A bit on infographics

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Now, I don’t mean to be too cynical and I’m not out there to discredit the work of others. I am, however,  a little lost as to terminology in design and publishing these days, perhaps.

I just started using that flipboard app for iPad yesterday and added ‘Good’ to my contents page. Good.is is all about good stuff: “10 Best Foods for Your Looks”, “Is Summer Vacation the Enemy?”, “Videos from London’s Cycle Super Highways” are just a few tweeted headlines from today – and, as you can expect from something a mid-to-late-twenties, semi-trendy, creative professional who just moved into Pacific Heights, San Francisco would subscribe to, it’s packed full of those oh-so-hot infographics, which I assume is short for information graphics.

The confusion I have about said infographics is that (when I was a boy) information graphics were intended to make information easier to understand, or to put information in context (in a way that makes it easier to understand), as opposed to making information simply look nicer on a page.

They’re mostly quite nice to look at, but here are two of them I’d like to re-label from ‘inforgraphic’ to, well, something else:

Good.is - General Motors sales in USA vs. China

Good.is - General Motors sales in USA vs. China

I’d call this one an illustration instead of an infographic. For starters, the title “More GM Cars Sold in China Than America” is a very, very (VERY) clear  piece of information that doesn’t really need clearing up by a visual communication specialist, not to mention the illustration is a little confusing in itself: the cars aren’t aligned on a grid  so it’s actually a little tricky to quickly take in just how many cars are American and how many are Chinese. Each visualized integer (USA:China 1.08:1.20)s take up the same amount of space (visually) and I found myself having to count, to an extent, to see how many cars where on each line.

How would I solve this infographic? Either, I’d arrange the cars on a grid so that there are clearly less American cars, or, I’d use a pie chart breaking down the number of cars sold in China, USA and ‘other’ markets, or even a simple bar chart of the two markets compared… Or I’d just not illustrate the information at all.

To sum it up, I don’t think this piece of information really needs anything visual to make it clearer so maybe a stock image of a GM car would be just fine for the article as that would be less likely to confuse at all.

The other one is this:

Good.is - A Dropout Epidemic

Good.is - A Dropout Epidemic

This is a much more complex set of information than the previous, and there has been some visual elaboration made to make it more interesting than a regular chart spit out of Excel or Numbers. However, this visual embellishment does nothing to clarify the information and is therefore just embellishment. The page is just as daunting as any chart spit out of your favorite spreadsheet software despite the cute pencils and script typefaces, really, look at all of that information! So, I’d class this one as a chart, not a piece of information graphics.

How would I do this one? No idea – I  probably wouldn’t publish it as it doesn’t add a whole lot of detail to the story given there are no hard figures related to each cute pencil bar. Maybe it would have made sense to include a high state and a low state as an illustration to accompany the article, then give a link to a very straight, not illustrative, chart with all of the data figures if that’s what some readers would want to see.

To sum up my opinion on this infographic, I don’t think the design of this chart really does much to make the information it conveys more digestible for the reader.

To conclude, I think…

During the Obama campaign, infographics really took off – charting became ‘hip’, and for a while there was some great information graphics work flying around. That wasn’t the birth of visually interesting – as well as functional – information graphics. Just check out the book ‘A Smile in the Mind‘ and look at the financial reports section – you’ll see some amazing work in there dating back to who-knows-when (my copy is currently in a shipping container so I can’t tell you) and I recall The Guardian started publishing great information graphics after their rebrand/reformat in the early-to-mid 2000’s.

I believe (but am open to suggestion) that infographics are a trend and the term ‘infographic’ doesn’t seem to match up with what I understand to be ‘Information Graphics’ (I almost applied for a degree at LCC specifically in Information Graphics before I was accepted at Central Saint Martins, so that goes to show how much thought can go into ‘infographics’: years of training). They became part of popular culture in the late 2000’s and are still floating around as visual filler to accompany press based on data – whether or not they improve the reader’s understanding of the data.

I personally can’t suggest an alternative. Without these pretty charts and information-inspired illustrations, we’d probably be looking at stock photos or political cartoons – neither of which I have any qualms with.

It’s all much of a muchness, but that’s blogging for you.

If you have some information you’d like visually communicated, get in touch.


EXIF data I didn’t expect to see from the iPhone

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Aperture? Shutter? ISO? Wow, ok, how about a camera app that gives you control over these?

Ads are loud, but should they be?

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I’m sure that everyone, at some point in their TV watching life, asks “why are the ads so much louder than the TV show I’m watching”?

The answer is pretty simple – broadcasters have a limit to the volume at which they can broadcast and they save this loudest of loudness for the loudest parts of the show. An explosion sound effect wouldn’t have as much impact if all the actors talking were just as loud, right? Using audio dynamics to create impact is part of the art of television.

Taking this into consideration, advertisers compress the audio in their ads so that every split second of audio is as close to that maximum as possible. The music only gets quieter to make room for a loud, booming voice.

It’s classic “make the logo bigger” behavior, and almost every ad is trying to out-shout the others which (in my opinion) is dumb because they’re all subject to an upper limit, thus all shouting just as loud as each other.

So, advertisers, why not surprise us with some quiet ads right out of a show? I’d pay more attention to an ad that stopped me half way through the act of reaching for the remote and turning down the volume than one that just kept on shouting at me.

Just spare us a whispering child voiceover, please.

Some posters I’m working on

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A work in progress poster

The Bay Area Rapid Transport (or BART) is a maglev train connecting Downtown SF, Oakland and their respective airports and suburbs. Read more…


Some things I noticed online

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These just in:

Weird mix of design styles from Yahoo!, and a new(ish, but growing ever more popular by the day) trend in web design.

Yahoo!’s designers (the ones they hired instead of me? Yeah, just saying.. :-p) seem to have confused this textural background with a highly reflective background on their Yahoo! Mail sign-in page. Looks weird and probably happened out of laziness / pointlessly following trend.

Weird reflection on textured wallpaper

This wrap-around banner thing is pretty popular still. I wonder how long it will last.

In fact, it’s been around since at least October 2009, as this post from James Carlton shows:

Wrap around banners from James Carlton's blog

I totally get it, it looks nice, and adds some depth but I can’t help but think web designers are now adding it because it’s the ‘done thing’. For example – when the CSS3 standards started coming in and suddenly there were rounded corners and drop shadows all over the place.

I also have a thing about “30 free icons for web designers to use on their website” blog posts. If they’re designers, maybe they should design their own icons instead of just dropping something someone else thought up / made into ‘their’ design.

update: tiny wrap-around banners from LinkedIn

LinkedIn banner example

Me and my Mac today


I used a javascript thing I found via Google reader that tracks the movement of your mouse on the screen. I’m not sure what the dots mean. It might be where I have left the cursor.. or maybe it’s clicks? I think it’s a bit of both.

This is a typical (very) lazy day at home on the couch in front of the tv, browsing the internet from time to time. I might leave it running tomorrow to see how it turns out after a day of illustration using my wacom and illustrator. Could be quite different?

My favorite part is the bottom-right, where I have exposé set for ‘all windows’.

*the application that generated this from my mouse movements is called MousePath

My iPad


Recently finding out about Google Reader’s recommended items feed has left me bombarded with mostly negative and disappointed reviews on the Apple iPad that was unveiled a week or two ago.

I can agree with many of the other bloggers out there that the announcement was ‘whelming’ (as in, neither over or under whelming). This is partly down to the leaks and guesswork over the weeks before the unveiling that painted a much more ‘hi-tech, multitasking, do-everything device’ picture of what the iPad would be. Personally, I feel these predictions were fair, given previously credible leak sources had incorrectly put the price of the iPad at approximately $999, as opposed to the $499 price Apple surprised pretty much everyone with. For $999, I’d expect it to run more than the iPhone OS, and let me run full-on OS X software.

Right from the start, however, Steve Jobs pointed out that the iPad isn’t there to replace your mac, and it isn’t there to replace your iPhone. It fits somewhere in the middle, and in my opinion, that’s exactly what it does.

To be clear, before I get into the list I originally sat down to write, I would like an iPad. I like sitting on the couch and browsing, and I’d prefer to do that on an iPad than my MacBook or iPhone. It’s a good size, it’s quick, and it doesn’t multitask (I don’t multitask on my Mac when I’m on the sofa, I use Chrome and that’s about it. During the day I’ll use the Adobe Suite, but show me a brand new computer that can do that for $499). So, I’d like to use it at home, and probably leave it on my coffee table. I’m not a big reader but I could see myself using an iPad along with a yet-to-be-released newspaper app that is optimized for the device. I’d probably take it on flights to watch movies and play games (it has 10 hours of battery life) and use it as a diary when at home, instead of my MacBook and iPhone (Mac=office, iPhone=out, iPad=home). For me, it would be a great coffee table book. A colleague last week also mentioned it would be fantastic for designers’ portfolios, particularly with the new version of Keynote that will be available, built especially for iPad.

Anyway, here’s the afore-mentioned list I was going to write. It’s quite simply:

A list of partly misinformed and sweeping statements* I’ve seen on Google reader in regards to the Apple iPad

  • It doesn’t do 16:9, so it’s crap for watching movies because, of course, it was built to watch movies, and that’s it
  • It’s just a big iPhone. Granted, it runs the same OS and has a bigger screen but don’t forget about iWork, the faster processor, iBooks and soon-to-come iPad-specific apps. It might be a big iPhone now, but in 6 months it’ll be something entirely different.
  • NO MULTITASKING! Many people are assuming you won’t be able to listen to music and work on Keynote at the same time. It runs iPhone OS, so it’s pretty obvious it will. Other than that, I can’t personally find a reason I’d like multitasking on iPad.
  • NO FLASH! I’ll admit it, when I saw the blue lego brick I was pretty shocked, but later ‘tech disses’ from Jobs about flash crashing Macs, I can agree with. I’ve seen flash put my MacBook to a standstill (hard reset levels of fail) when running just Chrome. Yes, “I’ve” crashed Chrome and my whole computer, with the help of flash.
  • “iPad vs. a rock” checklists… Funny once, just about.
  • No HDMI out! As I mentioned before – I’m looking forward to having one of these on my lap while I watch TV, so no real need to plug it into a TV. Why buy a device with a ‘gorgeous’ and ‘magical’ IPS touchscreen only to stick it next to your TV to watch movies? Apple TV anyone?
  • I’ll buy one for my Mom. Yes! Exactly! Apple couldn’t have said it better if they had tried! E-mail, photos, browsing, contacts, calendar, iWork. That’ll do nicely.
  • The bezel is huge. Please, please wait until you use one before throwing that one out there. I’m waiting, too.
  • No camera(s). I totally agree that it would be great if the iPad had a user-facing camera for video conferencing. My family is pretty spread out across Europe and the USA so it would be great if we could all have these things on our coffee tables so we could just pick up and chat with each other. People who were expecting a forward-facing 5mp camera, on the other hand, are mental. Seriously?
  • No USB or built-in memory card reader. I’m not sure why you’d want USB on the iPad given it runs iPhone OS and is a largely *wireless* device. Wire-less. A memory card slot would be pretty handy for transferring photos straight into the Photos app while on holiday, though. Luckily, there’s an adapter for that, which will conveniently and easily fit into my camera case and cause me no hassle whatsoever. I’d also like to see an adapter that will allow me to charge my iPhone from my iPad .. oh wait, damn, no USB!

I think that about covers it all for now.

*I’ll caveat that I’ve written this with the view of being a ‘normal person’ as opposed to a ‘tech person’. I’m a bit of both, so hopefully that explains my view for you.

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