Visualizing Everything.

August 11, 2012
Still from Getting Lost video by Marco Bagni.

Still from Getting Lost video by Marco Bagni.

Telling stories and communicating the heart of that story to a listener, reader or viewer has always been a fun creative challenge. When data and information are the stories you are trying to create understanding of and connection with, the challenge is greatly increased. I love this motion graphic piece by designer Marco Bagni. It immerses us in the types of information and visualizations that have become part of the new language of dataviz. The video shares the insight that the only way find your own path is to get lost first. For me, this is an important way to approach life. From traveling, to starting a relationship, to designing, or writing, I find that the more I allow myself to become lost, the more amazing the result.

The sensation of being lost is something many of us feel when confronted by pages of lists, numbers and statistics. The development of data visualizations and info graphics have really helped tame that sensation and allowed story to be released from all that information. But something too much of a something tends to bring down the whole thing.  While these visualizations are often beautiful ways of seeing data and can even be truly transformational, collectively they begin to have the opposite effect for me. When I start to see a info graphic appear in an article or presentation, I start to glaze over and will zip past it unless something really compelling grabs my attention. That’s the same thing I used to do when I was confronted with the lists of data and statistics on their own.

I have started to look for new ways that data and information can be relayed both to be be understood and allow for connections to be made. I am not advocating for moving past the era of dataviz or inforgraphics, I am urging all us to use them more sparingly and to develop ways to have them engage the audience beyond simply wowing them with the art and creativity of presentation. Ultimately, my goal is to have the idea I’m working to express be more memorable than the manner of delivery.

Remixing Science – Mashups that make you think

September 7, 2011

I just discovered this video, actually my wife showed me, that really grabbed my attention and kept it. Part electronica pop song and part science documentary this is no ordinary music video. This one, and others by Symphony of Science (musician and producer John Boswell), weave together the words of many of the world’s greatest scientific minds into a sonically catchy and visually stunning three minute piece. I just watched four in a row, and I’m supposed to be working right now.

Like the wonderful work of visual remix artist Nick Bertke, aka Pogo, who has been off creating remixes based his travels through different cultures, Symphony of Science aims to tell the story of science and discovery by making these science documentaries accessible in a new way.

These remix mashup collages are often very enjoyable and I’m starting to see some evolution in the work generated. Story is starting to emerge from the soundbites and snippets that are woven into the sonic and visual layers. As this happens more these video works will take on a new life and maybe define a new genre. Today these videos occupy the space created by pushing music and films together in creative ways. Adding storytelling to this mix and you might get a Venn diagram where the mashup lives at the center of the three and provides new original content. This would be a musical machinima where new stories are told using a combination of existing films, music, remixing and creative inspiration. I look forward to seeing these videos move beyond eye, ear and mind candy and become more intentional and meaningful storytelling.

My Baby’s First Text Message

August 18, 2011
Image: Flickr user Chewbacka

Image: Flickr user Chewbacka

The title of this article is taken from a great post by Dominic Basulto on the bigthink blog. He writes about the need for our educational system to keep up with the changes in childhood development due to omnipresent digital devices. If babies can use iPads how will they remain engaged as students in elementary school paging through textbooks and writing homework assignments on ruled paper? The photo is borrowed from Martin Lindstrom‘s excellent post in Fast Company about technology contributing to our loss of ritual. In our rush toward instant gratification we have left behind the rituals that often contained more meaning than the thing itself. His example of taking a vacation, returning home to drop off rolls of film for processing, and the excited anticipation to see and share the photos has been replaced with the instant click, quick look at the camera’s screen, then quick post to Facebook. While this may be a new ritual in itself, it has hardly the same emotional resonance as the one it replaced.

There are many things that have come together in our current digital ecosystem that point to the need to adapt our old models of teaching and invent new models of experiencing. In my view, the two things that have had the greatest impact are wireless social connection and Apple products. The former allows children (and all of us) to quickly form a broad range of connections–children already easily form connections at a young age as they don’t see each other as demographic segments, value adds or detractors, but simply as potential play partners, at least until they grow older and the social networks serve as an extension of all the good and bad of growing up. And the latter, Apple’s suite of interconnected products, has all but eliminated the barrier to accessing technology, whether the most anti-technology luddite or a toddler. A quick search found 458 YouTube videos of “baby using iPad“. Another video shows 100 year old Virginia thrilled to use her new iPad. Another example of how these new devices are having a profound effect on learning is described in this article in the San Jose Mercury News about how the iPad and specially designed apps are proving to be highly effective in teaching autistic children.

When I think about the impact technology will have for the future of eduction and for the future of our own daily life experience I worry that as we race toward the next innovation and rush to implement each iteration of progress we are also leaving something important behind. So much of our life’s significance comes not from simply experiencing something but by deriving meaning from it, and meaning is difficult to obtain in nano-seconds. Meaning takes some time to cook. Meaning comes from combining connections to the heart and the mind. By making things too instantaneous we skip the process of getting to know something, of developing an understanding of it, of generating an emotional connection with it. There is a huge gulf between the knee-jerk emotion of a tear-jerker and the deep-seated physical emotion of leaving a loved one. One is a truncation and replication of meaning and the other is the real deal.

It doesn’t have to be so dramatic an example either. Our technologic lifestyle and the concurrent decrease of ritual reduce the pleasure of experience. For example I have my own morning ritual of preparing coffee, a certain way that I like to read, and I love the preparations that lead to a home-cooked dinner. In performing my rituals (grinding coffee, settling in my favorite chair, chopping herbs) I have transformed something simple (drinking coffee, reading, eating) into an experience that is much more than the simple need being addressed.

As we develop new technologies, and as we find new ways of teaching and learning it will be increasingly important to give ritual a seat at the table. To allow for the idea of of slowness to be a part of the process. To value deep experience over checking off a task. Not just so we can stop and smell the roses but so that we can even understand the meaning such a simple ritual can have.

This also applies to brands and marketing in that providing people with opportunities to reclaim past rituals or create new ones gives each person something much more that the product or service–it gives them meaningful or meaning-filled experiences they can remember and reconnect with over and over.

Sealed With An eKiss

May 10, 2011

The idea of a long-distance relationship has always been challenging, even a deal breaker at times. I have plenty of experience with the concept. Living in Seattle, one of my closest friends lives in Milan, my brother lives in Brooklyn, and I have family all over Japan.  In fact, my wife and I solidified our relationship after she moved 900 miles away to teach skiing. While only eight years ago and only for six months, we only had email and our cellphones which were not that satisfying. To keep the fires burning
I ended up flying to Steamboat Springs enough times that I needed a partial season’s ski pass.

Today, the cellphone has become smartphones like the iPhone, and Skype (or soon to be ‘Skype featuring Bing!’) is the new call, texting is the new email, and Facebook, Twitter and others are the new water cooler. There are now so many tools through which one can experience connection with someone far away. Not only can you see them, you can see and hear what they’re seeing. Long-distance relationships can be more fulfilling and successful. Long distance has gone mainstream.

“I don’t know if we would be together without Skype”

“Without the modes of communication, there’s no way you could keep it alive”

An article a little while back in the New York Times looks at the long distance relationships of college students as did this University of Washington Daily article. There was also a great story about a successful long distance relationship between a soldier in Iraq and the women he met two days before he shipped out. He has safely returned, they are now married and have a daughter.

Perhaps my favorite thing I’ve found in this area is this wonderful video called “our year [apart] together” that chronicles a long-distance relationship over the course of one year.

As you can see in the video something truly meaningful happens when you combine all this technology with the simple impulse to share something with someone you love. Taking advantage of all these tools can really help maintain or even expand a long-distance relationship. It seems that if you are in a long-distance relationship today, the winning combination is a mixture of sharing everyday moments and specially curated moments are sent through posts and the post to make the relationship as real and meaningful as possible.

Retro Modern Redux at CES

February 8, 2011

I first wrote about a great Retro-Modern mash-up in April of last year but, unfortunately it was only a very imaginative April Fool. But, like all those who dreamt of an iPhone on Verizon’s network, good things come to those who wait.

A few weeks ago I was browsing articles about the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and saw this New York Times article touting the debut of an iPad-based old-school arcade game. A few clicks later and there was a Wired Magazine report from the floor of CES showing the iCade in action.

I know that gaming graphics, technology, theory and well, everything, has advanced light years since these arcade games from my youth (also, the parents of today’s youth). None-the-less, nothing beats the simple pleasure of flying my cursor-like ship through the featureless sky and blasting barely-drawn asteroids to bits.

This example seems to appeal to all types with its combination of the iPad and Atari games. Case in point, this photo is from Martha Stewart’s blog.

Maybe what’s at the heart of all Retro-Modern things is their ability to briefly transport us somewhere. At their minimum they give a wink or nod toward the long-ago relics from our past. At their best they provide a connection between our ever-changing current lives and the feelings we had for all that we once thought would always be there.

Making The News Meaningful

January 28, 2011

original image posted by Olly Wainwright

One of the challenges to turning an incident into a movement is finding the single thing that will cause multitudes to connect with the issue at hand. When you live where the issue is happening that single thing is often an incident that symbolizes all that is wrong. In Tunisia it was an act of self-immolation, in Cairo the beating death of a man at the hands of police. News of these acts travelled quickly around their respective countries thanks largely to social media. In fact, Egypt’s fear of the power social media can have to spread word and organize quickly resulted in the government shutdown of all internet service and mobile phone SMS at the height of Thursday and Friday’s protests.

Galvanizing the support of those outside a region is another matter.

The news reports surrounding an area of conflict can fill the headlines for days, weeks, even months without resulting in any large public outcry. Just as there needs to be a moment of galvanization at the birth of a movement, there must also be a moment when all the outsiders peering in via CNN, BBC or Al Jazeerah see some singular moment or image that changes everything.

Dorothea Lange’s photo of migrant worker mother during the Great Depression created a public outcry that forced the government to provide aid to our most impoverished.  When thinking of protest in America I think of the photo from Kent State, an image that took anti-war protests from campuses to our nation’s capital and leading to the only nation-wide student strike in America’s history. At the end of the 90’s Tiananmen Square and a single image of a man facing off a column of armored tanks galvanized the world’s attention and became an enduring symbol of protest.

The photo above was taken during an incredible moment during a long protester’s siege of the Kasr Al Nile bridge in Cairo. The protesters appeared to have pushed the police across the bridge when a redoubled and reinforced effort including a water canon began pushing back. In the face of that effort the protesters knelt in prayer while the police continued their attempt to clear the bridge. Its hard to imagine a more stunning image of the clash between peaceful protest and brute force.

The days and weeks ahead will tell whether this image becomes a lighting rod for global support and results in increased pressure on Mubarak to make meaningful change for the people of Egypt. It certainly brought it home for me.

For the best recap and up-to-the-minute information on the Egyptian and Tunisian situations click on the links below:


Excellent interactive map of Cairo protests from NYT

What’s Happening in Egypt Explained | Mother Jones

What’s Happening in Tunisia Explained | Mother Jones

Wishery and World Remix

January 12, 2011

All the way from Perth, Australia amazing visual-remix artist and music creator Nick Bertke, aka Pogo, has become a cultural phenomenon. His memorable and upbeat mixes have found millions of fans around the world. The track Wishery, shown below, has had nearly 2.5 million views alone.

I think one of the keys to his success in connecting with such a broad audience is his choice of source material. For most people the movies from our youth hold a meaningful place for the rest of our lives. For me, the films from Disney’s heyday of the 30’s and 40’s still filled me with wonder as a kid in the 60’s. For younger generations those touchstones are Toy Story or Harry Potter. His work doesn’t deconstruct and rebuild these iconic films as much as pay respectful homage to the core or heart of each one he remixes.

Part of being a cultural phenom is that your work not only strikes a chord with a wide audience but it also spawns other work, both in imitation like this note-for-note live instrument cover of Wishery by musician Alvin Pingol:

or in tribute like these remixes Ruby Shoes (Wizard of Oz + Pogo Tribute) by Dainumo or Bing (Groundhog Day + Pogo Tribute) by HomeStarRunnerTron. YouTube lists 90+ results for the term ‘Pogo tribute’.

What I’m most interested in, however, is the direction Nick has been moving in since he posted the beautiful Gardyn last year. Created entirely from real-world sources (rather than pre-existing movies) he builds an engaging and endearing portrait of his mother and the garden she has surrounded her home with.  I’m not the only viewer to be moved by this lush portrait of his mother, one commenter says:

“This made me cry :’) It remdind me to my dead grandmother… she use to take care a lot of her garden… I just realize that I miss her so much… :’) “

Now he’s taken sampling and remixing actual places further with the just-posted Joburg Jam. A portrait of Johannesburg, South Africa, this video is the first release from his ambitious World Remix project. Funded through Kickstarter, he is capturing and remixing the sights, sounds and voices from each major culture of the world. The resulting work will be released as an album on CD, DVD and online. His next stop is Tibet.

I really am looking forward to seeing and hearing what he creates and hope he continues to reach millions of viewers who will see and hear vibrant and beautiful portraits of people and cultures from around the world.

Scrabble, Magic Tables and Human Connection

January 6, 2011

John Kestner's amazing Tableau

This past holiday my mom, a big Scrabble fan, became fascinated with playing her favorite game on my favorite Apple device, and found herself wanting an iPad for herself (it could be that it’s the endlessly-willing game-partner that my dad isn’t.) While not that tech-savvy she loves and uses an iMac to keep up on news from her native Japan, to email her friends around the world, and thanks to my photographer-brother Andrew, she can now upload, edit and send photos to all of us.  However, from all that mousing she has developed carpal-tunnel in her wrist and now limits her computing time. This has also slowed down something she is widely appreciated for: her wonderful thoughtful cards and letters with her lovely penmanship developed as schoolgirl in pre-WWII Sydney, Australia.

The shift from 75 plus years of hand-writing to five years of mousing took its toll, a metaphor for what can be lost as we transition to an entirely wired and continuously connected world. It also underscores the gap I feel between technological reach and human touch. While I fully enjoy the advances that allow us to seemingly do anything, from anywhere, I wish there was a more human touch and quality to the interactions. I’ve written about many examples that combine the traditional or nostalgic with new technology giving the interaction more meaning, or at least more fun.

Enter this wonderful concept, the Tableau, created by John Kestner, a MIT Media Lab graduate and designer of “supermechanical objects that connect us.” This small end table, immediately familiar as a fixture in any living or family room, invisibly combines technology and social networking with simple everyday interaction. The table, connected to a Twitter account, signals you to open its drawer when someone has sent a tweet. Upon opening the drawer you find photos or messages printed for you. You can also send an image of anything to the account simply by placing it in the drawer. Pretty cool. As John describes on his site, the Tableau enables “connections among humans, objects and spaces.” I believe we will see more of this type of thinking in design in the near future.

As we await the unveiling of all this year’s amazing gadgets from CES, I will sort through all the techno, just-because-we-can, even-more-features-than-last-year products to see if any serve to create stronger connection between technology and living our lives. Ideally, allowing us to live our lives more simply so that we can spend more time on real connection and interaction with each other.

For me, I still love to play Scrabble with my mom. In person.

From Abstract to Meaningful

November 19, 2010

The true size of Africa. - Kai Krause

I remember reading that the average per-capita GNP of the industrialized world is around $27,000 while Africa’s is $528. I felt shocked at the extreme disparity. Because this information was simple and concise it was immediately clear that this disparity in wealth was severe.

Every day we read or hear about all manner of complex global issues. With that much information these issues become abstract and motivating people to act on their behalf of any of them can be a major challenge.

Over the past few years there has been a tremendous growth in creativity and expression with infographics. Their ability to elevate, enhance and convey the meaning within information can be a powerful tool. These depictions allow us to experience the data or facts in a way that can communicate impact and elicit a meaningful connection.

For example look at the many pressing and critical issues across Africa. Contrasting all the news about the fully comprehensible South African World Cup were the ongoing reports of genocide, piracy, war over natural resources and the continuing devastation brought on by HIV, malnutrition, corruption and water shortage. It’s too much to expect of anyone to comprehend the impacts of any single one of these issues. And it’s even harder to imagine how all of this can happen in a single place. This inability to convey the true size and scope of the place we are talking about is part of the challenge to addressing the issues themselves.

Earlier this month Economist published an article featuring an infographic created by famed interface designer Kai Krause. He developed the graphic to fight “immapanncy” or the distorted view that most people have regarding the true size of continents around the world. The distorted view can also distort our sense of what any region can contain.

The map above clearly shows how large the African continent is compared to other countries. Seeing the vast size of Africa makes it easier to comprehend how one place can have so many challenges. Then consider that 8 of the world’s top 10 economies are among the many countries that would fit within the borders of the world’s poorest continent.

Jay-Z & Bing update!

November 12, 2010

The amazing campaign I wrote about earlier this week continues to inspire and expand. Jay-Z’s Twitter feed has a quarter million followers waiting for the latest clue update while his official Facebook page now has over 5 million fans, up a half million in the past three weeks, and gives up-to-the-minute updates on the Decode campaign for his book release. Fans are posting photos of themselves with the pages they have found. In other words fans (read: consumers) are actively spending their time searching for, interacting with and sharing their experience with content from a soon-to-be-released book.

Beyond posting to their favorite social media sites I’m guessing that a good percentage of these people are among the first proud owners of a hard cover of “Decoded” the book too.

This is really good example of how to use transmedia to create real interaction, generate conversation and expression, and ultimately encourage and increase desire for a product. And there’s still four days to go before the book even hits the streets!


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