Category Archives: Design
I recently came across this great attempt at some data visualization at my local YMCA. As you can see, the table display, using sugar packet as the unit of measurement, compares the sugar content of various common snack food items. But the reason why I think this was a good “attempt” is that there was one thing I wish it did to make this a really great chart rather than just a great attention-getter. I wish they kept a consistent baseline. Why am I being so nit-picky? well, because ever since reading The Visual Display of Quantitative Information I’ve become a chart snob. But besides that, I’ve developed an appreciation for how much impact a good chart could have and how that impact is lessened by seemingly small details.
So for example, the biggest surprise take away for me on this was how much sugar is in a bottle of grape juice compared to the evil (but irresistible) Reese’s candy. If you take the time to count the packets, it’s Grape Juice: 8, Candy bar :5 . With a consistent baseline, this would’ve been immediately evident, especially if the sugar packets for the grape juice spill over the edge of the table.
But chart snobbery aside, the staff at this YMCA deserves some kudos for this kind of guerilla data viz.
More of it I say.
So. What do you know about North Korean Gulags? Perhaps you’re like us before we started on this project. We knew absolutely nothing. I mean, that North Korea had prison camps was not surprising to me, but gulags? That’s sort an old-fashioned Russian thing, isn’t it? No. And one in every 185 people in North Korea is a political prisoner. Which is a really astonishing statistic. Whole families are swallowed into this terrible system of imprisonment.
Paragon was approached by the Bush Institute to work on an infographic to draw attention to a report they had written on these somewhat hidden North Korean Prison Camps. Previously we had done two motion graphic videos with them, one on Post 9/11 Veterans and another on the positive impact Immigrants have on the US Economy. Like these other projects, the North Korean piece accompanies a longer study, and hopefully, even if it didn’t get people to read the full piece, will get the important information across. This is really where the infographic shines – a lot of information presented in a dense, yet compelling medium.
We started out with an overview of the report, which uses data compiled by the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea and the UN Commission of Inquiry, and a list of bulleted facts and quotes to incorporate. With subject matter like this, and we’ve had some other projects with similarly sensitive subject matter, Drew is always right on the edge, trying to find that balance between getting people to really look at something uncomfortable and respond in a way that is positive, but not making it so wrenching that they look away altogether.
“A lot of it kept me up at night,” he commented when we were discussing the piece. “The facts are so powerful, that you want to do a visual for each one, but at the same time you don’t want to because you don’t want to draw all those things.”
The image research alone was pretty unsettling.
(And these are just the few images we feel comfortable showing you.)
From there, he went old school, with some pen sketches, just a really helpful way to visualize the information in the early stages and work out how to best represent everything our client wants to convey.
I find Drew’s drawing style to be really clean and pretty minimal. There’s an economy to it. I remember watching him working on something once and just really understanding for the first time why I can’t draw, I just don’t see things the way he does. But yeah, it’s unfussy, and in this piece, it was even more so than usual. Which I thought really informed the narrative – fragmented, broken figures, negative space, absence, lines slashing through images. Here’s a great example of this:
Color is a very powerful tool (sidebar: actually, color and how we see it is an awfully interesting thing, and is not actually completely understood. Neuroscientist Mark Changizi has a theory that our ability to see in color evolved to help us recognize emotion in others) but I digress. Drew used military, drab tones to help support the seriousness of the subject matter, and the result I think adds to the unsettling feeling the piece gives.
But enough words now – you can view the entire piece here.
Dive Deeper (if you dare)
I was out driving this last Saturday and caught this piece on Snap Judgement about a family’s North Korean experience. It just crushed my heart. If you have 15 minutes and you’re a glutton for emotional punishment …
I just spotted this nifty piece of graffiti on the way to work. The yellow block was always there, but it took a simple application of 2 dots and an arc to turn an everyday road-side item into smile-inducing awesome. I’m just hoping there’s a hair piece in the making.
I know we designers get picked on sometimes for being sticklers for kerning, but… come on!
We have one around here we call the Holiday Mailer. It’s our annual flexing of the collective brain for our brand. And while everything we do is really an exercise in branding, this end of the year project is one we look forward to. It’s a combination of highly enjoyable and maddeningly stressful, but the results are always worth it, we think.
It all begins, usually some time in October when Halloween still seems a way off, never mind the cluster of holidays in December. This year, it all started with a box. Several boxes, actually. Susan built one. So did Drew. And I’d totally show you one except you’d be deafened by the howls of these creatives wailing in agony that I posted something quite so… Rough.
Anyway – we all tested them thoughtfully and though we had been sure it was where we would begin, we ended up launching in another direction and in the end we decided to combine some rather old technology with something much, much newer.
A book, with a hidden tale behind the familiar Holiday story which would be revealed in a series of animated shorts. And in order to watch those, you’d have to whip out your phone and scan the QR code on each of the spreads in the book.
Speaking of… Ta-dah! Books.
(And speaking of process, three sets of parents were polled on exactly what the BEST shape for the book might be. Baby head circumference and parental arm length turned out to be the critical axes in the geometry calculations. I think that would make a valuable infographic, you know.)
And there were a bunch of other steps and decisions and discussions in between. Of course.
Like – we needed a hero for our hidden tale, a sort of a regular guy, but with some additional qualities…Like his own Twitter Account.
And we needed a villain, but not too much of a bad guy. Here are a few iterations for the coveted cameo.
See what we did there? Who could risk an homage to that internet super-celeb? Not us. Oh-my-goodness-no. (And she was thrilled!)
And because we can’t resist an Easter Egg, or three we hid some familiar (well, familiar to us artifacts in a couple of the spreads.) Which is a nice segue into, well, some of the spreads.
On the bedroom wall is our 2010 Holiday Mailer, the Jingle Bells Letterpress Poster .
Parents everywhere agree, you can try but you can’t keep the kid’s toys from taking over. On the side table is a View-Master, aka the 2011 Holiday Movie View-O-Rama.
Is that a set of Matryoshka dolls there on the mantle? No! Close. It’s just us reaching back in time to the 2008 Holiday Mailer.
Final spread just for fun.
And if you’d like to watch the tale within the tale – here you go!
Of course, just getting the animations completed and a website built and a book published were not the full list of steps from concept to completion. Oh no.
The final step of the Holiday Mailer Decathalon is… The assembly and mailing!
Always a mad dash to the finish. We started out with an accompaniment of Christmas Carols, but around the half-way mark we needed Bob crooning “Everything’s gonna be all right” to help us hold it together.
And we made kids everywhere proud with our level of commitment to the packaging process, neatness be damned.
Stop in the name of love? Sorry – there’s no time.
So. Many. Glue. Dots. Did I really cut those out individually when a strip of three would have been more humane? I did. It’s a long story. Not quite as long as the amount of time it took to peel off all those little squares of paper though. It was a mistake. I apologized. A lot.
And one final Easter Egg for you for making it the whole way through this long blog post – and it comes with a warning – Brace! Your! Ears! And test your reflexes!
Someone at the office has the high score – but it sure as heck isn’t me.
Last Saturday I attended an educational session held at the Creative Coast’s Secret Headquarters entitled “What Can Designers and Business Folks Learn from Each Other?”. The presenters Peg Faimon and Glenn Platt tackled the issue of the apparent gap between what designers and MBAs learn in their respective halls of academia.
“But why is that even an issue?” you ask. Well it’s hard to ignore just how much attention the importance of design in the business world has received in recent years. However, the light speed of change makes it hard for education programs to stay current, causing an ever-widening chasm between what graduates know and what the market needs them to know.
There are specialty programs cropping up like the stanford d.school, and certainly more integration is happening in standard design and MBA programs , so there’s reason to be optimistic. But in addition to the evolving curriculum, public sessions like these are so important for professionals like myself who aren’t in a position to go back to school. These public forums, books, podcasts, online classes form a good ecosystem of further education to help bridge the gap.
So this past weekend’s session set itself the BHAG of giving Designers a condensed MBA and Business types an appreciation for what Designers are taught.
Naturally, I was particularly keen to hear from the MBA side since that’s where my knowledge is the weakest. So here are:
My Selections from The Condensed MBA
(or Biz Concepts every Designer / Entrepreneur Should Know that can fit into a 1 hour presentation)
Being 1st matters less than Being ON TIME
For example, the tech for the iPad and tablet-sized computing in general had been around for at least a decade, but there was something special about the timing of the iPad that made it the success that it is now. So don’t let the fact that other competitors exist in your “space”. Having the right execution for that idea at the right time might be what sets you apart. Look at Reddit, they weren’t the first social news site but who else can rightly boast of being the front page of the internet right now.
(Biz Words) Fixed Cost vs Marginal Cost
Fixed costs are spent up front, you can’t avoid them, they’re just the cost of doing business in that field. Marginal is the cost of “making 1 more”. This is really what matters as far as profits are concerned. Plus side: for digital products, this is $0 since duplication is essentially free. You’ll need to know this later.
A Rear-view mirror is useless (most of the time)
There was some discussion as to whether this lead to a disregard for history or precedent. What I took from this though, was that history shouldn’t be the only reason for doing something. “Because we’ve always done it this way” is not a good enough reason for proceeding down a particular path. This was what allowed Intel to pivot away from the increasingly competitive memory chip business where marginal costs (see, told you) were being driven down by Japanese competitors. The story goes, that Intel’s higher ups considered what they would do if they faced the exact same conditions but weren’t a burdened with what they’ve always done before. The decision to change was a no-brainer.
Eventually it’ll always be about Cash
Recent Tech IPOs aside, the metric that will always matter in the end is Cash. Sure users, downloads, traffic and press mentions are great metrics, but if those don’t lead to revenue at some point, then you don’t have a business you just have a great idea.
Keep Presentations short, and meetings shorter
Have a focussed, tangible North Star,
This is a sentence mission statement (ideally 8 words) that keeps your business focussed and makes decisions easier. Not necessarily a public-facing tagline, you use this statement more as an internal litmus test with which you measure any potential opportunities. Southwest, for example is notorious for sticking closely to their mantra of being “the low cost airline”. So any decision is weighed by determining how it helps them become or remain the low cost airline carrier. If it doesn’t, no matter how attractive, it’s seen as a distraction from their North star.
Read all of the things
Look for ways to help everyone you meet
The most effective way of making use of networking is to bring something of use to the relationship. People respond more favorably to people who’ve shown their usefulness, rather than those who seem to be asking for something.
Work should = FLOW
Strive for high skill , high challenge in the workplace. Particulary insightful if you’re a manager of other designers. Hire high skill workers and keep the challenge level high. In fact, hire people better than you.
Solve Problems, don’t just deliver products / services
Always think about what value you offer your customers / clients rather than just the final output. You don’t just sell hammers and nails, people need a hole in the wall and that’s what you facilitate. This is more than just a marketing / messaging trick it insulates you from obsolescence if hammers ever go out of style or get replaced by newer hole-making technology.
(Biz Word) KPI -Key Performance Indicators
If it’s not measured it’s not managed. How will you know if you’re succeeding if you don’t keep track of the important metrics that indicate success? If downloads are the true indicator, then why are you measuring Twitter followers?
A list of Business buzzwords was requested during the discussions,
here are a few to get started:
- Buzzword glossary – http://www.theofficelife.com/business-jargon-dictionary-A.html
- General Buzzwords – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_buzzwords
- Corporate speak buzzwords – http://www.learnings.org/ or http://grammar.yourdictionary.com/word-lists/corporate-buzz-words.html
- MBA Jargon Watch – http://www.johnsmurf.com/jargon.htm
- Digital Marketing specific buzzwords -http://www.quirk.biz/resources/glossary.q
Also, I thought I’d throw in some business podcasts I listen to that could be helpful:
- Freakonomics Radio
- Planet Money
- Harvard Business Review IdeaCast
- Stanford’s Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Series
Now here are:
My Selections from the Condensed MFA for Business Types
Get comfortable with killing your darlings
The phenomenon known as The Crit in design school develops an ability to view critique as a helpful tool rather than a personal attack. Feedback used wisely, can only improve your ideas. This requires a measure of humility to think that the 1st idea you present isn’t the best idea or at least isn’t the best form that idea will take. There’s always better and sometimes you can’t see it. Based on the group discussion around this topic, it seems this is something business and marketing types “just need more practice at.”
Design is as much about Strategy and Process as it is about aesthetics
The popularity (some would say over-popularity) of terms like design thinking, service design or experience design has at least introduced the biz community to the idea of design as a systematic, albeit flexible, process rather than just a group of creative types sitting and waiting for inspiration to strike.
The Concluding thought seemed to be that as the bridge between Design and Business gets firmer, the higher education programs will need to merge. The presenters saw a future where MFA and MBA grads share an interdisciplinary knowledge set where MBAs are more design-savvy and MFAs are more prepared to contribute in the boardroom not just the studio. They’re even co-authoring an Experience Design curriculum. So keep an eye out for that.
Click here to view all the slides from their presentation.
Friendship Pander Oxymoron?
Fear Pester Ominous?
Forward Pact Overblown?
No! For Print Only.
And they featured our 2012 Holiday Mailer Elemental Deck of Cards. Yay! Thank you so much!
Launched in 2009 — and now in its second iteration FPO is a blog dedicated to printed stuff – as founders Bryony Gomez-Palacio and Armin Vit put it:
“An opportunity to celebrate the failure of print to die.”
It’s one of six sites launched by UnderConsideration LLC — others being Speak Up, Brand New, Quipsologies, The Design Encyclopedia and Word It — that have been part of the growing dialog in design and the broad appreciation of the practice made possible by the reach of the web.
It’s always great to be recognized by folks whose work we respect – we’re just tickled. Oh – you can also buy a deck for those Card Heads on your gift list.
Also – it’s a good reminder… Christmas is just around the corner. (What?! Already?! I know!!)
Guys – have we put this onto the schedule yet?
Six international students from the Miami Ad School in Brooklyn are behind a guerilla project that turned pedestrian traffic lights around Manhattan and Brooklyn into symbols of remembrance. The stop symbol was modified to resemble the fallen Twin Towers, while a message reads “9/11. Forward. Together.” underneath it.
I love the simplicity, the power of this, and I think about New Yorkers encountering these this morning how that made them feel.
As a group of people focused on providing visual solutions for our clients, it’s always nice when science gives the eyeballs a nod.
Yup – I’ve written before about how heavily humans weight our visual senses as we make sense of the world, but there’s a new bit of research out lately that calls this into, well, focus even more starkly.
I say classical music competition, and what do you think of first? Sound? Or sight? Sound seems like the obvious pick here, but a recent study found participants had a higher success rate when it came to identifying the winners in competitions based on watching silent video clips, and not from listening to the audio recordings. Really. Even when the study participants were highly trained musicians.
“It’s a very counterintuitive finding — there have been some interesting reactions from musicians,” said study author and recent Harvard Graduate Chia-Jung Tsay said. “What this suggests is that there may be a way that visual information is prioritized over information from other modalities. In this case, it suggests that the visual trumps the audio, even in a setting where audio information should matter much more.”
Tsay earned a Ph.D. in organizational behavior with a secondary Ph.D. field in music last year. She recruited almost 1,200 volunteers who were given either video clips without sound, audio clips, or video clips that included sound. After viewing or listening, they were asked to identify the winners.
“What I found was that people had a lower chance of identifying the eventual winner if they only listened to the sound,” Tsay said. “People who just had the video — even without the sound — had surprisingly high rates of selecting the actual winner. Even with professional musicians, who are trained to use sound, and who have both expertise and experience, it appeared that the visual information was overriding the sound.”
Here’s Tsay, a Juilliard-trained pianist in competition.
Eyeballs matter, people, so take care of them! And we’ll keep working hard to show them nothing but the good stuff. And here are some eyebally facts, just because.
Who does not love them?
Well. Clearly we do. But really. They’re awesome! And they’re increasingly in use. Check out this great infographic by San Francisco-based Interactive Artist Ivan Cash on current trends and devices.
They’re a powerful tool when it comes to communicating complicated ideas – quickly and compellingly.
But I missed a step there – because you need to break down the components a little further to understand why it is that we humans just. Get. Them. It’s because it turns out your brain really REALLY loves… Images. And pictures are becoming arguably even more prevalent as we increasingly interface with our technology through app icons and thumbnails. Because it also just makes good sense to leverage something that makes that much sense to our brains.
So getting back to the brain and its love affair with the visual. One of the most striking characteristics of human memory is that pictures are remembered better than words. You already probably know this anecdotally – but there’s buckets of science to back it up. We have a really remarkable ability on this front.
In a study conducted in the 1970s on image perception and memory, researchers showed 21 undergraduates 2560 images for 10 sec. each. Then they tested their recognition memory and found that the students remembered at least 90% of what they’d been shown, that’s at least 2304 different images. Up to three days after originally seeing them. This far outstrips our ability to remember words. One theory on the why is that pictures automatically engage multiple representations and associations with other knowledge we have about the world, so the result is a more elaborate encoding than occurs with words.
(See this infographic on how memory works in its entirety here.)
Seems our brains just treat images differently, perhaps even hierarchically. They matter more. Articles with relevant images have 94% more views than those without, for example, high quality imagery is very important to 67% of consumers when making purchase decisions.
And memory matters when you’re trying to share information. We need to be able to remember in order to understand, and to internalize before we can share. So one might say images drive social engagement. Which despite sounding fairly modern, is really not a very new idea. Neither, as it turns out, are infographics.
Here’s one put together by Florence Nightingale in 1857. She had a bit of an axe to grind about hospital cleanliness. So she put together this polar area chart showing mortality causes during the Crimean War.
And it’s really hard to make any sort of argument against hand washing when you register the deaths caused by communicable, preventable diseases, shown in blue, which just massively outstrip deaths from wounds shown in red. She made her case effectively apparently, and helped change the face of modern medicine.
(Healthcare is the sector today that most employs infographics to get their message across. Politics and business follow in short order rounding out the top three.)
And when NASA sent the Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 spacecraft out into deep space in the early 1970s they included a pair of plaques (gold-anodized aluminum) adorned with images telling a story of earth with the hope that they would be decodable to extraterrestrial life.
Human figures, hydrogen – our most abundant element, the position of the sun in the galaxy and 14 pulsars, the solar system and a silhouette of the spacecraft. Astronomer Frank Drake and Carl Sagan, who at the time had lectured about communication with extraterrestrial intelligences at a conference in Crimea (we’re looping back to Florence here) came up with the design in just 3 weeks. (And took a lot of heat for the naked people, by the way.)
Where are these infographics now? Well Pioneer 10 sent its last signal 30 years after its launch in 2001, some 12 billion kilometers from earth. Pioneer 11 was last heard from in 1995, and is currently headed in the direction of constellation of Aquila. It’s expected to pass near one of the stars in about 4 million years. Which is really rather an extraordinary thing to consider.
So humans, and I guess we’re hoping aliens too, like their data visualized. It really is just easier to interpret a chart or series of stats in image form than from a block of text. (And as a writer, I will say that this pains me some). I’ll close out with this rather fantastic motion graphic from Column Five Media that neatly sums up the value and science of visualization.