Snake Oil over Ramen Noodles

My colleague Helen is a data analyst and researcher at the University of Toronto. Daily, she mines volumes of data about graduate education.

Most of her reports feature black and white charts with texts and numbers. The reports are robust with comparative data. Whenever I need to check a graduate program’s data set, her reliable annual report is my ultimate go-to resource.

However, we both agree that traditional statistical reports can use a shot of pizzazz!

Helen is also a foodie, so I love dining with her. Today we find ourselves lunching at Kenzo Ramen.

We are discussing a Ted Talk by data journalist David McCandless titled “The Beauty of Data Visualization” (July 10, 2010). An information designer, McCandless talks about visualizing the connections between data so that relational concepts are better understood when presented graphically.

With the emergence of data visualization and infographics, the future is beautiful. Information is beautiful. His recent project, Snake Oil?, presents comparative scientific data on popular health supplements.

SnakeOil1

By presenting research in such an engaging way, information is accessible to the public. Scientific data is not languishing on dusty shelves or in rusty filing cabinets. (OK, maybe no one but me files paper in physical cabinets any more…)

In fact, consumers are flocking to buy infographic posters as much for their informational significance as for their visual appeal.

McCandless explains, “The eye is exquisitely sensitive to patterns in variations in color, shape, and pattern. It loves them, and it calls them beautiful. It’s the language of the eye. If you combine the language of the eye with the language of the mind, which is about words and numbers and concepts, you start speaking two languages simultaneously, each enhancing the other. So, you have the eye, and then you drop in the concepts. And that is the whole thing – it is two languages both working at the same time.”

SnakeOil2

Indeed, information is beautiful!

Data visualization empowers us to readily examine complex data to develop our own interpretations. When data is understood, it can be better analyzed which, in turn, can lead to informed change. We no longer depend on someone else to parse the patterns. We can visualize it for ourselves. Secondary bias is eliminated. We can comprehend concepts unfiltered – on two cognitive levels – the eye and the mind.

Not into supplements? How about a serving of vegetables from Over 400 Vegetables on One Incredibly Healthy Poster (Pop Chart Lab).

400veggies

Add a little ramen to the mix, and now we’re cooking! Or noodling…

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Entering the Blogosphere

I am a novice blogger.

Celebrities and status-seekers write blogs. Corporations with social media strategies write blogs. Unconvinced that the blogosphere offered much to significantly impact my life, I consciously steered clear. Until now.

When my writer friend Elaine moved to Hong Kong, she started to blog about her travels as a way to record her impressions and to inform her friends back home that she was safe and having the adventure of a lifetime. A cracker jack journalist with an engaging writing style, her prolific blog chronicles her excellent adventure.

I followed her online. I trailed her to this temple, that market, and that historic site, learning about the people and politics of Asia along the journey. Her travel blog is a journal that kept us connected.

As I ponder my project for a Visual Design course, the creation of a design blog, I got to thinking about the actual definition of a blog. In order to create a blog, I need to define it!

 My search for an answer led me to two promising resources:

  1. the archives of the ProBlogger website where blogger Darren Rowse answers the question, and
  2. a YouTube video by Brian Brown at Pajama Market.com, the Business Blog Authority.

Definition

So what is a blog?

BlogShort for web log, a blog is a type of website that takes the form of an online journal written about a particular topic. A blog allows authors with little or no technical knowledge to update and maintain a blog, thus making this type of communication accessible to a broad audience. So now, people with something to say can do it online without tripping over the technology to accomplish it.

Yes, that’s for me!

Blogs contain current content, so the author (blogger) updates the blog regularly to capture and hold audience attention – and to maintain currency. Blogs can feature content from multiple authors or guest authors.

Well, this is a required class assignment, so I’d better be the sole author!

RosieBloggerAn entry on a blog is known as a “blog post” or “post”; blog posts appear in reverse chronological order with the most recent content appearing first.

A blog comprises text, hyperlinks, images, and links (to other web pages and to video, audio, or other files).

Aha! So a blog is the perfect medium to explore visual design and display of information. 

Features

Comment feature

Blogs are written in a casual style and document the author’s research or opinions on a focal topic. Some blogs are monologues – the author presents information for site visitors to read. However, many blogs are conversational and invite reader response through a comment function.

The comment option takes site visitors to a form where they can leave their name, email, and link their own blog. Visitors can also leave feedback, comments, critique, or questions about the blog topic.

I am not sure if all feedback is posted or whether there is a filtering or monitoring process that weeds out offensive or unrelated submissions. I’d better check that out!

Archive feature

Besides the comment functionality, blogs feature an archive. Successful blogs have lots of content that needs to be organized for easy retrieval. Archives can be searched by category or by date.

Subscribe feature

A subscribe feature allows readers to sign up so that every time a new blog post is available, the reader receives an email. This makes it easy for readers to follow a blog.

Hmmm…well, I am not expecting many followers, but now that I understand the basics, it’s time to choose a blog topic.

Wish I were writing about travels in Asia.

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Hello visual design class! (Anyone out there?)

I am extroverted.

I enjoy relating to people face to face, and I am energized through human interaction and external stimuli. So I never pictured myself sitting at home alone taking an online class about communication. I much prefer to sit in an actual classroom with real people – talking in real time. You know, communicating about communication. However, here I am, registered in my second e-learning course.

Extroversion aside, I admit that learning online has its advantages. During the course, I can tune in and out on my own schedule. Because students connect virtually, I am studying with learners from abroad with global perspectives.  And no one is judging me when I show up on a bad hair day wearing pajamas.

This semester, I am studying Visual Design and Display of Information. Instructor Julian Hunt writes, “This course will allow students to think about online delivery with an emphasis on visual and non-visual communications.”

I am excited to unearth more about the strategy of visual communications, so I ventured online to investigate.

Hewlett-Packard offers a four-page PDF titled The Power of Visual Communication.

Formal research studies indicate that communication comprising a visual component is far more effective than oral or non-visual communication. However, visual combined with non-visual communication (oral and action) is even more effective.

“Psychologist Jerome Bruner of New York University has described studies that show that people only remember 10% of what they hear and 20% of what they read, but about 80% of what they see and do.

Interestingly, while purely visual communication is more effective than solely verbal communication, the most compelling communication combines both visual and non-visual content. “

Presentation designer Chiara Ojeda explores visual thinking. She presents a thought-provoking slideshow and YouTube video that inspires presenters to rethink the approach of their next visual presentation.

So why am I telling you all this?

The final assignment for the Visual Design class is a design blog that captures my learning activity over the eight-week course. I have always wanted to blog. Here’s the perfect opportunity. In fact, you are reading my very first blog post!

During the course, through active research and learning activities, reading, and “listening”, I am hoping to retain much of that estimated 80% to which Bruner refers.

I invite you to audit Visual Design and Display of Information through the headset of my mindset. Listen in over the next several weeks. I’ll be blogging. Communicating. Maybe you will communicate back.

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