A Very Brief History of Micro-Media

A Very Brief History of Micro-Media

A friend of mine recently shared this graphic on Google Reader. I found that it described the evolution of writing on the web in a very concise way, using icons and images in a way that we talked about in class. Like the icon man in the graphic, I too went from writing on the web to blogging and finally to tweeting, so I found this graphic particularly humorous.

Visual Thesaurus

While this little interactive java tool may remind many of us of the agonies of graph theory, Thinkmap’s visual representation of a thesaurus entry in Visual Thesaurus will quickly impress you and at least temporarily brush aside your computer science theory fears.

Type in any word and related nodes are connected to it, with the ability to quickly extract definitions, pronunciations and understand the data structure with a simple hover.  Every part of the graph is dragable and the animations are quite cute.  If you launch the trial application in a new window, the sophistication of the application shines through, as there are a number of tools and collapsible menus along the perimeter.

Unfortunately, you can only try a few words before the system forces you to exit or subscribe, but even with those you can get the gist of the interaction and information power.  For an interesting word diagram, try ‘brace’

Visual Thesaurus

On the Theme of Travel

One common theme that appeared across a few presentations this morning was the idea of travelling from place to place. Maria and Cynthia, especially, focused on this concept as way of framing themselves.

Here’s a nifty infographic from Good Magazine that provides a more global perspective on travelling:


Demetri Martin = Info Design Comedian

Demetri Martin is a Law School drop-out with a penchant for humor derived from statistics and images.  See the below video for a taste of his (sometimes vulgar, consider yourself warned) bizarre humor.

If you like what you see, I suggest you also watch his BBC-produced comedy/biography series entitled “If I.” In this hour-long piece, available in six parts on youtube.com, Martin discusses his compulsions, including generating a scoring-system for himself in which he decides how good of a person he is over the course of a week. Examples: I eat a piece of fruit: +1! I do something nice for my significant other: +1! He collects the type of personal data that we are collecting in FNAR 337. He also has a new show entitled “Important Things With Demetri Martin” which is slated to begin in February on Comedy Central.

Demetri Martin – Large Pad

Notes for January 27, 2009

This Tuesday was a work day, with Comberg and I coming around to each student giving feedback. We found a couple of common snags with the presentations that are worth mentioning here.

Progression Context

Something that can really pull a set of slides together is some way to see where you are in the presentation. For presentations with a distinctive iconography, a powerful way is to keep all of the icons on screen, along one of the edges, and call out the current one in some way. This acts both as an element of continuity and as a sort of “progress bar” for the talk.


A common problem was an abundance of data but no way to relate it back to the presenter. Remember, the point of this is not just to show a graph of the number of fish tacos that you’ve eaten in the past ten years, but (for example) to relate it to the number of friends and relationships you’ve had over that same time frame. Try to bring it back to something meaningful, and often, this can be a factoid (fish tacos lead to a worse social life) that helps you in the future.


Notes for January 22, 2009

Our discussion today stemmed from the Tufte essay on the principles of information graphics.

Misleading and Misrepresenting

“All information graphics reduce.” Since any sort of graphic or interpretation is a designer’s take on the material, it must leave something out (or else it would simply be a regurgitation of the original data). There is a necessary trade-off between accessibility to a layperson and an unbiased presentation.

Since there’s data omitted, it’s easy to misrepresent things, especially to support your own conclusions. For example, temperature was only one of many causes of death in the Minard piece we discussed, but the graphic makes it seem like that’s the only one. Ethics in design is a topic that most designers will come across at some point, and is often a complex and interesting topic.

Even something as simple as Olympic medal counts can be skewed: do you count gold medals or the total medal count?

Mistaking correlation for causation is a real danger when interpreting data, and the unscrupulous designer can easily exploit this to push a conclusion.

Tufte counters this with a call for documentation when creating information graphics. Other elements of the process that can ensure objectivity are checks and balances on information usage, and openly displaying meta information about data quality and source integrity.

Multivariate Presentations

Another aspect we talked about in class was Tufte’s demand for putting as much information as possible into a graphic; i.e., adding in as many axes as you can (multiple variables). However, as we discussed, this is another trade-off: multiple axes can add more information, but sometime at the cost of usability.

Omission is a legitimate technique, for both the artistic and utilitarian sides of data presentation. We noted the playwright Harold Pinter’s deft usage of leaving the endings of his plays ambiguous. A more modern example is the movie Doubt which leaves the guilt or lack therof of a character up to the viewer.

Miscellany and Links

  • Individual responsibility for graphics are important to ensuring their integrity. When a single person is held accountable for a work, she is more likely to present relatively unbiased conclusions (since it can be traced back to her).
  • Content counts most of all, says Tufte. This sentiment is echoed across the internet, often in the form of the credo “Content is king.” Jeffrey Zeldman, a man so involved in shaping the internet that he is often called the “king of web standards”, wrote a very influential article on the fact that no matter how flashy the package is, content is still essential to any graphic or website.
  • And this awesome periodic table of visualizations.