Data is not information

Before Evernote, which I am now weaning myself off of, I used to keep copious amounts of notes as plain text files, usually loosely organized by project. Unfortunately being a poor excuse of a student or academic I often forgot to include any valuable meta-data as to it’s origin. I’m assuming that the text fragment below is from a textbook of some sort, likely written by Richard Saul Wurman or Edward Tufte, as I read most of their books at that time.

This is paramount to realize. Though we use the two terms interchangeably in our culture-mostly to glorify data that has no right to be ennobled-they mean distinctly different things.

Data is raw an often overabundant. While it may have meaning to experts, it is, for the most part, only the building blocks on which relevance is built. It also should never be produced for delivery in raw form to an audience-because it has no inherent value. Until it is transformed into information (with context), it’s meaning is of little value and only contributes to the anxiety we feel dealing with so much information in our lives.

An unfortunate fallacy we live under is that this is an “Age of Information.”

Never before has so much data been produced. Yet our lives are not enhanced by any of it. Worse, this situation will only become more pervasive.
What we tend to measure is only data and while this has increased in our society, it has not-and cannot-improve productivity or anything else because it lacks the value to do so, or the value to make meaningful change. Once we re-educate ourselves as to what information really is, then we may be able to find the opportunities for increased understanding and productivity.

Data is so uninforming that we can liken it to heavy-winter clothing, enshrouding us as we interact with each other, It doesn’t completely stop us from communicating, but it makes it much more difficult, and it surely makes any complex interactions more laborious.

Design Creates Meaning (中文版)

摘自Richard Saul Wurman所著的《信息焦慮症2》





Thoughts on navigating the open sea of knowledge

We live in a world awash with information, but we seem to face a growing scarcity of wisdom. And what’s worse, we confuse the two. We believe that having access to more information produces more knowledge, which results in more wisdom. But, if anything, the opposite is true — more and more information without the proper context and interpretation only muddles our understanding of the world rather than enriching it.

Very well done, and I doubt we get expect any less from Maria Popova. I don’t quit agree with her definitions (few people reach the top of the DIKW Hierarchy) and would have rewritten the above to express that we are in a world awash with noise (data), far more noise than signal, information is scarce, and knowledge and wisdom very difficult to come by. We are constantly fed data, not information.

Data, Information, Knowledge, and then Wisdom.

Information is only the beginning of meaning.

“We live in an age of alsos, adapting to alternatives. because we have greater access to information, many of us have become more involved in researching, and making our own decisions, rather than relying on experts. The opportunity is that there is so much information, the catastrophe is that 99% of it isn’t meaningful or understandable. We need to rethink how we present information because the information appetites of people are much more refined. Success in our connected world requires that we isolate the specific information we need and get it to those we work with.” From Richard Saul Wurman’s, “Information Anxiety 2”

“We are being pummeled by a deluge of data and unless we create time and spaces in which to reflect, we will be left with only our reactions. I strongly believe in the power of weblogs to transform both writers and readers from “audience” to “public” and from “consumer” to “creator.” Weblogs are no panacea for the crippling effects of a media-saturated culture, but I believe they are one antidote.” rebecca blood, september 2000

Data is raw and often overabundant. Despite what many may say, it’s not the driving force of our age. It is, for the most part, only the building blocks on which relevance is built. Content / data en mass has limited value in its raw state.

In fact data is useless until it is transformed — in it’s raw state it has no meaning and is of little value which only contributes to the anxiety we feel in our lives.

Jerry Seinfeld on information design (1981)

They show you the satellite photo. A photograph of the Earth from 10,000 miles away. Can you tell if you should take a sweater or not from that? I have no idea. If I really need to know the weather I watch Romper Room, the kiddy show. They lay it on the line. If the little wooly guy on the wall gets a raincoat, I know what’s happening.

Via Boing Boing.

General Philosophy for Increasing Data Comprehension

Notes based on the work of Edward Tufte.
High density is good: the human eye/brain can select, filter, edit, group, structure, highlight, focus, blend, outline, cluster, itemize, winnow, sort, abstract, smooth, isolate, idealize, summarize, etc. Give people the data so they can exercise their full powers — don’t limit them.
Clutter/confusion are failures of design and not complexity
Information consists of differences that make a difference: so you can “hide” that data which does not make a difference in what you are trying to depict
In showing parallels, only the relevant differences should appear
Value and power of parallelism: once you have seen one element all the others are accessible
Important concepts in good design: separating figure and background (for example, a blurry background often brings the foreground into sharper focus), layering & separation, use of white space (e.g., Chinese landscapes emphasize space, as in the painter known as “one corner Ma”; oriental music is often there to emphasize the silence and not the sound).

An old definition of Information Design

Information design is concerned with transforming data into information, making the complex easier to understand and to use. It is a rapidly growing discipline that draws on typography, graphic design, applied linguistics, applied psychology, applied ergonomics, computing, and other fields. It emerged as a response to people’s need to understand and use such things as forms, legal documents, computer interfaces and technical information.
Information designers consider the selection, structuring and presentation of the information provider’s message in relation to the purposes, skills, experience, preferences and circumstances of the intended users. To do this they need specialist knowledge and skills in graphic communication and typography, the psychology of reading and learning, human-computer interaction, usability research and clear writing, plus an understanding of the potential and limitations of different media.
A definition from seemingly one of my most popular articles.
Years ago, I used to eat and breathe information architecture but alas it’s hard to live in theory forever. This kind of design practice had been and still is a hard sell in Taiwan. The evidence of which can be found in just about any government website or intranet.

Richard Etter’s Melodious Walkabout

A project quite similar to my proposal Guidebot which unfortunately I couldn’t get enough interest in the project to get some budget to take it beyond a simple exhibition poster. It’s great that Richard Etter was able to take something similar, and likely more capable, and make it real. His project is likely a far better fit for the the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Information Technology than mine was for where I was working at the time. Fraunhofer investigates human-centered computing in a process context.

A variety of navigation systems have been developed that use a GUI-based interaction style. However visual navigation systems are often inappropriate in the dynamic mobile context since the user has to watch the device and cannot keep his eyes on his surrounding environment. Auditory navigation systems are more convenient, mobile users can easily interact with the system and are not visually distracted. But most auditory systems navigate the traveler by using precise spoken instructions and speech requires high attention.

Read: Melodious Walkabout – a new approach to navigation – Richard Etter

Audio in the Computer User-Interface

“A number of studies have shown how audio contributes to the interaction process in order to provide a richer, more robust environment than with mere graphic feedback. Auditory feedback can present further information when the bandwidth of graphic information has been exhausted, as is often the case with the present emphasis on graphic presentation. By expanding conventional interfaces in another dimension, sounds make tasks easier and more productive. Other studies have even shown certain types of information to be represented better by sound than through graphics or text. Additionally, audio feedback may complement graphics and text to create valuable redundancy, reinforcing or reconfirming a concept in the user’s mind.”
Noise Between Stations: Audio in the Computer User-Interface

Representing Content and Data in Wireframes (ba)

“Sample data can make or break a wireframe, whose purpose is typically to illustrate architecture and interaction. Poorly selected sample data can end up clouding the wireframe or distracting stakeholders from its purpose. By codifying the types of sample content they employ in their deliverables, information architects can create a coherent narrative to illustrate a website’s functionality.”

Read: Representing Content and Data in Wireframes. Found viaxBlog.

Checklist for Building the Ideal News Web Site

“Here’s a list of ideas for how news sites could do things differently. Some of these notions are mine (based on years of covering this industry as a journalist, researcher and occasional consultant); others come from top consultants and academics who I’ve enlisted in this advice-fest. (I avoided asking people who currently manage or work at online-news operations; this column is about ideas that are out of the current industry mainstream.”

Some good points in this article yes but I don’t really understand why some people still go on about scrolling on the homepage. After all these years it is an issue that still causes such consternation.

We have design needs that state we need to display a certain amount of information on the homepage in order to allow an efficient start to wayfinding through a site. Newspaper homepages usually need a huge amount of content, while portals often require much more navigation. We have business needs that state certain items must be on the homepage. We have political issues which fight for position and a place on the homepage. All these come together to form a compromise which must be viewed on a low resolution display. A high level of information density is ok if designed properly and we need this information. We need more than simple titles for the latest articles. What’s so wrong with the scroll in the BBC news site?

What would improve the homepage would be to remove the garbage that users typically ignore: all types of promotions, site identity, and bullshit filler clipart, as well as pixels that are literally unused (I don’t mean whitespace). Get rid of those large banner ads and replace them with targeted text ads and use more of the available horizontal space.

Read the article.Thanks to WebWord Usability Weblog for the link.

Paul’s Interactions: Spit-Not-So, or What’s in the Layout?

“Many tasks involve the processing of information from different sources. Some information needed resides in the memory of the person. Other information is in physical things: dials, screens even the position of objects. Physical (and similarly virtual) objects act as memory aids. Is that all they do?”
“Physical objects do not just act as memory aids. They allow information to be directly perceived without any explicit interpretation being applied. They physically afford or prohibit behaviours and they change the very nature of the task for the user. Noughts and Crosses is not just easier because the square provides memory cues, it is easier because the cognitive processes involved in spotting winning sets has been changed, for example to ones involving direct perception based on location. Take the representational effect into account when designing interfaces and you can actively simplify a task.” (courtesy of InfoDesign)
Read: Paul’s Interactions: Spit-Not-So, or What’s in the Layout?

CSCA Lecture: Some Ways Graphics Communicate

“External representations are in essence cognitive tools.
Cognitive artifacts (e.g. graphics) are human only. There are no examples of animals using cognitive tools.
A lot of human collaboration goes without words. The dyads in the research produced more abstract instructions than the individuals. However, they also produced less diagrams and more language for the instructions.
Graphics augment cognition. It enables new ideas. Ambiguity helps. When reconfiguration occurs more new ideas were generated. Graphics facilitate collaboration. Externalize common ground.”
Link: Barbara Tversky: Some Ways Graphics Communicate

A Simple Classification of Interactive Visual Explainers

“Visual representations have been used since the dawn of human civilization to communicate – to reveal the hidden, illustrate the intricate, explain the complex and illuminate the obscure.
Constructing visual representation of information is not mere translation of what can be read to what can be seen. It entails filtering the information, establishing relationships, discerning patterns and representing them in a manner that enables a consumer of that information construct meaningful knowledge.”
“There is a subtle movement taking shape in online journalism. It is movement that is borne out of the desperate need to engage and excite news consumers in the post-information age. Dissemination of information and news breaking has given way to interaction, participation and involvement of consumers in news making. It is called interactive journalism or visual journalism.”
Link: Interactive Visual Explainers

An Introduction to Information Design

I just uploaded a shortened presentation that I give to non-practioners on information design. I say nothing new so for the initiated there might be nothing for you. It does raise a few points that have led to some interesting discussions in the past. My primary area of interest is information design for the web or information systems. Whether they be intranets, corporate sites, “portals”, web applications, or etc.
With the ongoing war in Iraq we have been deluged with a multitude of high quality examples of information design that usually focus on one viewpoint. The ability of information designers to influence the general publics opinion on important matters such as this makes for an interesting and lively discussion.
Link: Introduction to Information Design

Toward the Evocation of Meaning

Information society will create relationships in real time around the world through travel and communication. Different languages, different ways of life, and different cultures come directly into our homes through the communications industry and television. This allows for the creation of multivalent meaning that was unthinkable in the age of Western dominance. The changes of industrial society, the transformation of its paradigm of one of an information society is playing a large role in shifting the world from the dominance of the West and logos.

“Roland Barthes, in his Mythologies (Les Editions de Seuil), calls this the “age of the power of meaning.” Since the age of information society is an age in which meaning will be evoked through differences, it will be an age in which we see a shift from the “syndigmatic” linear, explicit thought patterns of Modernism and denotation to “paradigmatic,” nonlinear, latent thought patterns and connotation.
Toward the Evocation of Meaning / Architecture for Information Society

Quality publishing is about saying no

“You know, the groups and programs that we don’t want to push are doing lots of publishing on the intranet and public website. That’s because they’re trying to justify their existence.” This is a statement from a senior executive from a major organization. “Those groups and programs that we really want to promote, we can’t get them to publish enough. They’re too busy.”
Professional web publishing is not about getting lots of stuff up. It’s about getting the right stuff up. There’s a world of a difference between the two. Content can create value. Content can also destroy value. It can damage your reputation.
Link: Quality publishing is about saying no

We are all researchers

“We live in an age of alsos, adapting to alternatives. because we have greater access to information, many of us have become more involved in researching, and making our own decisions, rather than relying on experts. The opportunity is that there is so much information, the catastrophe is that 99% of it isn’t meaningful or understandable. We need to rethink how we present information because the information appetites of people are much more refined. Success in our connected world requires that we isolate the specific information we need and get it to those we work with.”
From Richard Saul Wurman’s “Information Anxiety 2”

Better Web Forms

“A short form is a good form. The shorter and more simple you can keep it, the more likely a user is to fill it out properly. If possible cut fields from the form, and whatever you do, don’t duplicate fields. The key here is to make sure the form is only collecting information that will be used. If you don’t need an address, don’t ask for one and never ask for something twice.”
Link: Better Web Forms

E-learning teams

Don’t really have a proper category for this old tidbit which I found reviewing some old papers. The following are a couple excerpts from a conference paper I participated in way back in 1998. That paper was the final deliverable for a position I held at UPEI starting I believe in 1997. Though at the time I remember being completely exasperated it was a great job that helped close the door once and for all on my music career. Despite the technical teams’ inexperience and only budding skill I still think that the team make-up was one of the best I have seen in e-learning product development since.
“The development process began from several philosophical and practical principles:

  • interaction was the key to learning – journals, bulletin boards, within-group email, discussion groups
  • courses had to be visually attractive, easy to use, interesting and challenging
  • the resources of the group, the Internet and the Library would be incorporated into the learning process
  • the teaching strengths of the individual faculty members had to be reflected in the design of each course
  • the bandwidth demands of the final version had to be small enough to accommodate typical computer equipment and browsers
  • materials had to be cross-platform stable
  • the course design would be modular and allow for open access and exit as much as possible,
  • no pay-to-use operating software would be used and unique programming solutions would be developed as needed
  • the project would be a team effort – faculty controlled content, open learning manager directed educational design, project administrator found resources as needed and the technical members developed visual and technical solutions to solve educational and content needs
  • as much as possible, solutions found for one course would be adapted for use in the other course”

Bill Robertson

“… to undertake the transformation process I follow in moving a face-to-face course into a flexible delivery mode. The transformer "is the skilled professional who mediates between the expert and the reader. Their job is to put the expert’s message in a form that reader can understand and to look after the reader’s interest in general. For example, any reasonable query the reader might have should be thought about and catered for in a proper manner." (M. MacDonald-Ross and R. Walker, ‘The Transformer’ The Penrose Annual , 1976). Tranformation was developed as a concept for the presentation of information in the 1930’s by Otto Neurath and has been an interest of educational research since that time.
Transformation draws on the practices of educational technology, instructional design, graphic art, editing and flexible education, and makes a contribution, which is distinctive and individual. Theorists place less emphasis on behaviorist strategies than do some educational designers and may place less emphasis on aesthetic criteria than do artists and graphic designers. Their view is to facilitate the transformation of information and ensure that communication is improved and learning enhanced. This all takes time – the one thing we did not have.
The transformation process I follow involves auditing the face-to-face lessons, transforming the face-to-face reality into a distance education mode. I then discuss this transformation with the professor and, where possible, students. The trick here is to capture the ‘magic’ of the individual facilitator and transform it into the electronic mode. The next stage is to work closely with the team to undertake the final transformation to an on-line course. This entails coding the interactive components of the face-to-face lesson into self- assessment exercises and information sharing for the on-line learner.”
Dale Mattock
From "The Making of Practical Logic 111"
Neb Kujundzic, Clark MacLeod, Dale Mattock, Mike O’Brien, Bill Robertson

Information Design: The Understanding Discipline

Yet another article presenting yet another definition of information design. Perhaps the most interesting part of which is the lively discussion that follows.
But within the article there are some valuable, if somewhat basic, points:
“Remember that information only has value when it is successfully communicated. If it cannot be accessed or understood it does not have value.”
I would change that to say that data has no value until it is designed and it’s value is enhanced when successfully presented within the context.
“Understand the information domain. … context is critical to providing strong information solutions. … Participants are influenced by history, by the market and by cultural factors.”
Yes most certainly but as well what gives me certain pause in pursuing information design more aggressively within the definition I support in my place of work is the fact that you must become quite intimate with the data. You must thoroughly understand the data being represented. Unfortunately technical elements of biotechnology are far removed from my life experience.
In terms of a definition of information design as a great integrator or an umbrella term for all design…. I cannot agree. I much prefer the mantle introduced in the discussion that of product design. We are creating a product, so lets call it that, of which information design is but one component needed to create it. I much prefer to form teams around the type of product being developed filled with people that have the competencies required to successfully complete the project. The term product design, when used to describe something like a website elicits some confusion at first but when explained becomes easily understood. Building a product is something that most business people here can understand – building great information design is not.
Link:Information Design: The Understanding Discipline

Weblogs as a good example of information design

“We are being pummeled by a deluge of data and unless we create time and spaces in which to reflect, we will be left with only our reactions. I strongly believe in the power of weblogs to transform both writers and readers from “audience” to “public” and from “consumer” to “creator.” Weblogs are no panacea for the crippling effects of a media-saturated culture, but I believe they are one antidote.”
rebecca blood
september 2000

Technology Intoxication

A quote sourced from Richard Saul Wurman’s, Information Anxiety 2.
The symptoms of a Technologically Intoxicated Zone are:
1. We favor the quick fix, from religion to nitrition.
2. We fear and worship technology.
3. We blur the distinction between real and fake.
4. We accept violence as normal.
5. We love technology as a toy.
We Live our lives distanced and distracted.
-John Naisbitt, High Tech High Touch: Technology and Our Search for Meaning

Information Design For A Better World?

An interesting question and response:
“As the ‘Information Revolution’ gathers momentum*, information designers are increasingly being cast as the ‘midwives’ who can deliver the ‘humanized’ products of a systems culture. On the one hand, we develop the instruments that coax our neighbours to part with the information needed to feed the machine. On the other hand, we dress up its output to look as if it were addressed to individuals and to suggest authorship by some concerned and caring person. And, of course, some of us also sweeten the somewhat bitter pill of automatization with thoughtful, if not cute, interfaces.”
“How then does this square with the perception we have of ourselves, that we (alone of graphic designers, and in marked contrast to the ‘stylists’) are somehow making the world a better place? Even in my memory, designers have repeatedly been the instruments for dramatic social changes for the worse. In the sixties and seventies, it was architects and town planners who devastated our urban areas with concrete monstrosities – machines a l’habiter – that have now broken down and are uninhabitable. In the eighties, retail designers ensured that whatever romantic locations our towns and cities were twinned with – they were inevitably ‘cloned with Milton Keynes’. Will it be information designers who are responsible for the millenial mess-up – delivering Baudrillard’s prediction of a time when signs would be used to hide the absence of reality?”
Found while researching artcles on Information Design Ethics – a possible but dropped research topic. I’ll share what I found at a later time.
Link: Information Design For A Better World?

More Powerpoint madness recent review of Apples keynote reinforces my perception of how Powerpoint has created a legacy of poor visual communication. The author of the review gives Keynote 3 out of 5 stars and states that it is worth it for beginning presenters but pros will not be satisfied. Obviously the review is uninformed but it is interesting to note what these people think “pros” need. The most glaring of which were no gradient-coloring features for text, the ability to edit multimedia within the program, and the amount of the control over transitions. What is with this perception that “pro’s” want products with enormous feature sets. I thought we would assume that people don’t have time for this type of complexity.
I have been using Keynote for a couple months and it’s fairly impressive. It’s simple, displays text very well and has cut ‘n’ paste import of all my media (vector graphics and pdf look superb). It helps reinforce the point of a presentation program – to support the speaker. The downside is a natural one. No one uses keynote and as such no one can read your file. Distribution via .pdf is impractical because of the horrendous file sizes and sharing it in Powerpoint’s file format seems painful as you loose all of the reasons you use Keynote in the first place.
I certainly don’t mean to imply that I create presentations that would make Edward Tufte proud – I don’t. But I am under different constraints. The constraints of language, and lack of paper, force me to put copious amounts of text on the screen. That’s my excuse.
Link: – Apple Keynote review