Visual Mind Games : when the mind takes over and goes graphical

Posted on December 29, 2008. Filed under: Designers, English, History, maps | Tags: , , , , |

As most of the readers of this blog, you are already familiar with MindMapping (“carte heuristique”). In anticipation to the meetup of the French visual thinking community (Cafe Carto 2.0, last Dec. 17th in La Cantine, Paris) where all participants were asked to present themeselves via a map, I wanted to look at different “mapping” techniques. The MindMapping meme / school being quite strong in that community (and to some respects in France : see Petillant), I have been revisiting other visual mind games and found quite a few.



Guillaume Apollinaire

Cadavre Exquis by Prevert, Breton and Co


  • Another popular visual mind game is the doodle (“griffonnage” or “crayonnage” in French), that designer Dennis Hwang made a key part of the Google brand. During the last seminar I attended there were a good 5 doodlers in the room (at least that left their doodles behind them …). Not to be mixed up with the very useful meeting sscheduling tool, it is a key part of school age : who hasn’t doodled on his books or notebooks ? Many still do as an adult, during conferences, phone calls, etc… Some psychologists and cogniticians have dwelved on why we doodle, and what it tells about someone’s profile or state of mind (the “alphabet” of doodles.

Google doodles       Doodle notebook


  • Maybe the last game I found is rebus, a visual word puzzle. Like most games, often played in childhood, it enabled me to work with pictures, so that’s the technique I used for my map (see below). I later discovered that rebus generator, but because mine is a mix of French and English … and I had specific images in my mind, I wouldn’t have used it anyway.


You Scie ouate aie mine : Vis sue ali a sion dés cône essence

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Maps and metaphors : a love story between the web and the metro

Posted on October 2, 2008. Filed under: Blogroll, Designers, English, maps, MindMap, Serendipity |

Once again the metro / subway / underground metaphor to map websites and blogs. Here is the recent (Sept 2008) creation of Claude Aschenbrenner (Serial-Mapper blog), and maps his selection of visual thinkers blogs, in France and abroad. Thank you Claude for including me in such a nice company (between E. Tufte and J. Veronis) !!

by blog name :

Map of visual thinkers blogs by url

by blogger’s name :

Map of visual thinkers blogs by name

The PDF version of the map is interactive, each node is clickable to access directly the blog on internet, it was done using Adobe Illustrator after collecting all blog urls and sorting them in a MindMap using Mindomo.

Using the metro metaphor, you remember the famous web2.0 map from the Japanese agency Information Architects (updated 2008) :

Information Architects web2 map

The other metaphor often used to map a web territory is the planisphere (see my previous article), and the last good examples I’ve seen were the ones from :


Map of online communities


Map of the internet


  • designer Christophe Druaux (blog Oui Non) for his detailed (subjective but with heavy number crunching) maps of the French “blogarchie” (2007 edition) and Forums

Map of the French blogarchie


Map of the French forums


And last but not least, a more artistic version by Berling artist eBoy, using the city and pixelart to present web2.0 services :

eBoy FooBar poster


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Latest news : conferences about information cartography and visual thinking

Posted on January 22, 2008. Filed under: conference, Designers, English, maps, MindMap, PowerPoint |

Just a quick post to share with you some info you may already be aware of … or not.

I am happy to be leaving this week-end for the VizThink conference in San Francisco, where I will have the opportunity to meet and exchange with some leading advocates of knowledge design such as Dave Gray of XPlane (co-host of this event, see his blog), Cliff Atkinson (author of the book Beyond Bullet Points on PowerPoint, featured in my Amazon wishlist … and already in my library ;-)), Nigel Holmes (former Graphics Director at Time Magazine and author of numerous books), Harlan Hugh (CEO and co-founder of TheBrain, probably the first company that create a visual information management system to search and categorize data), some graphic facilitators (Dan Rose, Christine Valenza, …) and some other keynote speakers. I will take some pictures and jot some notes to be shared with you.


Another conference, this time in France, is scheduled for April 3rd 2008. It is Carto2.0, a conference on information cartography hosted by the ESIEE engineering school in the East of Paris. Papers can be submitted before Jan 25th (see more here). Keynote speakers will include Frédéric LeBihan (co-founder of Petillant, the first "mind mapping school" in France), Claude Aschenbrenner (a blogger I had the pleasure to have lunch with last summer and who directed me to this event), Christophe Tricot (blogger and researcher at Mondeca, a KM solutions editor), Laurent Baleydier (CEO of Kartoo, one of the pioneers of visual search engines), and some more …



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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 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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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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