Thursday, November 19, 2009

Video Zen

I’ve developed a bit of a fascination with online explanatory and informational videos lately and so decided to create a page devoted to that – a page I’m calling Video Zen. Most recently, Xplane has put out a couple of video presentations that are getting a lot of attention, The Carbon Economy and Did You Know 4.0. Engaging + informative.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

New Explanatory Videos

Finally had a chance to finish up some explanatory videos I've had in the works for awhile.

First up, Sending Large Files Screencast - an explanatory video on how to send large files like videos to someone when your email provider won't allow large attachments.

Next, years ago I made a Flash animation showing how hydrogen fuel cells work. I've since lost the original files I used to create it, but I've wanted to convert it to video to put up on YouTube since I still get requests from professors and teachers to use this visual explanation. So, using Camatasia for Mac, I captured the playback, converted it to video and uploaded to YouTube. Check out my You Tube explanatory video on Hydrogen Fuel Cells.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Online Visual Explanation: Plastic Bottles & Ocean Pollution

We’re living in a time of information overload and complexity, inundated with too much information and too little time to get through it. I believe that visual explanations, such as video and online presentations, will be an important tool for organizations to convey their message, whether that’s selling a product or advocating action of some other kind.

Read Full Article >>

Monday, May 11, 2009

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Index Cards & Mind Mapping to Organize a Presentation

I'm in the process of developing an online visual explanation SlideShare presentation about plastic water bottles and ocean pollution for my blog SaveTheOcean (and to share with other Ocean advocacy organizations). I've liked both Cliff Atkinson's and Nancy Duarte's presentation development methodologies, but for some reason have still felt the need to combine elements of both and customize.

Two tools that I'm finding to be really useful are a stack of index cards and mind mapping software (I'm using Nova Mind). The index cards are great for capturing key points in the brainstorming phase. In Nancy's workshop at VizThink recently she had us use post-it notes, but personally I'm finding that index cards are easier to use. I don't have a big whiteboard or wall to organize them all so I can just lay out my index cards on a table or the floor and rearrange as needed, then pack them all up in order when I need the space for something else.

At a certain point, the index cards started getting to be a bit unwieldy so I created a mind map in NovaMind to continue working on the structure of the presentation. I think any of the presentation gurus will tell you that defining your presentation content and structuring it all outside of PowerPoint or Keynote is a best practice. So, next time you have a presentation to develop, hold off on opening up PowerPoint, get some index cards and some mind mapping software (free versions are readily available if you don't have any) and give it a try.

An example of the mind map I'm using to develop my presentation is shown below. It's still a work in progress with more to flesh out.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Digital Photo Basics Screencast

As a web and multimedia developer, I work with photos provided by clients to incorporate into websites on a daily basis. A common problem I run into is that a lot of people don't understand some really basic things about digital images. For example, I'm often provided photos that are way too small for the space needed on a web page. Since I'm expanding my service offerings to include online visual explanations, I thought it would be a good idea to create an explanatory video or screencast that explains some of the basics of using digital images on the web. The result is the following (click on full-screen mode to view it larger).

Digital Photo Basics - Image Size & Resizing from Jeff Bennett on Vimeo.

Now for some self-critiquing. One of my explicit goals in developing this video was to work out the process involved - what settings to use in the video screencapture, what images sizes to use for static images that I imported, R&D on audio capture, etc. While I'm not completely satisfied with the end result, I'm very satisfied with what I learned through the process.

The biggest lesson learned was that the script really needs more work and refinement. More time spent up front in developing the script will result in a better explanation and also reduce fixes and edits later on in the production process. For example, after creating all the visuals and audio and reviewing a rough cut of the video, I noticed an error in the narration that I should have caught when writing the script. It was minor, but I re-recorded a portion of the audio to correct it and also to find out if there would be a noticeable difference in the audio recorded at different times. Despite using all the same audio settings and same microphone, I can detect a difference. So, lesson learned - spend a lot of time developing, editing and nitpicking the script, then once it's perfect, record all the audio at once, then synch up the audio with the visuals later in the production process.

The audio quality also leaves a bit to be desired, but this was expected since I just used the built-in microphone on my Mac Powerbook. Investing in a better quality external mic will fix this problem. There's also a slight inconsistency at one point that I did just to make a point. In retrospect, it would probably be better to avoid this kind of thing.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Web Trend Map 4 Release

Every visual thinking blogger in the blogosphere is going to be blogging about it, but it's just so damn cool that I have to do it too. Information Architects have just released their Web Trend Map 4. Popular domains on the Web are mapped to the Tokyo Metro and organized by how they are most related to the cities. Heights represent success in traffic and branding. Subway lines are colored by area of interest. Check it out!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Visualizing Garbage

At VizThink '09, Ole Qvist-Sorensen challenged the audience during his general session presentation, "Survival Academy: Imagining a Better World with Visual Language, Thinking and Practice," how we as visual thinkers could contribute to saving the world by putting our talents to work on global problems. That struck a chord with me, so one of my take-away goals from VizThink has been to get involved with at least one global issue that concerns me and apply visual thinking to address or raise awareness of the issue. Ole referenced Sylvia Earle's recent TED wish which struck yet another chord and so I've decided to apply some visual thinking to the issue of raising awareness of the plight of our oceans. My original thought was to develop an online visual explanation either as a presentation and/or video. But I thought it also might be interesting to start up a blog wherein I can capture some of content ideas for the explanation as well as publish snippets from the explanation as I develop them. So, I've started yet another blog. One of the compelling issue I think needs highlighting in the visual explanation is what's known as The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. There's a lot of visuals and infographics available on the web to depict this, but I thought it would be fun to develop my own infographic. The first draft is below.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Sixth Sense Visual Thinking

At the recent TED conference, Pattie Maes presented Sixth Sense, a wearable device that projects images on the users' environment, opening some really cool possibilities for data interaction with real life objects. Lots of people are comparing it to Minority Report, but to me it more closely resembles the world described by Vernor Vinge in Rainbows End. After reading Rainbows End and watching this TED presentation I suspect that this concept of our virtual world overlaid on top of our reality is what where we can expect virtual reality to go. Watch the presentation below and if you're intrigued by the idea, I recommend checking out Rainbows End.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

VizThink 09 Video

I brought along a tiny little video camera called the GoPro to VizThink and tried it out at Tuesday morning's general session. It's a wide angle lens camera with a limitation of 56 minutes of video and really limited audio. I set up the camera on the table during the general session and caught the preliminary announcements, presentations by Tableau and XPlane, some of the "live infographics" choreographed by Tom and part of Ole Qvist-Sorensen's Survival Academy presentation. Aside from speeding up the video, I didn't edit anything out. There's also no audio and it's pretty tough to see much of what's on the presenter's screen but I thought the video might be semi-interesting to folks who weren't there to just get a flavor of what it's like attending a VizThink general session.

VizThink 09 Tuesday Morning General Session from Jeff Bennett on Vimeo.

Monday, March 2, 2009

VizThink 09 Day 2 Quick Summary

Finally back home after family visit following VizThink in San Jose. Day 2 was a heavy hitter, packed with content from the start. The morning kicked off with general session, featuring some sponsor presentations followed by Ole Qvist-Sorensen presentation, Survival Academy: Imagining a Better World with Visual Language, Thinking and Practice. Ole asked us how we as visual thinkers could contribute to saving the world by putting our talents to work on global problems. He inspired me to get involved so I'm planning to get in touch with to see about producing some online visual explanations (videos or SlideShare presentations) to spotlight issues like Sylvia Earle's TED wish ("I wish you would use all means at your disposal -- films! expeditions! the web! more! -- to ignite public support for a global network of marine protected areas, hope spots large enough to save and restore the ocean, the blue heart of the planet.")

My choice for Tuesday morning breakout was Luke Wroblewski's Visual Communication for the Web. Luke has been a recognized leader on websites for years and having read both his books, I was really looking forward to this session. Luke's main takeaway was using a visual hierarchy to improve the communication value of a website. Visual hierarchy the main desired call for action on a page - you should deliberately prioritize visual weight using relationships to give meaning. I only sketched a quick mind map of the basic concepts, since he had so much material and went through it so fast. We examined and analyzed several before and after examples to highlight the basic principles. Hopefully Luke will post his presentation soon and I can link to it here.

Tuesday afternoon was another big influencer in the visual thinking world - Nancy Duarte. I recently finished Nancy's book, Slideology and I was looking forward to learning from another visual thinking master. This was a fantastic and fun session focused on Nancy's new methodology for developing compelling stories for presentations. Great theory combined with some fun hands-on exercises and some exemplary storytelling and a take home template for developing stories for presentations. Looking forward to putting it to use in developing online visual explanations.

Tuesday afternoon's general session was replaced by the snapshot sessions. Personally I thought these little mini sessions were a great idea. They gave everyone a chance to pick 4 out of 9 20 minute sessions. Very quick and very focused. I kicked off with Craig Berman's Collaborative Storyboarding, followed by Doug Ranahan's Beyond Fluff - Data Visualization for Business, then Ron Gould's VizThinking Marketing Strategy.

By the end of the day I was pretty saturated with information and starving for some good food and down time to let things soak in and process. Karen and I popped into Mezcal for a great alternative to mexican food - featuring Oaxacan cuisine. Mmmmmm!

Overall another succesful, inspiring day at VizThink. Great job everyone!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

VizThink 09 Day 1 Quick Summary

Starting out on day 2 here in San Jose. Day one was a whirlwind of networking and sessions. Started out in the morning general session with Tom's Table Scramble, chaos and commotion in the main conference room as Tom created networking opportunities for people along with a real-time live data visualization using the attendees ourselves to represent Mac users vs PC users, distance in miles flown etc.

Interesting opening discussion by Colin Ware about visual thinking - my main take away from that being, communication is best if we use the appropriate medium.

Breakout session 1 - Karl Gude. Oh my God! That guy has energy! Karl showcased Do's and Don'ts in infographic design. Very entertaining session and a few take-aways. Probably deserves it's own dedicated blog post some time later.

Breakout session 2- Joyce Hostyn. Interesting points on 3 Brain Theory, 6 types of story. She presented the case that facts are meaningless without a contextual story. Having a good story is essential to visuals being able to communicate your intent.

Afternoon general session - the every impressive Tom Wujec - some very cool visuals, how the brain works to process visual information - nice seque into Dan Roam discussing principles from his Back of the Napkin book. I attendeed Dan Roam's session last year and highly recommend it to anyone this year. I'd attend myself, but it's at the same time as Luke W.'s session on visual communication and the web today. Really looking forward to that one. Luke W. has a couple of nice summaries of Tom Wujec's and Dan Roam's general session presentations.

By the end of general session yesterday I was exhausted. Karen and I needed a break from the commotion so we snuck out for a quiet dinner at Original Joe's. Some great Italian with huge portions. After that, the plan was to prep for and attend the scheduled VizCamp at 9pm, but I ended up having to attend to some work issues till about 9:30. After that there was no way I could process anything more.

Time to get ready for Day 2.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

VizThink 09 Opening Reception

VizThink 09 kicked off today with the opening reception in the lobby lounge, along with an Fairmont's Oscar party. By my count about 60 - 70 VizThinkers congregated around the bar under the big screen broadcasting the Oscars. Lots of conversation, mingling and networking going on. A bit noisy and congested for my taste so I hung around the periphery with the Brazilian SOAP team and then cut out to E&O Trading Co. again for Indonesian BBQ beef and Alaskan Winter Ale. Mmmmmm! General session starts at 8:30 tomorrow so it's time for bed. Looking forward to Day 1 of VizThink 09.

VizThink 09 Saturday Pre-Conference Tweet-up and Restaurant Reviews

Karen and I arrived to the conference hotel late Friday night and spent most of Saturday wandering around the neighborhood checking out restaurant options. More on that below.

The Tweet-up was scheduled for 6:00 in the hotel lobby and we arrived around 6:15- 6:30 and didn't see anyone we recognized or any indication of a VizThink Tweet-up. We did recognize Rodolpho and chatted with him for a bit. It wasn't long before Tom showed up and honed in on the Tweet-up crowd. Tom served as our bird-dog and we followed him to a group of 6 - 8 people chatting in a corner.

We introduced ourselves to Tom and Tom introduced us to some others and we chatted with Tom for a bit. I was struck by how much energy Tom still had after two days already spent setting up the conference. Sounds like attendance at this conference will be a bit smaller than last year, but still well over 200 attendees and the line-up of facilitators is very impressive.

Before long the Tweet-up group had expanded to about 20 people, mostly dispersed in small groups of 4 or 5. We found ourselves conversing with Tom again, as well as Mark and his SOAP (VizThink Sponsor) Brazilian compatriots, and Julia, a local VizThink volunteer.

Lots of good conversation about visual thinking, presentations, books, culture, surfing, physics and local restaurants. At some point, Ryan showed up, as well as Dave Gray and Karl Gude - veritable visual thinking celebrities. The get-together was planned to last until 7:30, but it was still going strong at 8:45 when we pulled ourselves away to go find some dinner. All in all it was a great little gathering with some good conversation and networking - and the conference hasn't even officially started yet.

Restaurant Reviews

There's seems to be a pretty diverse variety of eating options within a 3 block radius of the hotel, in addition to the hotel restaurants. On arrival Friday night we opted for Gordon Biersch, a chain brew pub. We're both fans of microbrew beers. Gordon Biersch isn't the greatest, but they do have some pretty decent beers. Food was ok, nothing fancy. Ambience is a bit noisy as you'd expect. The schwarzbier and Marzen were both pretty good.

For breakfast yesterday (more like brunch actually), the hotel Concierge recommended Flames, about three blocks northeast of the hotel, next to San Jose State University. It's apparently a chain restaurant though I had never heard of it. Nice, clean, open atmosphere, good service an enormous selection of breakfast choices. Belgian waffle for me and crab cakes benedict for Karen - both very good. They've got a weekday early special which might be a good breakfast option for VizThinkers if you want a good sit down breakfast outside the hotel at much better prices than the hotel restaurants. Another option is the Bijan Bakery in building adjacent to the hotel (actually in the same building as the hotel's south tower). Lots of pastry options, bagels and coffee. A bit disorganized when I went down for coffee and croissants this morning, but pretty good croissants.

Since we had a big late brunch we weren't hungry until late afternoon and skipped lunch. On our way to Gordon Biersch we had past by E&O Trading Company. At VizThink 08 in San Francisco we had had dinner at the their San Francisco location and both enjoyed it so we popped in for an appetizer and drink before the Tweet-up. E&O's fare would probably be described as Asian Fusion. It's an eclectic blend of southeast asian (Thai, Singapore, Indonesia...) with some Indian influence as well. They also have some good beers on tap. They're seasonal beer right now is Alaska Winter Ale from Alaskan Brewing Co. I didn't have to hear anything else. Anything from Alaskan Brewing Co. is going to be good and the winter ale didn't disappoint. Outstanding beer! Nectar of the gods. For appetizers the sesame beef satay and panir cheese naan bread we're also very tasty.

At the tweet-up we got some recommendations from Julia, who lives in the area. Her recommendations; La Victoria for Mexican, Il Fornaio or Original Joe's for Italian and Hanuman for Thai. The Thai food options on Maui are a bit disappointing so good Thai food was high on our list of dining on this trip. Hanuman is a pretty small little family place located between E&O and Gordon Biersch, within a block or two from the hotel. The dining room is on the second level, nothing fancy, very quiet, very good service. I can't seem to every expand my Thai horizon past phad thai so I ordered up a big spicy plate of chicken phad thai and Karen got a bowl of tom ka with shrimp. Tom ka soup was excellent, some of the best in Karen's opinion and the phad thai was the best I've had since the little neighborhood thai restaurant in Seattle where we lived several years ago. If I order it again though I'll go for the medium spicy level, rather than spicy.

So, high recommendations from both of us so far for E&O Trading Company and Hanuman. Highly likely that we'll be back to both of these two during our VizThink stay. And we still need to try at least one of the italian restaurants and La Victoria.

It's a cool, cloudy, rainy day in San Jose today so we'll likely spend our day inside on some visual thinking projects before the reception this evening. Should be an interesting reception this evening. In addition to hundreds of visual thinkers, the hotel is hosting an Oscar awards party in the lounge and the timing of the two will partially overlap. So, if you're torn between watching the Oscars and coming to the reception, you can do both at the same time. We'll be there tonight, sporting our visual thinking t-shirts. See you there.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


Tony Karrer's comment in my last blog post about doing a T-shirt for the upcoming VizThink conference was a great idea. Tony's suggestion was to do a T-shirt with my mind map from the previous post that shows what my visual thinking interests are. Great idea, but I thought, why not come up with a T-shirt design that other people might be interested in wearing as well. I've previously sold some T-shirts online through CafePress for another website/blog that I run. So, I figured, why not come up with a Visual Thinking T-Shirt? So, here's the first "VizWear" (that I'm aware of).
And here's a look at the design on a T-shirt from the CafePress store.
My wife (who will also be attending VizThink) and I collaborated on the design (she also did the VizWear logo at the top of this post) and finished it this weekend and I opened up the Cafe Press Visual Thinking Store and ordered one for myself and one for her. We both plan to wear our "VizWear" at the opening reception on Sunday night and Monday so we'll be easy to spot. This little project is primarily intended as a networking tool for us to distinguish ourselves at the conference. Both of us are natural introverts so schmoozing and socializing don't come naturally to us. So, we hope the T-shirt idea will help us mingle and meet people a little better. But, if you like the design enough to sport one yourself, they're on sale now in the Cafe Press Visual Thinking Store.

We've also got another design in the works that will go on T-shirts as well some other items like mugs possibly, so you'll have more opportunities to show off your inner visual thinker with pride. Coming to VizThink in San Jose later this month? Be sure to look for us sporting our VizWear and introduce yourself.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Mind map of VizThink 09 Interests

It's hard to believe that it's been almost a year since the first VizThink conference. VizThink '08 renewed my interest in visual communication, but I came home from it a bit overwhelmed by all the types and disciplines within visual thinking. I spent the first several months after the conference trying to identify and categorize everything that fell within the visual thinking domain. Hence the obsession in this blog with categorizing and coming up with a taxonomy of visual thinking. While I never came up with a nice, neat visual that captured the whole field of visual thinking, I at least got comfortable with most of the terms, artifacts and disciplines such that I no longer feel overwhelmed by the scope of it all.

Since there's so many interesting areas in visual thinking that will be represented at VizThink 09, it seems to me that the best approach going into this year's conference is to select a few key themes, disciplines or interests and focus on those. This idea was reinforced by the recent podcast with Tony Karrer on the VizThink blog. His key point, to get the most out of the VizThink 09 conference, you need to do some prep work, figure out what you want to get out of the conference, brainstorm 5 - 10 key questions you want to get answers for that you can use to select sessions and while networking.

So, taking that advice to heart, I took a little time to brainstorm what areas of visual thinking I'm currently most interested in and created a mind map of that. The result is below. I hope to flesh this out a bit more as the conference draws nearer, but if you're attending VizThink '09 and you share any of the interests on this mind map, let's hook up and chat.