Archive for August, 2007

Public interest for Knowledge Design : attractivity of simple visual representations

Posted on August 22, 2007. Filed under: Designers, English |

I just came across a nice blog post that included an image illustrating the web2.0 and it was the perfect example to demonstrate the attractivity (in this case in the blogosphere) of knowledge design. Thanks by the way to Del.icio.us that is an incredible tool to encourage serendipity and information sharing, as I came across this blog reading from the tags of another user I shared some tags with (when you click on saved by xx other users you can see who tagged the page and then look at their own tags).

Web 2.0 vs 1.0

While I may not agree to all parts of the illustrations and find it simplistic, it is clean (graphically), leaves place to interpretation on my part, and did get me to blog about it 😉

In Aysoon's blog, this tag attracted 41 comments, by far the most commented post on the blog. The second racked up 13 comments and the third only 2, as described on the blog's "scoreboard" (article à ne pas rater), by the way a nice touch I haven't found on many blogs, as well as the display of how many users have subscribed to the feed. This is probably as good an indicator as we can get of how many people have seen and liked it, and most probably searched and further talked about it. We could use the trackback feature also, or look it up on Technorati for the same purpose, or look at the propagation of it over time using Manuel Lima's tool BlogViz.

Other previous examples of such 'memes' captured in a visual way include :

Some quick lessons to be learned :

  • fuzzy, complex or frightening issues often are opportunities for visual representations (web2.0 concept, statistical analysis, …)
  • such visual representations are prone to quick propagation because of their attractive and ludic nature
  • when they are extreme, they get challenged (attracting comments) but with a mix of rational and irrational comments (thus effectively deepening the adhesion in the target group) as visual illustrations mostly use the language of emotions, the rational using many words and figures

These are some of the reasons why I have often used the help of an information designer in consulting missions when trying to get a team or an organization to adhere to a proposed vision changing some of their habits (see my introductory words on Knowledge Design).

Additionally, this quick propagation potential is a viral marketing bonanza, as well as an influence tool some strategic intelligence or lobbying professionals should consider more closely.

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Traceability and Visualization : collective-social solutions to the information volume increase

Posted on August 21, 2007. Filed under: BI, English, MindMap, Outils, PowerPoint, Tagcloud |

This is the end of August and the agendas are filled with "summer universities" like the French Entrepreneur's Federation MEDEF (see their live / cross blogging initiative I have been invited to take part on the blog Jouer le Jeu, aka Play the Game), and some companies like Capgemini Consulting for which I will host a workshop on some topics I am sharing with you today, going over some of my past year discoveries and learnings.

We live in an information world and the pure volume of information available is increasing exponentially (IDC/EMC 2007 and Berkeley 2003 studies). At the same time the number of interactions (as one-way or two-way ponctual information exchanges) between persons and/or computers is multiplying rapidly, thanks to the internet revolution and the globalization of our economy. Those « connections » (permanent associations or punctual contacts) are creating a number of opportunities to solve the everyday issues we are facing with.

Thanks to new tools (creation) and economical opportunities (incentives) the distinction between information producers and consumers is not static anymore, this is what has been called the revolution of social media (user generated content, folksonomics, wisdom of crowds, …) :

  • Brands need to rethink their communication with their consumers, engage in a conversation with them, build and sustain communities of users ;
  • Knowledge (long thought to be limited to encyclopedias, academic books, …) does not consist in « one-off », elitist and formal products anymore since Wikipedia democratized it’s creation and sharing ;
  • Managers need to take more and more decisions within a shorter time frame, often with too much data to analyze, or too much « noise » and not enough pertinent information ;
  • Major undertakings do not necessarily require major investments from one individual organization as « crowd sourcing » or distributed computing solutions have allowed to search for lost individuals or to analyze large quantities of data ;

This is an overview of experimental solutions to this issue, that I have separated in 2 aspects (some products are doing both, but this a minority) :

VisiblePath social network mapping 

On the definition and etymology of innovation and creativity, the differences between information types : click here

A gallery of the largest collection of visualization techniques and use examples : VisualComplexity

For fun : a nice application that links song lyrics to images randomly extracted from Flickr, and another analyzing
breakups (called The Dumpster) between people from blog comments.

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A short history of information design : people, dates and designs

Posted on August 9, 2007. Filed under: Bibliographie, Designers, English, History |

I have wanted for a long time to write down this short history. It is a work in progress as it needs some patient tracking to verify some claims 😉 and it needs to be completed for there are some more important pieces missing !!

I have ranked them in historical order :

Joseph Priestley (1733-1804), England, natural philosopher, theologist, political theorist, and educator. He designed a timeline chart (1765), with bars to indicate longevity of famous people. More info on Wikipedia.

Preistley's timeline chart

William Playfair (1759-1823), engineer and economist, is credited with inventing data draphics (time series 1786, pie chart 1801, and bar charts). More info on Wikipedia

The Economist : an image worth a thousand words

Charles-Joseph Minard (1781-1870), inspecteur général des Ponts et Chaussées, who is probably E. Tufte’s favorite, is credited with inventing the flowchart to depict Napoleon’s retreat from Russia (1861). More details on Wikipedia.

Retreat from Russia

John Snow (1813-1858), physician specialist in epidemiology, used simple mapping to display statistical evidence from cholera outbreaks to point out the role of water sources (1854). More information on Wikipedia.

Cholera map

Unknown (Touring Club de France). The first documented apparition of a traffic sign was 1894 on the RN7 by Cannes. First designed for people riding bicycle, it quickly proved necessary to organize automobile’s birth. It was quickly made mandatory in Paris (1904) and became an international standard staring 1909 (successive iterations and new signs). More info here, here, here, here and here.

Neuhaus vitracier Japy around 1932

Otto Neurath (1882-1945), philosopher, sociologue and economist, created a system of practical signs (stick figures) to convey quantitative information and formalized his thinking in the Isotype (1930). More information on Wikipedia.

Isotype Home and Factory Weaving in England

Otto Aicher (1922-1991), graphical designer. He designed the pictograms used for the 1972 Munich Olympics. First attempts had been made at the Tokyo Olympics before but it was Aicher’s pictograms which stayed as a normalized system to describe sports. More information on Wikipedia.

Olympics picto

Carl Sagan (1934-1996), astronomer and astrobiologist. He designed with Frank Drake (1930-xx) the so-called Pioneer Plaque. A graphical representation of key current human scientific knowledge was printed on a metal plaque that was sent on the Pioneer spatial probe in search for an extraterrestrial intelligence. More info on Wikipedia.

Pioneer Plaque

Susan Kare (1954,xx), graphic designer. She designed the first icons for Apple Computer’s new Macintosh operating system between 1983 and 1986. Those ‘pixelart’ icons together with the graphical interface surely paved the way for the widespread adoption of personal computing. More info on her website and on Wikipedia.

Early Macintosh icons

And finally Edward Tufte (1942-xx), statistician and political economist. His contribution to information design can not be yet valuated but judging from the number of the books he wrote and how he is referenced throughout the InfoViz community … More info on Wikipedia.

For more on the history, I have found quite a few papers on the web, starting with this one and this one from the same authors.

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Simple graphic user instructions : the “pill bag” of the NGO Medecins sans Frontieres

Posted on August 7, 2007. Filed under: Bibliographie, English, instructions |

I am a fan of simple instructions, most of them relying on images / graphics only, such as Ikea's or Lego's. Pat Hanrahan and Barbara Tversky from Stanford University have done a lot of good research on that subject. See also the very good book from graphic designer Paul Mijksenaar Open Here: The Art of Instructional Design . Graphic instructions are knowledge design at their best !!

Example of Lego instructionsIkea instructions 

Last June I was traveling by TGV and there was an exhibition in the train by the well known international NGO "Medecins sans Frontieres" (with French origins : the so-called French doctors). They were explaining who they were and the type of missions they were doing and had brought with them some paraphernalia.

I was especially interested in a few of them like this "pill bag" that display very useful instructions in a unequivocal way.

MSF pill bag

Doctors need their medicine to be taken the right way, no matter what language the patient speaks, or if he is able to read or not. By using this little plastic bag, they can deliver the right number of pills and indicate how many and when a pill needs to be taken. Such a bag is cheap to produce and can be used in the millions worldwide.

Other examples of simple and standardized instructions are the apparel / clothing care instructions  I had to battle with as a marketer trying to design one that would be accepted in all European countries in addition to the US. Just because all countries need some translation of the graphic signs, most apparel manufacturers' labels are in some benign way illegal (just imagine peeling 3 or four labels in your neck …, because that's what would be required to comply with French, Greek, Portuguese, etc … language and labeling laws). The label below does for example not comply with regulations that require the information of the manufacturer's name and address, has not been translated in any local language … Technically this product could be seized by any authority in Europe (except perhaps in the UK ;-)), but end up being sold anyway.

Care instructions label

I will come back with more on such design standards in a future post. They are in essence a universal language. See my previous post on this.

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From a web 1.0 to a web 2.0 collaboration logic, the 1% rule

Posted on August 6, 2007. Filed under: English, rules, Tagcloud |

Information sharing in web1.0 was one way publishing, static, and subject to a quick de facto obsolessence by the sheer amount of information created that would render this one impossible to reach.

By contrast information sharing in web 2.0 recognizes that information is most of the time an expression of a knowledge, which is embodied in an individual.

Finding the exact information you need (the answer to a simple question) on an intranet for example, is often a vain quest for many reasons :

  • people don't add critical metadata to uploaded documents,
  • the search engines do not access all databases and are not good enough to cope with natural language or unstructured data,
  • and more important, you don't have on an intranet enough information because the number of contributors simply can not be large enough vs the number of readers, …

What you then need is some kind of virtual breadcrumbs which will lead you to the individual most likely to hold the best answer … for a quick phone call or email ! Such tools such as Visible Path do a good job to automatically monitor many informations exchanges (email) or other pieces of information. What you need is a system that seamlessly collects that collective intelligence and gives you an effective way to pull the answers you need from it (think visualization :-)), and I am confident a workable B2E solution can be developed out of the tagclouds, probably something linking it with visualization tools like VisualThesaurus for a drill-down in the information, but keeping a sense of weight/importance given by the size of the words.

VisualThesaurus "tagcloud" like interface 

Then of course you can add a voluntary system where real contributions can be added on top of it, from simply tagging (see Cogenz for example) to actually post "hard" information. About motivations for those 1% of contributors, see my previous January blog post for more details on how one organization should develop tools for employees to develop their reputation inside the company. For more on the 1% rule (1:9:90 in fact ;-)), see the blog post on participation inequality from Jakob Nielsen or the recent HitWise stats shown at the April 2007 Web2.0 Expo. 

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