The Information Architecture Institute
A conference on designing
complex information spaces of all kinds.
New York City, October 4 and 5, 2007

Archive for information visualization

Conference survey feedback visualized on Many Eyes

Martin Wattenberg and Fernanda Viegas gave us an update on the Many Eyes project at IDEA 2007. Upon hearing about the tag cloud feature we uploaded attendee answers to a post-conference survey to give it a try:

tag cloud of survey question from IDEA survey


Cheeseburger in Paradise.

A fun read for you Info Architects:



-Kate Peterson

PS: Isn’t it funny that I can choose uncategorized and various other categories to categorize my post? Can anyone explain the ”meta” category to me? I thought meta was an html tag for search engines??? 


Audio and some slides

We have audio from every talk, and slides from many of them, free for download. Enjoy!

Day 1

Peter Merholz’ Introduction. Slides (PDF), MP3

Linda Stone. No slides, MP3. Questions and answers MP3.

David Guiney, Designing Across Multiple Media for the National Park Service. Slides to come, MP3
David Guiney, Addressing the Challenges of Designing for the National Park Service. Slides to come, MP3.

Dave Cronin, Art for the public: supporting a visitor-directed museum experience. Slides, MP3.

Jake Barton, Interaction Design in a Physical Space. Slides (PDF), MP3. Jake also showed a few movies during his talk: Building Timelapse movie. Jetblue booth movie. Timescapes sample chapter movie.

Ian White, The Design of Data. Slides (PDF), MP3.

Ali Sant, TRACE: Mapping the Emerging Urban Landscape. Slides to come, Part 1 MP3, Part 2 MP3.

Day 2

Stamen Design, Project Work. Slides with no movies (7.37 MB PPT), Slides with movies (164.78MB ZIP), MP3.
Fernanda Viegas, Democratizing Visualization. Slides (PPT), MP3.
Stamen and Fernanda Question and Answer. MP3.

Dan Hill, The New Media. Slides (PDF), MP3.

Next-Generation Libraries panel:

  • Deborah Jacobs, No slides, MP3
  • Ed Vielmetti, No slides, MP3
  • Paul Gould, Slides (PPT), MP3
  • Question and Answer. MP3

Robert Kalin, O Advantageous Interfaces! Slides (on Rob’s site), MP3.

Bruce Sterling, Closing Keynote. No slides. MP3.

Comments (8)

Bruce Sterling, opinion extravaganza

If Kalin opened the door, Sterling ran through the door, tore the door down, peed on it, and then, to the applause of the crowd, set it on fire. In a rambling 30 minute well received opinion extravaganza, he began by reflecting back at the conference with tidbits from the talks: short quotes delivered out of context and with dramatic, but sarcastic, inflections.

The intent seemed a combination of mild ridicule, curiousity, reflection of our narrow focus, entertainment, and a reminder of how serious (too serious) we take ourselves.

But I wondered: Could you ever have an effective conference that was not vulnerable to this kind of exercise? (e.g. Couldn’t he have done the same exercise in the closing comments at a medical, construction, sports, legal, or novel writing conference, or any conversation where people were trying to share knowledge & opinion with each other?). But again, perhaps that was part of his point too: I don’t know. The talk moved through ideas in spirals, with high velocity and low structure: I’m uncertain about what he thought his points were.

If there was a conceptual anchor, it was this: there is a world of more serious problems that need to be dealt with: Some are reflected in (a book he took time to promote), but more generally in how economies fail to transition out of dependence on things. He asked us, as designers, architects, visualizers, to fix this problem: to fix it now. That it was this gap that everything hinged on and he passionately emplored us to take action (admiting that the how of this request, was, well, hard to figure out).

He wandered in and our various sub topics (the role of voids in design, the inevitable failure of all attempts to design things or fix the world, and others I did not catch) entertainingly eviscerating various sacred cows and white elephants - although he mentioned he wasn’t going to soft-shoe the crowd, his charmingly wise-ass delivery was so disarming that in a way, he did effectively soft-shoe through much of the talk: I don’t think his points had time to strike their full depth, their coating of humor and passion slowing their penetration, until he had left the stage.

Other notable quotes:

“If you cut up the present, the future bleeds through” - W. Burroughs

“(They say) since there are 50 million blogs, some of them have to be good. Well, No. That’s like saying if you have 50 million toasters, some of them have to fly at supersonic speed.” - B. Sterling

“If love is your only metric, it’s your Achilles heel.” - B. Sterling

- Scott Berkun


Next generation libraries

After a fun, fast dim sum lunch over at O’Asian it was time for what I hoped would be the anchor session of the conference, Next generation libraries. bringing together library design, information systems and design into one nice, thoughful, synthesizing panel sandwich. I was not disapointed.

Things started with Deborah Jacobs, from the city library of seattle, sharing stories about the Seattle library’s development, Koolhaas‘ design ideas, and what the library means to Seattle. Sadly had to leave on library business berore the full on panel Q&A began.

Next up was Edward Vielmetti, (known by many as the man behind Superpatron), who spoke about his involvement with his local Ann Arbor library. He explained the challenges libraries face to keep pace with technology, demonstrating how his own library, and other services like LibraryThing are doing their best to serve their patrons. (Sadly I missed the middle part of his talk, for biological and employment related issues. If you have notes, please share).

Rounding out the session was Paul Gould from Pittsburgh based MAYA design, on his work with the Carnegie public libraries. He kicked off his talk with a 1950s career advice video on becoming a librarian (”Are books your friend? Do people like you? Than maybe librarianship is for you!”). He followed up by walking us through various library environments with obvious wayfinding, flow and interaction problems. and MAYAs role in revising their system thinking for how the library functioned.

His talk included gems about how libraries civilize people - a claim that made the signifigance of the Internet, Web 2.0, and various other obsession prone technologies of our field seem suddenly shallow (Does e-mail civilize people? tag clouds? folksonomies? Like Stone’s plea for making our lives better, the questions circling around this phrase stuck with me for most of the afternoon)

-Scott Berkun


Visualization: Fernanda Viegas from IBM

Post HistoryFernanda Viegas began by putting visualization in context: something I was thrilled to hear. She explained that visualization is often seen as an expert to expert interaction: lab coated data-junkies making complex data visualizations for other similarly addicted minds. Her goal, or at least the goals of some of her projects, is to humanize visualization and use it as a tool to help people understand the data in their lives. Rock on.

First up was PostHistory, a tool for e-mail users to see their e-mail usage in a new way. She discovered that, despite her efforts to protect privacy, people were thrilled to share what they saw and learned with each other (seeding her above stated goals for visualization).

Next up was a walkthrough of Martin Wattenberg’s NameVoyager, of Internet fame (I’d seen this a dozen times, but so impressed by its consumer styled appeal that I didn’t associate it with “data visualization”) exploring some of the questions raised by the emerging community around the data (takeaway: you’re doing something right when you get normal people to voluntarily spend their free time playing with data).

She ended the talk showing some of the new work she’s doing at IBM, soon to be up and running at The Visual Communication lab website. Of particular note were new ways to help communities form around data, including ways to thumbnail, reference and bookmark particular views, making it easier to share the particular customized visualizations people find when exploring on their own.

-Scott Berkun


The visualization confab: Stamen design

Michal and Eric kicked off what should be dubbed “the morning of visualization” with a series of interesting visualizations from their work at Stamen - These guys have a huge advantage, presentation-wise, as all there stuff makes for instant demos. They started with, which was philosophically similiar to the Local projects work, that aimed to bring people together. It was easy to see in works like this how putting things in a visual context, one as colorful and inviting as the one they designed, changes the nature of dialog and radically simplifies complex data. The isolated feel connected, and the connected can see the impact of the work they’re doing.

They followed up with demos of their work on San Francisco cabs called cabspotter, mappr (a flickr based visualization), and digg labs. Cabspotter (pictured above) reminded me of a spartan koyaanisqatsi, converting time into images and making technology seem organic. (Although Not sure how to use this if I’m waiting for a cab, other than to distract me from the wait?)

The last project they showed was from digg labs - a visualization of how news items get noticed, shared and publicized in the openly democratic digg system. While certainly fascinating to watch, I couldn’t help but ask what questions this sort of data would help answer: I suspect these visualizations mean signifigantly more to the community of digg reporters, than outsiders like me. Not that I didn’t want to watch this for hours anyway. I left these demos thinking of them more as models, rather than as applications: what other kinds of data sets can you plug into these visualiations, and what new meanings would you find? I don’t know, but I sure am curious.

Scott Berkun


Information visualization conversation with Fernanda Viegas and Mike Migurski (to be continued…)

Fernanda and Mike will be talking about the latest actvities in information visualization at IDEA, on October 24.. I’ve goaded them into engaging in an email conversation, the first part of which I’m reprinting here.

Fernanda: At the conference, I’m hoping to talk about how to “democratize” visualization use (following successful deployments such as the NameVoyager vis) and I’ll demo the new public visualization site we’re building in our group. Michal got a peek of it this weekend [At FooCamp].
Even though we got a conversation started, I don’t think we got to any conclusions about how to do our presentations.

Michal, what are your thoughts on this?


Michal: I like what you’re saying about democratization, though strangely enough I’ve always used the term “downmarketing” in the same context, as in making the techniques we use understandable and desirable to a wider range of people. The NameVoyager project is a perfect example of this. Is there a reason you’re using a political word while I use an economic one? Is that the difference between coming out of academia and research environments vs. having a service-oriented design firm?

That may be a good starting point.

Fernanda: You ask an interesting question. I’m not sure what the difference is between my “democratization” and your “downmarketing” but I can tell you a bit more of where we’re coming from.

Screenshot from Themail, described below

Martin and I have been building visualizations for a while now and it’s recently become clear to us that whenever we make a visualization public, it takes on a life of its own and becomes a much more powerful artifact. To give you an example, when I was finishing my thesis at MIT, I was working on visualizing people’s email inboxes. I was super cautious about privacy and made a point of always explaining to my users (the owners of the email archives being visualized) that they would be the only ones looking at those visualizations. I explained to them that I would never show those images to anyone else without their consent. Well, as soon as people started playing with the visualizations, they wanted to share the images with others!! They started sending screen shots to friends and family and they would call others to sit with them and look at the images together. Users were using the images as social artifacts for reminiscing and storytelling. Martin’s experience with the baby name visualization was very much along the same lines in the sense that it allowed hundreds of conversations to get started because of the visualization.

Meanwhile, if you look at the academic information visualization community, researchers aren’t focusing on the social side of their applications. Infovis folks love to explore techniques that allow them to scale the data they are showing. But what happens when you scale the audience that’s looking at a visualization? This is the question we are currently exploring.

So I guess our “democratization” efforts don’t necessarily attempt to make visualization techniques simpler as much as they try to support social activity around visualization viewing (things such as: how can you support conversation around visualization?).

I hope this helps. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

Peter: I love your insight, Fernanda. I’ve long been frustrated with the state of information visualization, because it seemed to offer such promise, and yet languish for so long. And I wonder if you’ve hit on a key — visualizations are taking off, of late, because they serve a primarily social role; they enable sharing between people.

It reminds me of one of the simple, but genius, moves of Flickr. Whereas other photo services defaulted to “private” sharing, Flickr defaulted to “public”. This allowed for the rapid development of community.

Information and data visualizations seem to be taking off as artifacts suitable for sharing. I’m reminded of the buzz a couple years ago around, which visualized your tags (and this before the prominence of tag clouds). This allowed you to create a kind of visualized avatar of yourself. (Which in turn reminds me of “Personal Dictionaries”, an art project from 1995, where people’s additions to their word processor’s dictionary were overlaid on their photograph.)

Anyway, back to your point, I think a key success of the NameVoyager is to keep the data being visualized *super simple*. It’s almost like there’s an inverse relationship between the complexity of the data, and the complexity of the conversation around the data. And I suspect Mike saw some of this around Mappr…

Michal: Fernanda, the sharing aspect of the forthcoming piece you mentioned at Foo was, I think, a total masterstroke. Peter, some background: similarly to how you describe people communicating insights (e.g. “note how Adolf drops off in the 1940’s”) via the NameVoyager, Fernanda & Martin’s new piece provides a “comment on this” feature, which saves the viewer’s state along with a thumbnail screenshot. This way, the comments section attached to each dataset is augmented with tiny screenshots that show what the commenter was looking at when they decided to respond. It’s a super elegant solution to the problem of synchronizing views of changeable data.

I agree with Peter’s opinion about the relationship between complexity and popularity. It’s a lot like pop music in that way - provide a hook that can be hummed, and then backfill the complexity into the production and subtext for longevity. The KLF’s book “The Manual” articulates this more effectively than anything else I’ve seen, and has served as a foundation for most of my interests for the past 4 or 5 years. An effective visual interpretation of information hides the same kind of subtlety in a simple presentation.

Digg Labs

Probably the point at which our focus differs most from IBM’s is that we’re currently fixated on liveness - data that changes as you view it, typically because it’s being generated at the same time. The recent Digg Labs work is the most high-profile version of this we’ve got, but we’ve attempted to approach it with other pieces that change from day to day or hour to hour. It’s related to Peter’s mention of sharing, since a lot of interesting or constantly-shifting data is from social sites like Flickr or Digg. Those are the places where change happens fastest and matters most to people. I like the idea of visualization as an alert system for social information rather than a contemplative one, and we’ve made efforts to spur projects with this characteristic.

A side effect is that visualization of live information turns out to be a lot more TV-like than NameVoyager or similar work. Extispicious and Personal Dictionaries both remind me of the quiz craze on LJ (e.g. “what kind of Hostess baked good are you?”), whose output was very badge- or avatar-like. I’m not sure if the same impulse can be drawn out of something live, or whether perhaps viewing live-but-narrow data is actually quite a different experience from manipulating static-but-deep data. Fun fact: the original drafts of our Digg work were called “The Ultimate Stoner Tool”, because author & blogger Om Malik said during some panel that his favorite activity was smoking dope and watching Digg Spy scroll by.

[[to be continued…]]

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Information Visualization - Why Now, Where It’s Headed

Michal Migurski, who will present at IDEA, gave a talk at Adaptive Path’s UX Week titled “Data Viz: Why Now?”

In the last few years, it feels like information visualization is coming into its own, and the prognosis for the next few years is quite bright. As Migurski’s presentation points out, because 1) data got cheaper and 2) flash got better, the barriers to entry for visualization have dramatically lowered. And so we’re seeing a fluorishing of visualizations in more places — on the Web, sure, but also in physical spaces.

For example, the Seattle Public Library features a series of visualizations by George Legrady that expose the activity of the library — statistics on the materials checked out, floating titles organized by Dewey Decimal Number, the “Dewey Dot Matrix Rain,” and the “Keyword Map Attack.”


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