HUMANTIFIC SEARCH RESULTS

25
May

Reflections at 10,000 Feet

The Real Life Bird’s Eye View (or Why I Love to Look from Above).

Flying over Manhattan. May 2013.

These days I get on a plane often. And with repetition and familiarity comes lack of attention to things around you. Yet every time I get a window seat, I hang out the small window like a child, at least as much as you can on a plane. The clouds are something you never get tired of staring at… so fluffy and airy… you just want to reach out and touch them.

Oh, and the view, that bird’s eye view of our world. Not sure why I am so fascinated by looking down… even when there is little to see or when the scenery is quite similar. I guess it makes everything come into place for me in a visual way… everything makes sense.

We live our lives at that 10 feet level (well for me it’s more like 5 feet!). That’s our vantage point, and how we make sense of things. And yet, when we come up to those 10,000 feet, we abstract ourselves from that 10 feet reality and look at life in action from a different perspective. It’s not better or worse, it’s just different. It allows us to understand it in another way, and have a more complete picture. So that we understand why we are doing what we are doing everyday at that 10 foot level. In other words, it helps us reflect and align ourselves to where we want to go.

I probably enjoy this so much because this is what I do in life. What we do at Humantific. We help our clients and partners look at their opportunities and their challenges in different ways, from alternate perspectives… to think them through. They are typically very close to the 10 foot level, and have a hard time abstracting themselves to that 10,000 feet level. Because when you are in it, it’s hard to see beyond it.

Oh, how I love that bird’s eye view! You get to ask all the basic questions, or as I often like to call them, the dumb questions. And then create that picture of it all… To paint that view from above, to put the houses in the right place, and the mountains, the trees, the rivers and everything else… and then connect it to the 10 foot level view. It’s so much fun. It’s so valuable.

Need a bird’s eye view? We’d love to help!

17
Oct

Making Sense of the Early SenseMakers

Thank you, William Playfair… for going beyond the words and the numbers.

As part of a “White Paper” we are doing at Humantific on the subject of data visualization, I have been enjoying revisiting some of the historical material from the 18th century. I always enjoy looking at the logic behind early data visualizations and learn a lot from the perspective of how to make things more understandable and clear.

For this study, I am spending more time specifically on William Playfair (1759-1823), among the first persons to create graphic representations of data (He was preceded by Joseph Priestly, who created the first timeline chart in 1765). Playfair is credited with being the inventor of line, bar and pie charts. For this paper, I am not focusing so much on how the charts work or don’t work, but, rather, what were they pictures of.

 William Playfair’s historic “Commercial and Political Atlas”, 1786,
described as the first major work to contain statistical graphs.

Reflecting on when this happened… I started to wonder: If Playfair came up with one of the first graphical representations of data, how did people make sense of all those numbers before? I mean, really, how did people actually make sense of everything before? 

When someone says the airplane was invented, we all think, “Wow, that was amazing,” but we don’t always put ourselves at that moment of time, and think about what it meant to not be able to get on a flight to go see your family across the ocean, to go down to the Caribbean for a beautiful vacation, to go to a meeting, etc, etc. I guess most of us would be much closer to our original birthplaces–and if we weren’t, we wouldn’t be going back that often.

So, back to that time when Playfair had that inspiration to represent numbers visually… or, as he called it, making “Data speak to the eyes”.  Being a visual learner, I can’t imagine what that would be like… the fact that studying any subject, would be just words and numbers. Would my ability to understand and learn (and go to the next level of learning and development) be seriously diminished? What would school have been for me growing up? Not that my school years reflected a tremendous amount of meaningful visualization, but it definitely was part of the vocabulary and it helped me learn better.

The second thought I had, was, being such a visual sensemaker myself, would I have started to draw things intuitively to understand them, or would I have stayed in that highly verbal world and struggled to operate in it?

I guess that we will never know the true answer to those questions since we can’t go back and unlearn all the visual language we now take for granted; however, I would venture to say (and I am sure many others would too) that it’s pretty likely that my ability to learn and excel would be diminished quite a bit. A highly verbal language only speaks to a part of the population, as we know from many studies on cognition and multiple intelligence theories.

Thank you, Playfair, for going beyond the words and the numbers, and revealing what is behind the data. For all of us visual thinkers and learners, it’s made a big difference! Really.

:::

[ And thank you to Howard Wainer and Ian Spence for republishing Playfair’s The Commercial and Political Atlas and Statistical Breviary ]

More on William Playfair on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Playfair

Image Source: Playfair, William. The Commercial and Political Atlas and Statistical Breviary. Wainer, H. and Spence, I., Eds. 2005. Humantific Collection, New York. Reproduced from Playfair’s Atlas, 3rd ed. London: J. Wallis, 1801.

Related on this Humantific blog:

Consider TIME / Big Data for WHEN?

26
Jun

World Peace Game Rocks!

Among the most amazing, fresh idea presentations at this years IDEAS to ACTION Conference in Atlanta was that of John Hunter, creator of the World Peace Game.

A teacher in Charlottesville, Virginia, John works with 3rd grade students and helps them explore the immense challenges of sustainability and coexistence at the level of societies. John teaches the concept of peace not as a utopian dream but as an attainable goal. Very inspiring work!

Not so surpringly, at the center of this World Peace Game is need for collaboration!

It’s remarkable what 3rd grade students are capable of when you challenge them!

More about the World Peace Game here

Another hightlight of the conference for me was meeting Applied Creativity legend Bea Parnes, wife of another legend Sid Parnes!

27
Oct

Information Design: Not For Sale

Many people have responded to Amy Balliett ‘s article on The Do’s And Don’ts Of Infographic Design, including Nathan Yau’s rebuttal. You will find many comments about why her points don’t make much sense, and why we all believe she needs to learn more about information design basics (I mean, do you understand the chart above, which she uses as an example of good infographics?). Rather than continue on specifics about the actual infographics, I’d like to elaborate on the deep personal disappointment I felt when I read Balliet’s Do’s and Don’ts.

When I departed the working world to attend graduate school, I did so seeking something that brought more meaning to my work than commercial graphic design and communication could offer (I will add marketing and advertising to this category). It was a long and confusing journey that ultimately changed my life: in discussing my graduate thesis with my professor, Ramone Muñoz, I learned of Richard Wurman’s writing and work. I had found information design.

The specific article I read many years ago from Richard Wurman was a Design Journal publication called “Hats.” I devoured it. I had finally found what I had been looking for: substance, essence, a search for the truth, a focus on people. In short, information design was a logical side to design that helped people in their everyday lives, and in their everyday search for understanding. I found my ‘home’.

So when I read Amy Balliett ‘s article after many years of living and breathing information design, I was filled with sadness. At a time when information design in its varied forms is more commonplace than ever and is being recognized as an important aspect of  changemaking, she has taken a huge step backwards and stripped out everything good about information design thinking, replacing it instead with marketing fluff — pure visual appeal, distortion of content, and flat-out disregard for people in favor of profit. She recasts information design as all the things I was running from (Sell, Sell, Sell), in a public forum for all to hear — and worse yet — to replicate.

Information design principles should not be rewritten by relative newcomers who show no awareness or appreciation of the field’s long history. Let’s remember and learn from the true legacy of some of the great information design pioneers:

Otto Neurath, who developed Isotype as a universal language that would unite people and bring literacy to the illiterate

Jacques Bertin, who created graphical frameworks to improve understanding and visualizations of statistics

Richard Wurman, whose passion to make information easily understandable spurred a generation of “information architects”

Edward Tufte, whose valuable lessons from history demonstrate the art and science of making clear thinking visible

These people were out to help change the world, not sell another box of cornflakes or drive traffic to websites!

Thank you to the editors of Smashing Magazine for making the rebuttal possible. It is encouraging to see Nathan Yau advocate the real best practices of information design and data visualization: focus on content and tell a clear story that will engage readers. However, there are many more voices and insights yet unrecognized in this conversation. Information design contains many practicing professionals with deep knowledge.

Let’s elevate the conversation, please.