Tools that extend our senses : maps as a point of entry to explore the city around us

Posted on March 19, 2009. Filed under: Cognition, Design, English, maps, Medias, Search |

I recently had the opportunity to come back to Marshall McLuhan’s 1964 book “Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man“. Although his definition of media is quite large, it reminds us that the main function of a tool is to extend a man’s abilities (this is what differentiates us from most animals), and as such it acts as a mediator between us and the surrounding world, to probe, manipulate and act upon what it tells our senses. Authors like Howard Rheingold in “Tools for Thought“, adapted and extended this vision to modern computer tools as an extension of thought.

As we come up with new tools, design (see Don Norman’s book “The Design of Everyday Things“) tells us to build upon learned behaviors, or affordances. Don Norman uses the term to refer to the “perceived and actual properties of the thing, primarily those fundamental properties that determine just how the thing could possibly be used. A chair affords (“is for”) support and, therefore, affords sitting…/… Plates are for pushing. Knobs are for turning. Slots are for inserting things into.”

In a way Google’s and Apple’s success is due to their adaptation of natural affordances to new uses. They did not invent those affordances, they “merely” did a very good marketing and engineering job. Now a “white box” affords search and a”touch weel” affords folder navigation.

Good design


As we develop more and more mobile phone applications with an internet access, what would be the best affordances ? I am not talking about complex “mind amplification” applications, but just simple applications like city guides for example. How should such applications be designed ? for instant use in mobility (“now we’re all together, where shall we eat ?”) or planning (“I want to book a restaurant with a terrasse for Sunday brunch”) ? Should we go for search or folder navigation affordances ? Or is there another, more adapted one based on visual interfaces like tagclouds, geographical maps, network maps, …, or interactive interfaces like multi-touch, point/click, buttons, etc… ?

Let’s have a look and test 2 iPhone city guides, applications that offer restaurants listings and recommandations. The first one is Michelin’s recent iPhone app (disclaimer : I was offered to test it by Michelin, which is good since it is quite expensive), and the second one is TellMeWhere (or Dismoiou in French). But first let’s have a look at their “desktop web” welcome page :


Welcome Page

The comparison is not fully adequate since Michelin doesn’t really have an online version (it is available only as books) and this one is the promotional website for the 100th edition, but it shows clearly that TellMeWhere has done the choice of the list, whereas Michelin couldn’t decide and offered both the search box and the map. A quick A/B test would have let them know which one was the most appropriate and therefore improve the bounce rate.

The test becomes more interesting for the mobile applications. This what the welcome pages (after the splash screen) look like :

iPhone Welcome page

Both by default used the localization feature of the iPhone and displayed a list of restaurants in the immediate vicinity, but as TellMeWhere went for the map, Michelin stayed with the list … One of the reasons being probably that having less restaurants listed (since it is their own selection), they did not want to go for a map where for a given scale only a limited choice would be available. But this probably for other reasons as well since maps are almost not used in the application. But before we get to that, let’s have a look at the “alternative” welcome page :


iPhone alternative welcome page

 TellMeWhere offers to turn off the localization, and to choose betwen a list and a map interface. Michelin offers different choices : a list of restaurants in the vicinity, or near a given address (most probably trying to leverage their ViaMichelin maps and routes user base and application, or – a third option – the list of recent restaurants consulted.

So now, what do the item (restaurant) page look like ?

Restaurant page

Here again the editorial choices are clear : while TellMeWhere puts the social recommandation forward directly on the page, and chose a colourful design (including a picture that can be added by the users themselves from the web or via the iPhone camera), Michelin stayed loyal to the design of the book version, enhancing its elite position, but – revolution !! – allowing for recommandations from users !!! We’re impatient to know more about how many people actually do it, but we’ve seen from other ‘elite’ brands (such as newspaper LeMonde) that such openings are really powerful attractors if they can manage it. A little adition that we’ve noted on he Michelin application (but that also exist on the TellMeWhere one, although not as intuitive and extended), is the possibility to contact / locate and know more (via its website) about the restaurant.

In conclusion I would say that both apps are nicely designed, but that the challenges are different :

  • for Michelin to master the art of community management whithout endangering its brand equity
  • for TellMeWhere to reach a critical mass of users and improve/extend its applicatio’s functionnalities (they’ve implemented a “feedback” module for co-design on the web, using Feedback2.0 platform, a French alternative of GetSatisfaction)

And that from a design and usability perspective, we still need some hard data to know which affordance is the best 🙂 Being a “map” man, I know some do not like using them …but that’s another story 🙂


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Crisis for dummies : a selection of cool infographics to help understand and explain further (Part 1)

Posted on March 3, 2009. Filed under: Bibliographie, English, History, Medias, Research, Video |


Crisis : we hear and read about it everyday … but it is hard not to get lost, not to lose track of events or context or historical background, and hard to understand as events unfold the links between them, the play of multiple actors’ interests, and untimately, hard to anticipate, plan for personal or business needs. This is expecially true as the news we get are … well news only ! Bits and pieces of a puzzle we get at some point of our day, sometime without the time to reflect and integrate these.

I have blogged before about 4 aspects of the modern media system (speed, image, multiplicity and “thunderingness” as French politician Michel Rocard put them) and how visualization could provide that added value to provide context, particularly difficult on TV. It was followed by a discussion with him via email and a presentation I made for my students on story telling and visualization. A growing part of the population got accustomed to managing multiple information feeds at the same time, which reflect in specific layout designs for TV news (see here) or enterprise dashboards (see Stephen Few’s very good book on the latter : “Information Dashboard Design“).

 So I turned to economics and information visualization leading press outlets (Financial Times, New York Times, The Economist, French magazines Le Point, L’Expansion, …), TV news services, blogs and document sharing sites (Slideshare, Vimeo,  …) to collect a few of the most self-explanatory examples I could find. I have organized them in different categories :

  • History : trends and cycles

  • Stock Markets  :  graphical analysis and company valorization

  • Politics : public plans and social issues

But first, let’s start with an explanatory video (via Coolinfographics) :


The Crisis of Credit Visualized from Jonathan Jarvis on Vimeo.


It remembers me (in a nicer way of course) of one presentation (subprime primer) I got via email some months ago, to explain what sub-primes, CDO, CDS etc… mean, with simple sketches / a cartoon of a banker talking to another banker and devising the sub-prime scheme. In such cases email attachments are still the best way to circulate documents 🙂

Today I will publish the first part :

History :

Business cycles are commonly known since their creation in the XIXth century (notably by French statistician Clement Juglar, but also Kondratief, Kitchin, etc…). Periods of growth and decline follow each other, and looking at it from different “zoom” levels allow for a better understanding of the context.

In the case of the current crisis, several sets of data are to be looked at, whether they represent cause or effect I will not get into the debate, I have just chosen them because they are self-explanatory and in a way they enhance the dramatic aspects of the current situation. If I have not chosen less dramatic charts, it is because I wanted to make a point (like I did with “An Inconvenient Truth”) : the editorial decision to pick one or another, to zoom on a detail, change the scale, etc… plays a key role in conveying a certain message for certain benefits.

 US Housing market

We see that trees (here housing prices), can climb to the sky 🙂


That a very clever ;-( financial innovation (sub-prime lending in CDO) definitely had a big success

US Debt to GDP

And that it happened in a liberal context of massive national debt growth, all that money coming from foreign investors.

 Decoupling finance from the economy

That somehow the link between those CDS/CDOs and the “real” market got lost in mad speculation, a loop feeding on itself

Credit vs GDP

So the real ratio of debt to GDP was somehow worse …

 Share of Financial Industry profit

And it was clear who was getting the larger share …


A process called “financialization” everybody thought was the sign of developped countries like us ;-(

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RSS, personalization and visualization : solutions to the information overload

Posted on January 19, 2009. Filed under: English, Knowledge Management, Outils, web2.0 | Tags: , , |

Reading from RWW today, I came across a very interesting post by Marshall Kirkpatrick. Here is the comment I made, summarizing the key points of the exchanges that took place in the first 75 comments :

Thank you very much Marshall for starting this conversation about RSS and information overload. This is a perfect example of why I love blogs 🙂

I have been through all comments and would like to offer a quick synthesis of the key ones I have picked up before suggesting anything 😉

As Rick first put it, of course we are not talking about RSS adoption per se, but rather tools / solutions that make use of it as readers inside companies : portals / dashboards / or so-called RSS readers, as web or desktop clients.

As Eric puts it, this adoption poses a challenge : incorporating in a new tool or in an existing one (eg MS Outlook or Mac OS X Mail), especially when individual users are mostly prohibited from doing so (Nigel)

Then Brad was the first to talk about ‘information overload’, which is – along with the proper UI for each need category and personalization / filtering potential of XML – the key challenge here.

There is of course the cost issue (Jon) that will probably decrease (Oliver) and recent / future developments (Brad Feld) of those RSS readers.

I see RSS (I believe you’ve already seen Common Craft’s video RSS in plain English) as one of the cornerstones of “enterprise social software” (see the business cases offered by Christoph and his “Social Stack” – one of a few interesting ones I’ve seen with Miguel Membrado’s – or Michael’s), enabling improved management of information and therefore reduce the overload, but not replacing email (which will remain more like the fax : an ubiquitous, reliable way of communication).


In addition to what Thomas said (including the security or internal vs external issue), or Bjorn’s comment I believe some of the key differentiators between all those communication means are =

1) timing, in a continuum from asynchronous to synchronous (it reminds me the funny Twitter curve). The global trend is more and more communication canals adding up as business accelerates. Research on those emerging behaviors will tell us more about which one to use for what info,

Twitter curve

2) personalization (recommendation, filtering, …), AideRSS and the PostRank algorithm beeing a nice attempt for better RSS management that needs to be expanded / opened to suit more diverse needs that only popularity. I believe social filtering is another avenue that needs to be explored, as it mimicks our usage : the good old url sent to me via email – in a push mode (or the for: feature of Delicious), but also in a pull mode (the ‘follow’ on Twitter). A data driven solution, it is enabled by permanent tracking of web actions and interoperability between services.

3) and interface, as I believe visualization is a key element of the solution, current ui having shown their limits. See my blog post http://www.uswim.net/2007/08/21/traceability-and-visualization-collective-social-solutions-to-the-information-volume-increase/ and Moritz Stephaner’s thesis Visual Tools for the Socio-Semantic web.


Note : a few of the tools mentioned in the comments that serve as solutions / substitutes / or parts of the solution for information syndication / filtering (in addition to the 3 objects of this post) are :
iGoogle, MyYahoo, Netvibes, Google Reader, SharpReader, Feedghost, RSSpopper, Bloglines, Confluence, PostRank / AideRSS, Yahoo! Pipes, Yammer, Lotus Connections, MS Sharepoint, and I will add Tarpipe.

Note 2 : Some of the interesting outgoing links from RWW’s blog post :

G. Oliver Young (Forrester) : http://blog.strategicheading.com/2008/12/17/2008-web-20-prediction-recap-pt-3-rss-demand-will-grow-substantially/

Brad Feld (investor at NewsGator) : http://www.feld.com/wp/archives/2009/01/enterprise-rss-at-newsgator-is-alive-and-well.html

Samuel Driessen  : http://info-architecture.blogspot.com/2008/12/missing-security-features-in-enterprise.html

Lee Bryant : http://www.headshift.com/blog/2007/10/social-tools-for-internal-comm.php and one of his business case at Allen and Overy

Scott Nielsen (Attensa) : http://www.attensa.com/blogs/attensa/2008/06/enterprise_20_mashup_business.php

A resource place for RSS in enterprises : http://enterpriserssdayofaction.wikispaces.com/

James Dellow : http://chieftech.blogspot.com/2008/12/where-next-for-enterprise-rss-in-2009.html


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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 http://www.rebus-o-matic.com/, 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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Startup geographic mapping : cool visualization using TechCrunch’s CrunchBase

Posted on December 2, 2008. Filed under: English, maps, Navigation, Search, web2.0 | Tags: , , |

Thanks to Benedikt for pointing it out to me : http://www.mapeed.com/livedemo

For the first time that I see a nice (from a graphical point of point) Google Map mashup : well done !!


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Mapping and other visualization techniques to catalog skills and provide orientation for talent management

Posted on November 21, 2008. Filed under: English, maps | Tags: , , , , |


Talent and career management experts have long tried to catalog skills and capabilities, using taxonomies, or more recently folksonomies (see my previous blog post). For an easier presentation of those, many visualization techniques have been used, from interactive and multiple dimension maps, to more simple infographics based on common metaphors.

I just discovered Deloitte’s latest paper on talent management in an ad in the HBR, of which I have extracted (fair use I assume) the key visual below, using the popular “periodic table” visualization metaphor :


Deloitte's talent periodic table


While I hope this will help HR professionals and employees to visualize what is requested from them (like a “cheat sheet”), I can only hope this is only the first of many more visuals to come. The other ones I can think of are :


  • Orientation : provide a map of the routes for career development, each road bearing the signs of the training needed and the achievements requested to move sideways (one function, one business unit or one country to another), or up (increased responsabilities, position or salary). One of the best example I have seen so far is the classical map from the French ONISEP (organization for the orientation of students), as you can find examples below. Other techniques could be using mind maps or radial maps,

Onisep : orientation apres la classe de 3e


Onisep : orientation apres le bac

  • Update and interactivity : for the data to remain consistent over time (such cataloging requires excessive amount of resources to “audit” the workforce that can only be done once every few years), and to be truly useful to others than HR professionnals in charge of career management and training planning (for example to search a person with specific skills and experience for a task, or to share best practices), a company should add another layer using folksonomies, and a visualization / navigation interface (see my previous post)

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Never got lost in history ? Dates, names, alliances, places, when visual design makes it easy to follow

Posted on November 3, 2008. Filed under: Bibliographie, English, History, Time line, Video | Tags: , , , , , , |

Remember the history you used to learn at school ? The Egyptians dynasties, the French kings, the European alliances : there were ways to learn lists of dates and names by heart, sometimes using mnemotechnical gimmicks (PO GLACE for the 7 capital sins – works only in French, or a little poem for the number Pi “car j’aime à faire connaitre un nombre utile aux sages, immortel Archimede artiste ingénieur, qui de ton jugement peut priser la valeur …”). Or there were the visual design tools …

The first one I used was comics : “l’Histoire de France en Bandes Dessinées”. It was recently republished by Larousse and Le Monde newspaper. My history teacher would give us black and white prints / copies, that we had to colorize (I was 10) : it sure helped me to remember a lot 🙂 Later I got more involved with comics and moved to historical series like “Alix“, then “Les 7 Vies de l’Epervier“, and more recently Marjane Satrapi for Persepolis and her own vision of the Iranian revolution.

Histoire de France en bandes dessinées

The second tool I discovered / used was timelines, visual representations of historical chronologies. A French editor (Maurice Griffe) is specialized in these, and you can find them (often in a foldable format) at every historical landmark’s souvenir shop, or a selection here.

Frise chronologique Maurice Griffe

There’s even a wiki version for easy editing of timelines called … EasyTimeline 🙂


Then of course there are the historical atlas. The best known to French students if the Historical Atlas from Georges Duby, but a field that lends itself especially well to that sort of visualization is geostrategy, as for example Yves Lacoste’s Geopolitical Atlas. There’s also an Atlas collection by Les Editions Autrement looks at many major historical landmark through the Atlas / mapping eye.

Atlas historique mondial Georges Duby Atlas geopolitique Yves Lacoste Atlas de la Chine contemporaine, editions Autrement

The number of books that relied heavily on infographics seems to have picked up lately, with editorial success such as XXI, a quarterly magazine approach brought to the book sector, or separate initiatives in a more “encyclopedian” way, such as “Comprendre l’actualité par l’image” (by well known French infography agency Idé), or l’Encyclopédie Visuelle VU by Gallimard, also editing the beautiful travel guides “Encyclopédie du Voyageur“, similar to the Eyewitness travel guides sold in English speaking countries.

XXI #2 Les Nouveaux Visages de l'Economie Comprendre l'actualité par l'image, Idé Encyclopédie visuelle des sports Guides Gallimard

And I recently watched a video made by a local TV channel for Paris 2nd arrondissement (QNTv), that presented the history of the Jean Sans Peur Tower. Nice infographic job, that follows the narrator’s speech in sync to explain how Jean Sans Peur is related to other key historical figures. Imagine you could get such videos for major monuments accessible on your mobile phone or on a wireless video player that would be rented for a Paris city tour : wouldn’t that be great ?

L’histoire de la tour Jean sans Peur
envoyé par QNTV

Comics, time lines, atlas, infographics encyclopedia, infographics videos : many ways knowledge can by designed to facilitate understanding and transfer.





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Pictures, identity and privacy : a sociological research and a game

Posted on October 5, 2008. Filed under: English, photography, Research | Tags: , , |

We used to “Google” someone, now we “Facebook” him/her. Pictures tell so much more about the person than a few words here and there. A sentence taken out of its context can be misunderstood, one could have been careless, tricked or just tired, and said a few words that went further than what was intended. Almost anybody would agree, at least the tolerant ones 😉

But what about pictures, pictures of you taken by others (and not “Photoshopped” of course), or pictures you’ve taken, and which end up online ? How far would you go in exposing yourself, voluntarily or even “unvolontarily” (if someone took a picture of you doing something that society usually condemns, by habit, morale, if not legally) ?

Sociogeek was developped to try and understand the behaviors of Internet users in the social media / web2.0 era. This study uses a game-like online survey (in French, using the new and powerful Flash CMS from SpinMedias) to help you and the researchers understand how you act. The results will be shared publicly. This research is a joint program by :


Here are the results of my test :

My Sociogeek survey results

What about you ?

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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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