Why do type foundries invent new fonts?

Posted: January 21st, 2014

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?’virtual reality glasses 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.'”

Examining the Latest MOOC Trend

Posted: January 14th, 2014

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/

The History of Typography

Posted: November 12th, 2013

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.

Dental Sealants Data Visualization

Posted: January 22nd, 2013

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.

Timeline Chart

Posted: January 19th, 2013

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). Click for larger version Figure 1: SDM Information Technology Timeline 2013 (click in the picture for a larger version).

The Power of Video for User Training

Posted: January 2nd, 2013

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.

Credential Keeper Technical Demonstration

Figure 1: Credential Keeper Technical Demonstration

Visualizing a Conference Submission Process

Posted: January 29th, 2012

Everyone in academia has received hundreds or thousands of calls for submissions in his or her career. While subject matters obviously vary, they mostly display one common characteristic: confusing. The combination of different types of submissions, like posters versus papers, combined with different deadlines applicable for these submission types as well as different lengths of abstracts or papers required for their submission makes for a complex message. This message is often transmitted using lengthy explanations that are hard to digest; or using short bullet point-like fragments that are easier to read, but often lack the necessary details. I was recently surprised to find the obvious solution to this dilemma: a visualization to help clarify the range of submission types. Dr. Jessica Tenenbaum, the Scientific Program Committee Chair for the American Medical Informatics Association 2013 Joint Summits on Translational Bioinformatics and Clinical Research Informatics (http://www.amia.org/jointsummits2013) came up with the idea. She put together the graphic in MS Visio using mostly existing “shapes” from the workflow category. She added the poster, and the podium from other sources. I hope that this visual representation of a call for submission inspires other conference organizers.

Figure 1: Call for Submission

Fusion Tables

Posted: January 25th, 2012

As I am still enrolled in the MOOC “Introduction to Infographics and Data Visualization” I am learning new techniques for visualizations (see previous post). This week, the course director, Alberto Cairo who teaches Information Graphics and Visualization at the School of Communication at the University of Miami, had us create a data visualization using the Guardian Data Blog as a source. We downloaded the data from that a post titled “US jobless data: how has unemployment changed under Obama?” Our goal was to get some data and think about what kind of interactive graphic you could create with them. Here my submission: After downloading the data and uploading them to Google Drive, I watched the tutorial “Getting Started with Fusion Tables.” Then, I consulted the Google support page for further information on how to edit these tables and the resulting maps. Finally, I had to find a Fusion table with the US state boundaries which was much easier than I had expected. After merging both tables and some tweaking, I ended up with this interactive graphic. See Figure 1 for a screenshot of the graphic embedded in a larger infographic which was assembled in Photoshop. If you want to play with the interactive map, go to the public version here. Click for full-size graphic

Screenshots for Publications

Posted: January 25th, 2012

For a peer-reviewed publication which will appear in print as well as digitally, we need to show part of a user interface. While it is easy to create a screenshot, the problem you run into is that publishers often specify that you need to submit 300 dpi resolution figures. As screen resolutions are all 72 dpi this leaves you either with a tiny (unreadable) figure or with a zoomed-in one which looks blurry (see Figure 1 below).

Figure 1: Screenshot of User Interface (zoomed in and blurry)

The alternative requires a bit more work, but results in a much better outcome: In this example, I have recreated the user interface in Photoshop as vector graphic which allows me to derive an image file of any resolution. Compare the end-result (Figure 2) with the initial attempt using a regular screenshot. I will briefly explain how I have created the particular screen elements.

Figure 2: Exported user interface (recreated in Photoshop)

There is no need to explain how to create the actual text layers and the gray box I believe, but the drop-down menu (aka select box) requires several steps and a total of 4 layers to make it look realistic. First, we need a white box with a bevel. Select as foreground color white, select the Rectangular Tool (U) from the tool palette and then select Shape layers in the options palette (see Figure 3).

Figure 3: Shape layers option selected

Draw a rectangular shape layer which you can change in size at any time. Then, you need to add a layer style using the “fx” symbol at the bottom of the layers palette. Select Bevel and Emboss and use the settings in Figure 4.

Figure 4: White select box with bevel.

Note that the Bevel is “Up.” Then, select as foreground color a light gray (RGB 211:211:211) and add another rectangular shape as button for the select option and add again a layer style (see Figure 5).

Figure 5: Gray select box button with bevel.

Note that the Bevel is “Down.” Now, you add the little downwards-pointing black arrow by selecting black as foreground color and change to the Polygon Tool. Note that you will have to change the default sides from 5 to 3 sides. After adding the actual text layer (pick a san serif font) with your select option, you have a total of 4 layers for the user interface control (see Figure 6).

Figure 6: Layers palette after completion

This technique can easily be modified for check boxes and other user interface control.

BioImages 2011 Awards

Posted: January 20th, 2012

As member of the BioCommunications Association, I am always thrilled to check out the winners of BioImages–an annual visual media competition that showcases the finest still, graphics and motion media work in the life sciences and medicine. These images are judged by their impact, clarity, scientific content, technique, lighting, image quality, presentation, creativity, originality and effective use of the medium to fulfill its purpose. Find the BioImages 2011 Awards here. I am specially impressed by the image “Molecular Probes for Diagnostic Imaging” by Fabian de Kok-Mercado, Battelle Memorial Institute, Ellicott City, MD.