Friday, September 13, 2013

PhoneBlok: Build-A-Phone

The new iPhone was announced this week in all it's "meh" glory and I find myself thinking about upgrading to a new phone. Now, I also have a drawer in my apartment that houses every phone I've ever owned all the way back to my first Nokia stick phone. (Oh, the countless hours of Snake I played!) Why do I keep adding to this drawer? I want a newer faster phone. I also want a better camera, but there's nothing out there that fits all of my needs exactly. Dave Hakkens has come up with a really intriguing idea on how to curb this incessant need to upgrade to an entirely different device.

The PhoneBlok is like Build-A-Bear for adults. You choose the pieces you want and attach them to the main board. As time goes on, you replace pieces instead of the entire unit.

A phone you can customize to your needs and reduce waste? Color me supportive. If you like this idea, visit Dave's site Thunderclap to see how you can make this idea a reality.

Post Script: Oh hey, MT&HD, how are you? Sorry it's been a while. Busy, ya know? You look great. Did you lose weight?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Carl's Notes From the Tufte Seminar: An Exceedingly Long Blog Post


In the world of design, Edward Tufte is the acknowledged godfather of visualizing data.  Here's what Wikipedia says about him.  He did a seminar in Boston yesterday, which was attended by myself, my colleagues Joe and Chris, and many people I didn't know.

To give you an idea of what he's all about, take a look at the image above.  If you click on it it will enlarge.  (Though it's written in French, so this is only partially helpful).  Tufte didn't create this (Charles Joseph Minard did), but he popularized it as "one of the best statistical graphs ever created."  

This graphic depicts French troop loss during Napoleon's disastrous attempted winter invasion of Russia in 1812 (remember, never fight a land war in Asia).  It reads left to right, and the mass of the beige shape represents the army's numbers during the advance on Moscow.  And the black line then represents troop numbers during the subsequent retreat to France.  

It's been said that this graphic "seems to defy the pen of historian by its brutal eloquence", as the scope of this epic disaster can be gleaned in just a look at this chart. 

And it exemplifies the philosophy trumpeted by Tufte - show people as much data as possible with as little ornamentation as possible. Letting the data and content speak for itself is in fact the best design.  Or, as he put it another way:

"Evidence is evidence, whether words, numbers, images, diagrams, still or moving. It is all information after all. For readers and viewers, the intellectual task remains constant regardless of the particular mode of evidence: to understand and to reason about the materials at hand, and to appraise their quality, relevance, and integrity." 


-   I went up for a pre-class autograph and Prof. Tufte asked me what I do for a living. When I gave a brief explanation, he said "My one piece of advice to you - never create an iPad-only or mobile-only website." He clarified later in the class that the touch screen mobile interface is the best in the world and it’s crazy to add interface layers on top of interface layers.  A well-made website doesn't need a mobile version - let the interface of the iPad do its job.  It is unnecessary and therefore complicates the design and further obscures the content. 

-  That being said, further internal discussion over lunch brought up the idea that an app-based / specific-task-for-a-specific-format mobile implementation does still have its own uses and benefits. We decided against bringing this up to Prof. Tufte.

-  I never realized how Tuftian my project management charts were... apparently college wasn't quite the waste of time and money I thought it was. 

-  Graphical information display is there to help the viewer engage with the data on an intellectual level.  Pure and simple.  Causality is key. 

-  As is the spirit behind the idea of "Whatever it takes to present something".  The vehicle for communicating, or the mechanism of presentation, should not stand in the way. Whatever it takes. 

-  "Chartjunk" is an awesome word. I should use it more often.  It is defined as useless, non-informative, or information-obscuring graphic elements .  Or any other design-esque graphical elements tossed in to make stuff look good and/or be more snazzy and/or pop.  Like a drop-shadowed box around the city name on a map, for example.  It doesn't need that.  

-  Edward Tufte: "Google Maps is the best". True that. No clutter or unnecessary elements there. 

-  Boxes are never needed. Ever. For anything.  No reason for them. They make it harder to read things, because...

-  "When everything is highlighted, nothing is."

-  Links and arrows should provide specifics... not just directional info, but use verbs and descriptors. Annotated nouns in diagrams should utilize annotated verbs to link them. 

-  If people aren't getting your diagram, don't blame them for being stupid - fix the design. People take in massive amounts of information on a daily basis - train schedules, sports standings, etc. - they didn't suddenly get stupid upon showing up at the office today, so don't give them a PPT slide edited down to a handful of numbers to prove your point.  Play in the big leagues - don't lower your standards from the WSJ or Google News to fit the level of PowerPoint. 

-  Today's seminar:  12 people per table, 12 tables per section, 4 sections = 576 * $380 = $218,880 per session.  Not a bad day at the office.

-  With presentations, never draw attention to the presentation mechanism. Your goal is to relay the information above all else.

-  People can read.  So let them read on their own.  Begin meetings with a high resolution data dump (paper, iPad) and give up your own time to let the audience engage the content on their own.  Start with this reading period, then engage them on key points and directly entertain the questions they've identified during their reading. 

-  He is big on having “high-resolution” materials in people's hands, as opposed of a low-resolution display projected at 40 feet. Ideally at the beginning of a presentation, heads would be down and engaging the materials in their hands. This is the most efficient method of transferring knowledge from the presenter to the audience.  RESULT = 25% shorter meetings. 

-  This man really hates PowerPoint.  Which he says is only to be used as a projector operating mechanism (playing videos or images full-screen).  "PPT is worse than the Chinese government" from an authoritarian perspective.  It inherently treats your audience like morons, as it plods through bullet point after bullet point… which you are also most likely reading aloud to them word-for-word. 

-  "There are only two industries that call their end-clients 'users' - illegal drugs and software engineering."

-  Graphic User Interface (GUI)... "If you have an interest in operating systems, it's an unnatural one". The very first OS was only document icons... an OS should be invisible.  Featuring the OS as a product (as Microsoft does) is a financial motive and is not in-line with the needs of the user.  It violates the principle and goals of integration. 

-  With user interfaces, like with presentations, don't treat your audience like idiots. And, like mobile websites, don't add additional layers between your users and the content. 

-  Look into "R" or some other data analysis and publication software. The WSJ, which Mr. Tufte deems to have the best informational graphics going, uses this. 

-  What you see published in the journal Nature are the best visualizations in the world.  These people need to handle massive amounts of data in a small amount of space. 

-  Page 47 of "Beautiful Evidence":  Remember sparklines... quite a handy tool for efficiently presenting lots of numbers in an easy-to-absorb format. 

-  "Design principles come directly from cognitive tasks." The higher-level goal is to provide intellectual leadership in your designs. Not to pander, but to lead.  Not to settle for the current software, style or fashion. 

-  Good design (print, website, informational, anything) gives itself up to the content. It's a very self-effacing idea... it's not about the view of the designer, but bending to the content and message. This is a very difficult thing to do.  Apple does it exceedingly well - the iPhone and iPad are all about delivering content in a simple, non-layered manner. 

-  1,000 gigabytes = 1 terabyte.   1,000 terabytes = 1 pedabyte.   1,000 pedabytes = 1 exabyte.

-  Rules for non-fiction presentations: 1) Create a presentation that is right for the content, not right for a PowerPoint template or right for the design aesthetic.   2) Find or create a 'super graphic' for your industry (Prof. Tufte used fire-plotting of greater Boston for the Boston Fire Dept. as an example - brings up allocation issues, opens up analysis, etc.)  3) Every data element in your presentation has one goal - to provide reasons for people to believe your message. 

-  Best piece of advice Prof. Tufte got early in his career - show up early to your presentation.  Chances are a problem will arise that you can fix or adjust to given the time.  And if not, interact with your audience and give them your content ahead of time to think about (hand out your reading materials). 

-  Along those lines... finish early as well.  You'll be surprised at the happy reactions this creates.


"If you look after goodness and truth, beauty will take care of herself."
(Don't put lipstick on a pig.)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Punching Johannes Gutenberg in the face. With awesome.

Can't go wrong with a little profane font-based humor, courtesy of McSweeney's.  

(Props to MHD friend Chris E. for the tip!) 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Friday, January 20, 2012

Yes. Yes it is, Lionel.

This particular piece of awesome came up in conversation just last night, and it reminded me that we really should feature the compilation of 2011 street art it came from. (Kudos to Pete for finding/sharing the link.)

There may be a little too much yarn-bombing for my own personal taste, but the other stuff in here more than makes up for it.  Some really amazing work here:

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Origin of Doomsday...

Happy 2012 MT&HD! It's been a little quiet over here, but we're about to make it up to you with BREAKING NEWS!

I found it guys. I found it. It's the beginning of the end. The Mayans are right and the ends of days will be soon upon us.

Why couldn't this guy be happy with playing "Just Dance"? Sure that robot has a cute demeanor now, but wait for it to turn all its friends. Soon your trusty RoboRaptor will be ripping out the tender tendons of your throat.

Or, I could be way exaggerating.

Or, it's the cat that will raise up Ragnarok.

Either way that lady is just a simple pawn.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

I Ate All Your Candy

To all the parents that toyed with thier children's fragile yet volatile emotions, we applaud you: