Friday, June 25, 2010

Infographics should portray information

I was listening to Radio 4 today and my ears pricked up when I heard they were discussing information design. the programme, More or Less, asked the audience the previous week some questions so that infographic designer David Mcandless could take the data and work on it.

The results are here:

Now I don't deny that what he has done is aesthetically pleasing as I, like him, find data representation or 'information' in its graphic form very interesting. What I find with much of what Mcandless showcases on his blog is that the designers have made the graphics beautiful but have lost some of the impact of the data. Information can be beautiful but I think these designers sometimes work hard to make (or even force) the graphics to be beautiful in a whole different dimension.

Take, for example, the main graphic (What are you doing while listening to More or Less). this graphic seems simple but I find it difficult to pick out more than one or two levels of data. For example I can see where the largest and second largest chunks of activity are but what about fourth, fifth? The 'intensity' label adds more confusion as our eye is drawn to the darker colour and gives it more importance over the others but at the same time biases our analysis. Lying down and handicrafts are the more or less the same size but does handicrafts seem bigger because of the higher contrast?

The merits of this sort of graphic are obvious: a very good snapshot of what people are doing but really I only extract the top four or five and then again with no certainty.

Information design is very important because if style takes precedence over function (that is to say delivering the information to the user in an easily understandable way) then it might as well be a painting of my cat (How many caffe lattes a day does my cat drink? Where does she sit during the day? How little does she care of my existence?).

I'd like to end on a well known and pioneering piece of infographics, Charles Minard's graphic showing the decreasing size of the Grande Armée as it marches to Moscow.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Leading or Line Height in CSS

Top CSS tip for website design idiots like me: leading of text in CS is called line height and can be measured in percentage, as below.

p { line-height: 150% }

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Adding Arrowheads to lines in Illustrator

Being used to Freehand I find this a pain in Illustrator.
And there doesn't seem to be a shortcut...

Choose Effect > Stylize > Add Arrowheads or Filter > Stylize > Add Arrowhead.

Infographics mean what they say don't they?

Ug. Infocrapics more like.

Currently working on a report with lots of data graphs and I needed a break as my brain was exploding. As I googled "infographics" I came across a lot of the very trendy way of portraying data, lots of which leave me fuming. A lot of style is plastered over many of these so that we can't really appreciate what the data is! It really is style over function. When I first started working in design my boss would very kindly guide me away from the garish colours and 3D graphs I would produce for the simple reason that they confuse rather than convey.

So it was with much glee that I found this by Phil Gyford (reproduced under a Creative Commons Licence:

He also makes a good critique of a 'dramatic' graph produced in the FT. Check out his article here.

Interestingly the same boss who steered me away from the 3D graphs and pie charts also instructed me in the techniques Phil talks about in this article: how to make more dramatic fairly plain data, cos guess what...? That's what clients want.

Infocrapics or infographics?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity

I've been looking at and thinking about design education recently so when I came across a piece on TED about creativity within education I wanted to see more. I'm glad I made time for this witty and informative video and I hope you do too.

Sir Ken Robinson makes an entertaining but powerful argument that the way we educate our children out of creative arts is misguided and sometimes, as he points out in his case study of Gillian Lynne could have been a terribly wasteful mistake.

His follow-up talk about an education 'climate crisis' and the real challenge of transforming education from a 19th century industrial model into a 21st century process based on different principles.

Cambridge University West Cambridge Site

Visiting a client at the West Site of University of Cambridge I was struck by its wide avenue feel, much like a European boulevard. Chatting to the client I asked if he found it a success, to which he replied yes, to an extent. Much of the building there is on a pleasant site, overlooking fields with easy bicycle access and very close to the M11. The contemporary architecture gives a good idea of character: a modern site but with gravitas. The European feel enhanced by a neat coffee shop in the Herman Hauser building. But, he went on, every now and then he's not sure whether it's European Boulevard feel or Posh, sterile industrial estate.

Maybe a bit of both.

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