The critical role of visual elements in effective communicationRead More
PreRamble: Great article in yesterday’s WSJ on the state of the art and fate of paper maps in the digital era … (Great headline too: “Paper Maps Refuse to Fold“)
I love maps — probably because I am generally navigationally challenged and a nice piece of actual paper that shows me where I’m supposed to be going is always comforting.
I also love “maps” in the broader sense as overview documents that orient audiences to the bigger picture.
As a life-long mappie, I have to come out in support of cartographer Daniel Huffman’s assertion on map-craft,
“Even in an age of mass-produced digital maps, custom cartography still has value … We are craft people and artists and we get hired by people who appreciate that.”
Hear, here … Weren’t maps one of the first chisel-outs wrought by man on the cave wall? Beyond geography, those early maps provided context for complicated concepts (like Earth and sky) and presented a diagram of place and connections.
Like a song or a scent, a crispy, dog-eared paper map can also bring back memories of experiences … An aside:
When I was growing up, my family would take an annual road-trip from our home in Detroit, Michigan to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina (22 hours in the back seat … ). Whenever I see that blue-tone Chamber of Commerce map of the boot-shaped island, I’m routed to a paper-covered table at Hudson’s Seafood, where my parents and I are howling with laughter as my brother (then 9) does his spot-on impression of Ted Baxter from the Mary Tyler Moore Show episode where he has a piece of spinach in his teeth while on the air.
I can see my Dad, gasping for breath, tears running down his face … at my brother doing Ted reading aloud on the air what he thinks is a breaking news note from his producer,
“Ted – you have a piece of spinach or something in your teeth.”
How do I love thee? In his love-fest with the map, cartographer Huffman also suggests that a great paper map “is like a poem.” Love the thought of maps as poetry. Visually, they can certainly be beautiful, and blended with whatever interesting thing is being mapped, they can be downright delightful.
The Take-Away: Maps are important/crucial, multi-faceted, amazing tools. Maps are how we get our heads wrapped around a place or concept. Like magic, a map can orient us to an infinite number of angles on a place — real or imagined; past, present or future. It can cue us to experiences we’ve had, tell us where we are right now, or show us where we might want to go — literally or figuratively — in the future.
And, directionally speaking, there’s nothing like the triple-threat map strategy: 1) peruse print-out paper map; 2) review turn-by-turn written directions; 3) punch in address on phone and watch “blue dot” move through space (if only to confirm that – “Yep, I’m headed the wrong way … “)
PS: For all you tech-snob millennials — Manik Gupta, Director of Google Maps, brings a PRINT-OUT of a Google map when he travels,
“Believe it or not, I actually print it out, so I can share it with a taxi driver.”
… Tech-snob Millennial: “What’s a taxi?”
Photo credit: “Info-map-phic” shown top depicts the fan territories of major league baseball teams – by Josh Katy – pleasing to look at and also statistically interesting.
PreRamble: My favorite, go-to curator of all things interesting, Maria Popova presents her expertly filtered findings on information design, citing Nate Silver on the Three Keys to Great Information Design. She points to Silver’s recent effort with editor Gareth Cook, The Best American Infographics 2014.
Here’s an excerpt … Popova quoting Silver, quoting Edward Tufte …
Silver points out that at the dawn of information design – as, for instance, in the heyday of the disciple’s little-known godfather, Frtiz Kahn – these constraints were largely practical, imposed by factors like the cost of materials and the availability of physical space for printing the infographic. But with the rise of the internet, the chief constraint became the audience’s attention. Pointing to the legacy of anti-“chartjunk” crusader Edward Tufte, Silver writes:
Tufte and others have long spoken to the importance of minimalism in information design. But it proved to be more important as design was translated onto the web, where attention spans are measured in seconds and the next graphic is but a mouse-click or hand-swipe away. More isn’t always better: no more in information design than in poetry, or painting, or product design. A superfluous axis on a chart, an extra dimension of information, can distract from the focal point just as much as an extraneous word in a sonnet or an unnecessary button on a tablet. It can reduce the signal-to-noise ratio and leave the viewer less well informed.
Successful examples of information design can sometimes be highly intricate, but these cases usually involve a layered approach. The most essential elements of the graphic – the most essential parts of the story – jump out immediately.
The Take-Away: Invigorating to see that the clarity found at the intersection of information, design and communication continues to be as critical, relevant and fascinating as ever.
PreRamble: Three scientists were awarded this year’s Nobel Prize in Medicine for discovering brain circuits that help us navigate our physical environment. The research identifies special nerve cells that create an “inner GPS” system that guides and determines a “sense of place.”
These findings make me wonder whether a similar kind of “mapping circuitry” would regulate the coding and organization of information/”informational space” in the brain.
National Geographic explores developments in related research around the complex neural coding functions in the brain,
” … Advanced technologies for capturing a snapshot of the brain in action have confirmed that discrete functions occur in specific locations. The neural “address” where you remember a phone number, for instance, is different from the one where you remember a face … Yet it is increasingly clear that cognitive functions cannot be pinned to spots on the brain like towns on a map. A given mental task may involve a complicated web of circuits, which interact in varying degrees with others throughout the brain—not like the parts in a machine, but like the instruments in a symphony orchestra combining their tenor, volume, and resonance to create a particular musical effect.”
Then, consider the concept of “mind-mapping.” Defined by Wikipedia as a diagram used to visually organize information, the term “mind-mapping” was introduced by British pop-psychology author and television personality Tony Buzan. Modern mind-mapping is based on methods of visual modeling that have been used for centuries to record and transfer knowledge, and is now used by millions of people around the world.
“A mind map is often created around a single concept, drawn as an image in the center of a blank landscape page, to which associated representations of ideas such as images, words and parts of words are added. Major ideas are connected directly to the central concept, and other ideas branch out from those.”
As with any mapping tool, a hierarchy of information collapses knowledge into essential, representative bits — the main arteries in the Buzan model shown above, for example — with smaller, less potentially relevant details moved to another, less prominent level. Perhaps this simple, strategic presentation of key bits of information can support and promote meaningful contextual coding of “spatial circuits” in the brain, thereby affording more effective navigation and transfer of information — ?
The Take-Away: The human brain is designed to map out contextual circuitry for physical/spatial/concrete information, and it’s likely that a similar dynamic governs networks of psychological/abstract information as well. These are important findings for writers and designers — and anyone who wants to learn or communicate effectively.
PreRamble: Following up on my recent post on the visual perception of information — case in point — a very lovely graphic design/poster depicting very interesting and useful information on The Ideal Length of Everything Online …
I like this graphic/poster — a lot. It caught my eye right away. It’s fun … it’s hip … it’s well-designed. It’s full of energy, interesting shapes and engaging colors. I would hang this on the wall in my office. I would buy a coffee mug with this stuff on it.
I’m assuming that the goal of this piece is to communicate some pretty important, research-based information that can help people craft effective communications in our digital/social media world.
I’m in! As a designer, writer and communicator, I want to know the information contained in this graphic/poster. This information is valuable to me. I want to use it in my work.
Except, I can’t.
Still fascinated, … but exhausted. Based on the visual perception dynamics demonstrated in the Rozenholtz research (discussed in previous post) and elsewhere, my eye is so busy popping back and forth from box to box, following arrows, flashing between colors, making associations between words and numbers, navigating around the sizes and shapes, and fielding the negative space between them, that I can’t seem to get my head wrapped around the information itself.
It wasn’t until I converted the content on the poster into a less visually engaging form (shown below) that I was able to access it and use it. Ok, yeah, … it’s simple, clunky and boring, but it works as a great cheat sheet until the practices become second nature.
The Take-Away: The ideal solution for graphic interest, energy or fun isn’t always the same as the ideal solution for user experience around the communication of information.
Both good design — different outcome.
Note: The fun graphic/poster accompanies an article by Kevan Lee that appeared on the blog-site Buffer in March 2014. In it he spells out the research and provides excellent examples of the ideal lengths of things premise — well worth checking out here.
Alas, according to The Ideal Length of Everything Online, this blog post falls short of the ideal length of a blog post by 1,233 words.