The technology section of the New York Times shows a video titled “Nicholas Felton: A Quantified Life” describing Nicholas Felton’s obsession with data. Fast Company named him one of the 50 most influential designers in America in 2011. Felton is an information designer who used to work at Facebook and has tracked almost every aspect of his life. While somewhat disturbing he makes a good point that, for instance, our grocery stores know more about our habits than we know ourselves. See the blog post “A Life in Data: Nicholas Felton’s Self-Surveillance” to learn more about his methods and visualizations.
John Grimwade is not only the graphics director at Conde Naste Traveler magazine, but runs his own infographic business. He shares on his Website his impressive collection of maps, diagrams and icons. They are clearly superior infographics worth analyzing because of their information content as well as for learning how to communicate complex content using visuals.
Steven Heller writes in the The Atlantic about type foundries and their desire to come up with new fonts. It is a fun piece to read with the memorable quote: “‘Why do we need new music, new cars, new clothes?’ In fact, type has become part of today’s digital and cultural consumerism. A fashion analogy works here. ‘Let’s be honest: You buy the Prada suit because the model looks so good in it,’ Roat says. ‘We try to make beautiful things with our fonts for the same reason.’”
This post is not about a cool visualization, but about a call for explaining science combined, potentially, with a visualization. A recent New York Times article by Claudia Dreifus reported about the actor and writer Alan Alda whose mission is to help scientists to communicate to a wider audience. His organization started a contest for scientists to trigger their thinking: “Tell us what a flame is in a way that an 11-year-old can understand. The point was to challenge scientists to explain something difficult in words that were both easy to understand and accurate.” When they started, they received already 6,000 entries, now they are up to 20,000. If you want to participate this year, you need to explain to an 11-year old “What is color?” The deadline is March 1, 2014. The rules for the contest state that “entries can be submitted in writing, as videos, or as graphics. This year, the contest has two categories– Written and Visual – and entries will be judged within their category.” So get your thinking started with that 11-year old in your mind!
Allison Morris shows on onlinecollegecourses.com an impressive infographic called “The Minds Behind The MOOCs.” I like the consistency in color and style. Allison Morris is currently finishing up her communications degree and spending her free time getting real world experience by helping out and contributing to OnlineCollegeCourses.com. Check it out: http://www.onlinecollegecourses.com/minds-behind-moocs/
Recent history is usually boring and nobody wants to read long reports or complicated lists of events. Intrigued by an idea from Dr. Lynn Johnson, I have recently created a timeline graphic with my wife, Gisela, showcasing the last decade of accomplishments and setbacks in the information technology arena at the University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine. The challenge was to keep the text short, but make it comprehensive enough so that non-experts can understand it (Figure 1).
Figure 1: SDM Information Technology Timeline 2013 (click in the picture for a larger version)
As I am professionally interested in all dental topics, I was intrigued by the Pew‘s infographic which shows that most states lag on dental sealants. The data are based on a recent report which is part of Pew’s work on children’s dental policy. The goal of this work “is to promote cost-effective policies to expand access to dental care and ensure millions more children receive the basic care they need to grow, learn, and lead healthy lives.” (source: Pew).
While, I find some of the visual icons a bit childish, like the pig for saving money, the infographic itself is a powerful tool to showcase our shortcomings in adopting evidence-based dentistry in private practice–the focus of my own research. Check out the infographic here.
Our school recently introduced a new software application “Credential Keeper” which is supposed to streamline the credentialing process of employees and students. This process has become increasingly complex due to ever-changing federal, state and institutional regulations. A quick calculation reveals the magnitude of the burden placed on a typical dental school: 320 DMD students + 60 DH students + 160 faculty + 200 staff = 740 individuals. Each individual is required to meet between 10 (non-clinical) and 25 (clinical) requirements = ~16,000 verifications school-wide. Storing, verifying, and ultimately safely destroying ~16,000 documents with various expiration dates have historically been an administrative nightmare. The Credential Keeper, a cloud-based software application developed by the University of Pittsburgh, School of Dental Medicine, helps to ease this process.
But, how do we train users and help them understand the features, functions and limitations of the software? Writing technical user documentation has been not only an arduous task, but is rarely rarely appreciated by users who are reluctant to read software manual. Short of visiting each user individually, we attempted to combine the a visualization of the user interface with aspects of a typical social interaction by creating a walk-through video. The video was shot in front of a greenscreen and the post production was completed in Adobe Premiere Pro (see Figure 1): Credential Keeper on Vimeo.
The Atlantic features an instructional video “The History of Typography, in Stop-Motion Animation–The evolution of fonts through the ages” in this week’s edition. It shows the work of Yukon-based designer Ben Barrett-Forrest who has crafted an educational stop-motion history lesson to help you understand the differences between the type faces in historical context. Read the entire article with many interesting links here.
I just completed my first MOOC “Introduction to Infographics and Data Visualization” where I have learned new techniques for visualizations (see previous posts about Infographics and Data Visualization and Fusion Tables). For our capstone project, the course director, Alberto Cairo who teaches Information Graphics and Visualization at the School of Communication at the University of Miami, gave us the freedom to do whatever we want. He had us choose a topic, gather the appropriate information, and present the idea of how to show that information in graphic form, either as a static display (for print) or an interactive one (for the Web or mobile). The first assignment was to do sketches and write a short description outlining our goals and then share them in the discussion forums to get feedback from peers. We were also supposed to comment on other people’s proposals. Then, we had two weeks time to produce our infographic and post it publicly–again the assignment included to comment on the projects of our peers.
My final project
As dental educator working at the University of Pittsburgh, School of Dental Medicine, I am very interested in public health topics including access to care issues. Thus, I have selected data about dental HPSAs–these are Dental Health Professional Shortage Areas. A HPSA in the US is designated based on geographic areas, population groups, or facilities. For a geographic region to be deemed a dental HPSA, population to dental professional ratio must exceed 5,000:1 (4,000:1 in areas with unusually high need). Since 1990, the number of dentists in the United States has been roughly flat, about 150,000 to 160,000, while the population has risen about 22 percent.
Then, I was debating if I should design a static graphic that could be used as a template for an interactive graphic, or if I should rather go for an interactive one right away. I chose the latter well aware that there are shortcomings as the Google Fusion Tables are not yet ready for prime time in my view; for instance, my interactive graphic looks good on Safari and Chrome, but renders ugly on Firefox (all on Mac OS X v 10.8.2). After setting up the Fusion Table, I combined a map and a table using the provided embed code into one Web page. One can clearly see the shortcomings as you have little control over the layout of the table as you can see on the right side of my infographic; for instance, the left-right alignment of the data is apparently random with no control, and I could not find a way to determine the column width.
However, I am glad that I decided on an interactive infographic and not a static mockup as this is a useful product that I will share with fellow faculty who might be able to learn something new as it tells a story about our health care delivery system. If I had to improve it in one way, I would try to incorporate the imbalance of dentists between rural and urban areas, something which affects many people in our country, but is currently not shown in my infographic.
See the interactive version or the static screenshot in Figure 1.