Thursday, April 26, 2012

the color forecast

OK, so far I've been more impressed by this than anyone I've told about it, but I am not going to let that stop me from blogging about it: the color forecast.

What is the color forecast, you might ask? The Pimkie clothing company has installed cameras in Paris, Milan, and Antwerp that record each passersby's clothing, magically extracting the colors and posting them to their website. Not only that, but they provide visualizations that you can use to explore the colors of the day, week, and month. So perhaps forecast is a bit of a misnomer, since we're mostly looking backwards, but let's look past that and explore some of the data.

Here's what clothing colors have looked like recently in Milan:

Normally, I would be offended at a chart that combined as many colors as the ones above (or even a fraction of them). But that doesn't apply when what is being visualized is the color mix itself. Apparently, periwinkle is in right now in Milan. Who knew? Answer: Pimkie, and they are going to use this knowledge to try to get you to buy periwinkle colored clothing:

I still love it.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

visualizing org structure (or lack thereof)

The new employee handbook from Valve, a gaming company in Bellevue, Washington, has been making the rounds through the HR circle in which I work. It's an amusing read (complete with comics), meant to help new hires understand how to make their place in a company that's trying very hard not to be a company.

They use the following image to help demonstrate the organizational structure:

It is explained with the following text:

Hierarchy is great for maintaining predictability and repeatability. It simplifies planning and makes it easier to control a large group of people from the top down, which is why military organizations rely on it so heavily.

But when you’re an entertainment company that’s spent the last decade going out of its way to recruit the most intelligent, innovative, talented people on Earth, telling them to sit at a desk and do what they’re told obliterates 99 percent of their value. We want innovators, and that means maintaining an environment where they’ll flourish.

That’s why Valve is flat. It’s our shorthand way of saying that we don’t have any management, and nobody “reports to” anybody else. We do have a founder/president, but even he isn’t your manager. This company is yours to steer—toward opportunities and away from risks. You have the power to green-light projects. You have the power to ship products.

Personally, I look at the visuals and accompanying text with a mix of fascination and fear. Given my affinity for structure, this sounds a bit like anarchy to me. It's also unclear to me how this would scale: it may work for a start-up, but will it be possible to maintain as the company grows? In any case, I do think the visuals do a good job supporting the text (and vice versa). I'll leave it at that.

If you're interested in checking out the handbook, you can find it here.

Monday, April 9, 2012

data stories in think quarterly

Today, I arrived back at work after a few days out of the office to find something thrilling at my desk: a hard copy of the latest edition of Think Quarterly. Aside from it simply being a beautiful book, this is the main source of my excitement. It's the first time I've seen my name in print.

The article is short and sweet. But I like to think that this, like the blogging and the conferences and the one-off pieces of feedback I give, is one more step down the path of ridding the world of ineffective graphs.

What step will you take on that path today?