Monday, June 30, 2008

Back of the Napkin Mind Map & Visual Thinking Codex

I started reading Dan Roam's "Back of the Napkin" months ago, but just didn't have time to get very far into it. Finally this weekend I was able to get through the first two parts of the book, which essentially explain his framework. I've mentioned in other blog posts that I really like Dan's ideas and I think his book has been excellent so far. After getting through the first two parts of the book, I went back and mind mapped the basic concepts.

For those not already familiar with Dan's concepts, there's several sources online. Dan's blog. VizThink's Podcast with Dan.

Beyond using Dan's framework to solve business problems with pictures, I've begun to think that Dan's framework does more than just provide a framework to solve problems visually. I think perhaps his visual thinking codex that he outlines in the book might be pretty useful as a visual thinking taxonomy.

Since VizThink '08 in January, I've been obsessed off and on with the idea of defining a taxonomy for all things in the visual thinking world. It's been an attempt to get my head wrapped around all the various things out there that seem to fall under the visual thinking umbrella. I've tried a few approaches at a taxonomy, the latest being a concept map and a visual thinking spectrum to show the range of styles of visualizations.

Now my latest idea is that Dan's Visual Thinking Codex can be used to classify the various visualizations available. I subscribe to a number of visual thinking blogs and websites, including; Flowing Data, Cool Infographics, Visual Complexity and many more. Each of these serves up examples of visual thinking on a regular basis. A lot of these can be classified as data visualization or infographics, but these terms seem to mean different things to different people and/or have fuzzy definitions. My new idea is to try to classify these according to Dan's codex.

A quick overview of Dan's codex. In any of the links to Dan's material I've listed above, you'll see him reference a framework for 6 ways of seeing and showing things; 1)Who/What, 2)How Much, 3)Where, 4) When, 5) How, 6)Why. When these are combined in a grid with Dan's SQVID criteria, you get a pretty good way of classifying visual thinking things. At least, that's my working theory I'll be testing.

For example, I came across this network visualization today; Ranking and Mapping Scientific Data.

Using Dan's Codex, we merely determine that this is predominantly showing relationships between things - a "what" framework. "How much" is also represented by the thickness of lines between things as well as the size of the dots. The next step is overlaying that on top of the SQVID criteria (S (Simple vs. Elaborate) Q (Quality vs Quantity) V(Vision vs Execution) I (Individual vs Comparison) D (Change vs Status Quo)). I'd say it falls somewhere in the middle of the Simple vs Elaborate scale, focuses on quantitative features more than qualitative, is more execution-based than vision-based, shows comparison of things rather than individual and shows the current or conditions in the past (status quo) vs the future or change.

So what's the big deal about being able to classify these things? Well, I think if we want to be able to expand acceptance of visual thinking, that visual thinking products need to have a way of being compared, ranked, judged, graded, etc.

If you're lost with all this talk of SQVID and Who/What's vs How muchs, I highly recommend checking out Dan's book, or at the very least, exploring some of the links to his stuff that I referenced above.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Visual Zen Gallery

There's a lot of examples of visual thinking on the web. I thought it would nice to have a single spot where I can collect examples that I like - kind of a visual zen garden. There's only a couple of examples in there at the moment, but it will grow.

Visual Zen Gallery

Got an example you think belongs there? Let me know.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Visual Communication through PowerPoint

PowerPoint is considered by some to be a visual communication tool. We've all suffered through bad examples of PowerPoint presentations where we could argue that it's a bad visual communication tool. There are good examples of PowerPoint though. One I just came across is a presentation by Garr Reynolds of Presentation Zen reviewing Dan Pink's new book. Check it out: