Wednesday, February 23, 2011

slide:ology workshop

I attended a workshop today at Duarte, a local Silicon Valley design studio that specializes in presentation design (one claim to fame: they created the slides for Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth). I first became aware of this company through CEO Nancy Duarte's book, Slide:ology, on which the session I attended today was based.

Though only a small portion of the workshop was focused on communicating with data specifically, I think it makes sense to include a quick recap of my main learnings here, as many are applicable both within the storytelling with data space and beyond.
  • Audience comes first. Yes, it sounds obvious when you say it out loud, but too often we design without our audience in mind. In the words of Nancy Duarte: "Take some time to think about your audience: Who are they? What are their needs and how can you address them? How can the information you have make their lives better (or jobs easier)? What do you want them to do after the presentation is over? Questions like these are critical to developing relevant, resonant content."
  • Go analog. When it comes to storyboarding, Post-it notes are your friend. At Duarte, they call this "going analog". Write one main idea per Post-it (the mini ones work particularly well so you are forced to boil it down to a concise main message) - these will become the content of your presentation (each Post-it note becomes a slide). Rearrange until you have a flow that makes sense depending on what emotional response you want from your audience. Throw out the ones you don't need. Only after getting this part set should you actually start building slides in an application.
  • Aim for a high signal to noise ratio. Turn it up, or turn it off (or, in the language I use in my class: highlight the important stuff and strip out the clutter). The "glance test" is useful for assessing effectiveness - show someone a slide for 3 seconds and see if they get the point. If not, revisit your design to turn up the signal and reduce the noise.
  • Leave cliches for the novices. Don't show a pic of hands shaking in front of a globe to represent global partnerships - it's been done before (many, many times). Brainstorming with word diagrams can be a good way to come up with ideas for creative visuals that reinforce your point.
These are just a few highlights. If you create or give presentations, I highly recommend the session. For now, I'll leave you with one closing thought:

There is something magical that happens when you pick up a pen and put it to a piece of paper or a whiteboard.

Don't let technology get in the way of your creativity!

Monday, February 14, 2011

bubblechart for gadget trends

Last month, hot on the heels of the Consumer Electronics Show, the Washington Post included an interactive graphic to show the rise and fall of various gadgets sales over time across a number of categories (communication, computing, television, video and photo, audio) and the concurrent change in gadget prices.

Here's a screen shot of the communication graphic:

It takes a bit of patience to get your bearings, as there's a lot going on, but once you do, there are some interesting trends to observe and questions to ask. First, let's dissect the visual: time on the x-axis, millions of gadgets sold on the y-axis, the different shades of blue represent different types of communication devices - in order from dark to light - corded phones, standard cellphones, cordless phones, smartphones, and (in grey) fax machines. The size of the circle indicates the average price, according to the legend at the upper left.

This is an image that invites exploration. Mousing over the different series gives you more detail on demand, and also prompts some nice highlighting via preattentive attributes, with the series you mouse-over remaining in its bold color and all else fading to the background, as shown below.

From storytelling with data

So now, in the above, we can see the rise of standard cellphones through around 2008, when the popularity of smartphones increased (far right trend), causing the sale of standard cellphones to fall. Some interesting things jump out to me that I would want to explore further - for example, I'm interested in what led to the sharp increase in units sold from 1996 to 1997 and again from 1999 to 2000. Through this graphic, I also learned that the first standard cell phones were sold when I was just 4 years old for an average price of over $4K! I'm curious whether the size of the phone follows roughly the same trend as price - my guess would be it does. It's truly amazing how far technology has come in the past couple of decades.

The catch with interactive graphics like this is that you have to have an audience who is patient enough to explore. They also tend to work better for just that - exploration - when there's no specific conclusion that you're looking for your audience to draw. Perfect for a news article. Not so much for a sales pitch, for example, where you'd want to be in a little more control of your audience's attention.

Mark, if you're reading this, thanks for sharing the article with me!