Archive for April, 2007

Information visualization, when everything gets analyzed : the example of the French presidential election

Posted on April 30, 2007. Filed under: English, Tagcloud |

You can not escape it if you are a media consumer : we are in France in the last run to elect our future president. An election, especially a major one, is a fantastic opportunity to witness the advance in visualization techniques. I am going to try to list the ones I found most powerful and innovative :Nicolas Sarkozy's and Segolene Royal's word cloud 

  • Tagclouds : a very innovative technique that appeared in conjunction with the development of folksonomics (see Thomas Vander Wal's blog for more info), I first noticed it in the French politics arena last summer in some French newspapers (see a more recent article in Le Monde). The articles displayed tagclouds authored by French linguist Jean Véronis who analyzed the words used by the candidates in their public speeches (see his blog entry). A nice open source tool for generating such tagclouds is the very good TagCrowd ;
  • Network maps : a now very common display technique (see VisualComplexity's website for good examples), probably the best example I have seen so far in the politics arena is the blogosphere's mapping of the socialist candidate Segolene Royal (see the Segoland map). Such mapping can be done with the very good tool TouchGraph, also used as a plug-in for FaceBook social networking site (see the Interactive Friend Thing tool in the developpers' tool directory), or more automatically using IP addresses in a Google Analytics report (the so-called Geo Map Overlay) ;
  • Cartograms : a complete discovery to me, in a recent article by French newspaper Libération (here, but not anymore available for free), they were authored by French cartograph Dominique Andrieu (see his webpage with map animations). They belong to the class of anamorphosis, the map being distorted by the weight of the cities' population. They give an immediate view / understanding of where the voters from a given party are from (here the periphery of the cities). The script (called ArcScript) is available from ESRI website ;

All those techniques try to give meaning to an ocean of data, to extract the hidden truth behind words and numbers, most of the time in order to facilitate decision (choosing a political strategy, or a candidate to vote for). But those are only 3 examples out of so many different approaches, most of which rely on algorithms (topological, …), and choosing the best one for a specific purpose might be the type of skill large companies might be looking for in their data-mining, geomarketing or BI departments !!

Update : see the very good blog network visualization engine on on a visualization technology from RTGI and Exalead's crawler / search engine

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Royksopp’s Remind Me animated graphics video clip : if Tufte made an information design music video

Posted on April 24, 2007. Filed under: Animation, English, Video |

Reading from DynamicDiagram’s blog “If Tufte made a music video” I rediscovered Röyksopp’s famous “Remind Me” video clip using animated graphics as a background story for their 2002 music piece. It had such an impact that a few years later Areva, the French nuclear giant, wanted to use it for their advertising. Being denied it by the Norwegian pop group they finally went for the hit “Funky Town” on a video that looks very similar (as it was done by the same French art collectif H5 that did Royksopp’s video).

Royksopp – Remind Me
Uploaded by Pard

Their objective was to show Areva’s expertise in the energy sector (see their corresponding website using Flash animation) as part of the branding campaign of a company anticipating to go private (still waiting because of internal French politics). The choice of animated graphics was to reinforce the educative aspect on Areva’s business and avoid the harsh reality of images of nuclear plants. In a way the almost childish graphics (almost like a comic strip) make it look like a video game of some sort, some kind of SimCity. It was very successful and the idea was again used in a slightly different angle (accelerated special effects video) by EDF (another French energy giant) in a commercial

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When design says it all : visual information to improve product usability

Posted on April 20, 2007. Filed under: English |

There is a visual grammar we all share : forms, colors, surfaces, textures convey information about "dangerosity", "kiddyness", and generally about emotional appeal. I picked up the very good / and concise book "Visual Grammar" from Christian Leborg at the San Francisco MoMa Museum Store a few weeks ago. It tells you all about the concepts and words used to describe visual objects and structures (abstract and concrete).

A quick understanding of the different aspects of our brain regarding cognition splits it in 3 parts : left, right (both constituting the cortex) and reptilian (limbic system). The information travels / is processed at different speeds whether it is processed by the cortex or the limbic system. Emotions are treated much faster than higher thoughts because they need a quicker response for survival reasons (remnants from the old ages when we were fighting for our lives). The advances of neurology has precisely measured it : 110-120 ms for an emotional response, 400-500-600 ms for a conscious response (see Schupp's studies on emotional or neutral face recognition for more info). I attended a conference by French professor Roland Jouvent from CNRS that was quite interesting on that subject, albeit on a slightly different theme : physical vs psychical spaces, especially important when working with virtual and real environments. The simple processing of words require higher/conscious functions and simply takes more time. This is why many kitchen appliances try to convey danger information through simple design to prevent accidents.

Hot or cold ? A good design includes such visual information, but sometimes good ideas will only work in very specific environments, and this is especially true about this "color faucet". If the liquid that comes out of it is drinkable water, the addition of a color code to indicate the temperature conflicts with another color code : drinkable water is commonly believed as being transparent !

It would probably work in a more scientific setting for non drinkable water … But nevertheless I thought it was a neat idea !! 

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