Wednesday, March 26, 2008

VizThink 08 Tag Cloud

I thought it would be interesting to get a measure of the topics at VizThink 08. First I started manually going through the program and highlighting "business" terms vs. other terms with the idea of making a tag cloud or heat map of the various terms used in the breakout session descriptions. Then it occurred to me that in the era of web 2.0 there should be some online tools for generating tag clouds.

As it turns out there are several, but the one I went with was This allowed me to copy session titles and descriptions from VizThink and paste them into their form and generate the tag cloud. The result is below:

This is just the top 100 terms, but it gives kind of a good idea of what terms were most favored in the breakout sessions - at least in their descriptions. The full set is too big to post in an image, but TagCrowd also supplies you with the html code that generates the cloud. Once I get my new visual thinking website up and running (just a couple of days...), I'll post the full set, or at least a bigger set there.

Thursday, March 20, 2008


Over the last week or so I've spent most of my free time surfing the web looking at visual thinking websites, focusing mostly on information visualization, or InfoVis, as some call it. Wow, there is some really cool stuff out there. Anybody who has been involved in that discipline for very long is no doubt aware of most of these findings, but I thought I'd share some here just in case any out there aren't familiar with them.

Of all the disciplines represented by the term visual thinking, I seem to be most drawn to information visualization and data visualization (I'm still struggling to try to find the distinction between the two). I was a bit disappointed that this particular discipline wasn't very well represented at VizThink 08, but I'm hoping that will change in coming years.

Anyway, first up is a paper that's nearly 3 years old from Chaomei Chen of Drexel University titled, "Top 10 Unsolved Information Visualization Problems." It's a bit old but it had some great insights into information visualization discipline from within the community.

Next up, I ran across Stephen Few's website, Stephen writes a monthly newsletter, of which I've downloaded and read a couple, "Practical Rules for Using Colors in Charts," and "InfoVis as Seen by the World Out There: 2007 in Review." Some really good stuff on information visualization here.

I forwarded these to my wife and she commented to me that Stephen was originally scheduled for VizThink 08. I found his blog entry about his decision to drop out of VizThink kind of interesting. While I agree with a few of his concerns, mainly that VizThink '08 was too heavily skewed to drawing and sketching, from my perspective he made the wrong decision by dropping out. I really would have enjoyed attending a breakout session of his. I think the conference needed more of what I'm calling the "analytical" side of visual thinking as opposed to mostly the "creative" side that was represented.

As an attendee of VizThink, while I was a bit disappointed there wasn't much available in the data and information visualization disciplines, I came away from it with a renewed interest in anything related to visual thinking and I think had infovis been better represented I, as well as others, would have been positively influenced and Stephen could have made headway in the points he makes in his "Infovis as Seen ... " article.

But I digress. On to the next find. This one I had heard about and seen referenced but never actually seen, Hans Rosling's 2006 TED conference presentation.

This is absolutely awesome! If you consider yourself a visual thinker and haven't seen this, it's a must see. Eighteen minutes of fantastic data visualization. Check it out. On that note, I'm going to leave it at that for now and go look for some more cool stuff.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Information Design Planning

A week or so ago, Tom Crawford sent me a link to the PDF, "Visualizing Design for Advocacy: An Introduction to Information Design." In my opinion it's a great little primer on information design for those of us who don't have any experience with it.

They outline a process for planning an information design campaign as well as providing a lot of examples of information graphics along the way.

While it's a great stand alone piece, I wanted to reinforce some of the concepts as well as create a simple one page cheat sheet that captured the basic process, so I decided a mind map would be a good idea. I looked at a few of the online web-base mind mapping tools that someone mentioned in a comment here awhile back, but I didn't see any that offered the ability to create a mind map with anything more than just simple lines for branches and boxes. For some reason I was stuck on the idea that I needed to use arrows as my branches so I opted to hand sketch the mind map instead. The result is below. I also incorporated a little bit of Dan Roam's material since it seemed to make so much sense. It's on the Assessing Available Data branch.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Fried Egg Diagram

Karen Martin drew this map to visualize the relationships between the disciplines in urban computing. Some of these disciplines are the same disciplines I've got listed in my visual thinking taxonomy and seeing this map makes me wonder if a similar map of the visual thinking landscape might be a good way to go.

You can download a larger version of the map from her website.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Dan Roam Presentation

VizThink '08 facilitator Dan Roam has apparently been making the conference rounds, attending MIX08 and as well as SXSW. The cools news is that if you missed him the MIX08 presentation is now available online:

MIX08 Windows Media Player Video

I've only watched the first quarter or so of this so far, but it's very similar to Dan's breakout session at VizThink08 that I attended. Highly recommended viewing!

BTW, if you want to download this to your computer for later viewing, just right click on the link instead of left clicking and choose to download or save the file to your computer.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Infographic Annual Report of Your Life

This is cool. New York designer Nicholas Felton has created a 2007 annual report of his life, The 2007 Feltron Annual Report, full of infographics, such as number of vacation days taken per month, itunes tracks played, miles traveled, subway trips, dining (including most bizarre - fermented sea cucumber intestines), dishes eaten by type and much, much more. (Note: The navigation to the pages inside is at the top far left.)

My first thought when I saw the cover was that it was really cool that a company would do an annual report using only information graphics - visual language. Once you see the first page though you realize this is for an individual. Still, wouldn't it be cool if more annual reports were more visual than text.

The next thing that came to mind after going through the report was how much time he had to spend tracking all that data throughout the year. How cool, and telling, it would be to see your past year's life laid out in infographic format! But I don't think I'll have the discipline track all that data.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Visual Communication: Images with Messages

Came across a reference to the book, Visual Communication: Images with Messages by Paul Martin Lester. Looks pretty good, but at over $100 for a new edition, I won't be ordering that very soon. However, I also came across Lester's course notes. He's a professor in the Department of Communication at Cal State Fullerton. He's got 18 separate sections of topics you can click on, each with dozens of slides, some with well over a hundred. Topics range from how we sense and see, light, the eye, visual theories, visual persuasion, typography, graphic design, information graphics and many more. I haven't had a chance to get through them all yet and most of them obviously need additional explanation as they are essential PowerPoint presentations, but there's still some good information in there and sources for further surfing, particularly for a noob like myself. I particularly liked seeing references to the history of graphic design and information graphics in each of those sections.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Information Visualization is a Medium

I thought this was an interesting take on my attempt to classify and categorize all things Visual Thinking. The Emerging Technology conference just took place in San Diego the last few days. Eric Rodendeck of Stamen Design gave a presentation titled "Information Visualization is a Medium." Wish I could have been there for it. But there is a nice little blog write-up on it at We Make Money Not Art.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Visual Thinking: Evolution or Revolution?

A comment in the last post got me thinking about how the different disciplines in visual thinking may have evolved over time and it occurred to me that certain disciplines probably emerged, or at least gained more prominence, from certain industries.

For example, I was thinking about graphic design. According to Wikipedia, graphic design has been around for centuries. But I can't help but think that graphic design as a community of practice, aka discipline, really gained prominence with the emergence of marketing and PR (I could be way off base on this and someone correct me if I am). Similarly, I wonder if we could attribute the rise in acceptance of infographics to the journalism industry. I think similar extrapolations could be made of other industries; science, engineering, computing. These are all examples of visual thinking mapped to certain industries.

As I was going through this mental exercise, I happened to revisit Dan Roam's website. Right there on Dan's home page he asks the question, "So what about visual thinking for business?" He goes on to assert that the business world is behind in visual thinking.

So, I thought a pseudo-time line of how visual thinking disciplines have emerged from certain industries would be interesting. The result is below. (Sorry about the poor quality, my scanner broke so I'm just getting by snapping photos of my doodles).
I should point out that I didn't try to accurately portray the order that each particular industry/discipline emerged. It's essentially a napkin sketch without consulting any references. The graphic is merely trying to show that in the realm of business, visual thinking has probably lagged behind other industries in terms of cultural acceptance, cultural awareness and size of the community of practice.

While it's true that visual thinking has been used within the business world for years or even decades, it seems that now it is starting to gain more publicity and acceptance. Before going to VizThink '08 I was a little perplexed by the preponderance of breakout sessions related to things like strategy, planning and organizing. In fact, I don't think I "got it" until just today. The reason is, is that the trend and excitement and buzz everyone was talking about at VizThink is all about visual thinking applied to the business world. Whether it's merely the evolution of visual thinking or a revolution remains to be seen.

Regardless which, it's been interesting to notice coverage of visual thinking, or elements thereof, in the mainstream media over the last few weeks. CBS News is using sketching to illustrate concepts. The New York Times is reviewing that. Business Week is covering how simple drawings can communicate complex ideas. Just a few examples. But it looks to me like visual thinking is gaining momentum in the mainstream business media.