Inactivity

You may be directed to this site by me, only to find there are not too many updates. Some parents out there will laugh at the following, but I thought I could keep a new website up to date while working a full time job and having a son. This proves to be a bit more complicated, as Lukas is an active guy keeping me quite busy, especially as a stay-home-dad.
I will keep posting, but at a low frequency for now.

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Sketchnoting

I have been listening to some podcasts on sketch noting recently, and after listening to one with Mike Rohde, I browsed and stumbled upon this one, about Data Visualization, a talk by Noah Illinski:
UIE Virtual Seminar 2012-02-02: Telling the Right Story with Data Visualizations, with Noah Iliinsky

I guess it may not be for everyone, but I would never read someone else’s written notes (I hardly ever read my own) but this gives a quick overview in an easy to consume way.

Listen and the right solution will be found

I work in a very technical field, where people like thinking in solutions. Unfortunately this also means we often think of solutions before we finish listening to our clients when they describe their problems and requirements. A few days ago I walked through one of Calgary’s parks, and noticed the city had paved a path that was originally created by people continuously walking on the grass. It reminded me of a story I once read where a professor suggested not to plan paved walks yet on a new campus, but just cover everything with grass, leave it for the first year and let the users decide where the paths should be by walking on the grass and thus creating these paths in the process. I quickly Googled the picture below which demonstrates this quite well.

Source: www.urb.is/en/grasstigar/
In the campus example the designers basically listened to the client for a full year, and although that may not be applicable to every project environment, I am sure the paths that were eventually paved in were used well.

Listening is a tough skill, and it’s tempting to "know better than the client" because it our specialty after all. But even though we may be right sometimes, a happy client getting what he wants still works best, especially when they pay the bill. And if you keep telling your city they need to put in a path, it will (eventually) get there.

Pretty -vs- useful

When I studied GIS we where doing a lot of cool projects, and they were a lot of fun to work on because all data was available and clean, we could decide what was best for the project and there was no client who would tell us differently, other than a teacher trying to play tough. But after graduating I soon found out those types of projects never showed up in the “real world”.

The GIS field has matured a lot since then, and I am sure courses now give actual real world examples to work on, so that students are more and better prepared for the more challenging reality. Still though, occasionally I talk to a frustrated and recently graduated GIS tech, complaining about a map not working because in school he could just focus on more fun stuff and datasets generally just worked.

Through many blogs I follow through FlipBoard I see a lot of data visualizations that look cool and in a few cases interesting, but appear to serve no purpose and make no point. Way too many
infographics are even worse. Surely many of these are made as internal or student projects, or for training purposes, and as such they may work well. But I love seeing cool and interesting data visualizations, that actually have a purpose of communicating information quickly and in such a way that the user doesn’t need to know all details to understand what he or she is seeing, and those are truly rare. It’s not the cool factor that matters (to me) but the effectiveness of the data visualization. That the balance is in favor of the “pretty” ones most likely has to do with the fact they are the easy ones, and with infographics and data visualizations being a hot topic (like GIS was when I started) everybody wants to have a quick go at it.

You may note I don’t have many personal examples, if any, and I must and will admit it is easy to comment from the outside. But I am sure I am not alone in this, even just by following the virtual boxing match between Stephen Few and David McCandless. Both are good at what they do I suppose, but to all Stephens and alike, please keep up the great and useful work so the people that are willing to learn and put in the effort keep seeing material worth waiting for.

Blogs about Data Visualization

Over the last few years I have gathered a significant number of blogs I follow in Google Reader, which I mostly read through FlipBoard. Now my plan was to provide some structure before posting this, but I might as well wait for a year without snow here in Canada. so here it is in unsorted format:

Enjoy, and feel free to share, credit would be appreciated!