I'm psyched enough that I went ahead and ordered all the back issues I was missing!)
September 30, 2002
Mark and Gesture
George Whale writes on the PhD-Design list:
Tracey, the online journal dedicated to contemporary drawing issues, is pleased to announce the publication of 'Syntax of Mark and Gesture', a collection of fascinating articles examining gestural aspects of drawing. Contributors include John Willats (author of 'Art and Representation'), design researcher Gabriela Goldschmidt and artist James Faure Walker.
September 29, 2002
Find a font
September 19, 2002
A history of type
Charles Foster, of Plenty of Taste fame, has found a very nice little history of type. Charles notes that it is "written from a French perspective it has different insights from those which us Brits (and our American friends) often share."
This is making the blog rounds and is so relevant that I find the need to be redundant:
"The Fontscape font directory is designed to help you find the ideal typeface for your application, whether it's a publishing project, graphic design, logo, or simply a font for your document."
IDblog is Beth Mazur tilting at power law windmills. A little bit Internet, a little bit technology, a little bit society, and a lot about designing useful information products. Send your cards and letters to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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