evidence

Infographic blog 1

I sat at a red light one day on my way home from work. I noticed the bumper sticker on the car in front of me, which said, “Proud parent of a homeschooled student,” or something to that effect. I wondered what it must be like to homeschooled, for your parents to be your teachers. Did homeschooled students have better test scores than public school students? Are they socially inept bookworms, or are they just as sociable as any traditionally schooled student? What makes parents want to teach their children themselves? Dissatisfaction with public education? Out of curiosity, I decided to make homeschooling the topic of my infographic.

The results were eye-opening. Home-schooled students are more likely to graduate college than public or private schools students, and they transfer more than twice as many AP credits going into their freshman year of college than public and private school students. With my infographic, I wanted to not only create awareness for this small subset of the student population in the United States, but also to show that they are performing better than traditionally schooled students across the board (which I’m sure not many people realize). My second panel supports my point, showing that the number of home-schooled students in America doubled in just four years from 2003 to 2007. The shift is gaining traction since parents can see the benefits to their children. And, interestingly enough, even though home-schooled students generally perform better on standardized tests and in college than public and private school students, they are, in fact, just as, if not more so, involved in the community.

I would have liked to have made graphics that showed a greater amount of contrast between home-schooled students and traditionally schooled students. Also, I would have liked to emphasize the community involvement panel a bit more, but the icons and images in Piktochart are limited. How can one show that home-schooled students go on field trips just like other students, or that home-schoolers are more likely to volunteer than traditionally schooled students? Overall, I feel I made a visually appropriate and eye-pleasing infographic that gives a solid overview of the many facets of home-schooling and home-schooling culture.

Categories: evidence, home-school, images, infographic, students | Leave a comment

Treaty of Greens: Generate this! (Reflections)

Treaty of Greens (generative poem)

Reflection 1

As a person who isn’t that into traditional poetry, I was less than enthused with an assignment that was labeled as “generative poetry.” In traditional poetry, I typically pick a specific subject or mood and run with that, so I did the same approach with this assignment. At the beginning of this assignment, I was in the process of writing a theorized letter to my CEO (at Walgreens), where I argued the lack of love for cashiers. I was feeling pretty passionate about my job, so that’s how I stumbled upon Walgreens as my subject matter. I planned on creating a poem that showed the virtues and triumphs of cashiers, until I had a terrible day at work. My goal evolved into showing the “dark side” of Walgreens.

The word choice part was pretty easy, at least in comparison to traditional poetry. I decided to have one group of words that portrayed more to my job title, and another category of words that portrayed to the customer. I decided to capitalize words that would show anger or aggression, or other words that could relate to such a subject. For example, I capitalized ASSHOLES because that’s typically something cashiers scream in their head at rude customers. In a different light, I capitalized PATIENCE because it’s something most customers seem to lack. I think by capitalizing certain words this emphasizes certain points in the poem, which seems to add a nice touch. Furthermore, this creates contrast. The verbs were a little bit more difficult to come up with, for some reason I cannot explain. I think part of it is because I was trying too hard to think of unique verbs. I felt that most of the verbs I managed to scrounge up were rather boring and didn’t paint a picture, but I wanted the verbs to relate to Walgreens. I did manage to get a few odd verbs in there as “engulf”, “defecates”, and “delegate”. These are still loosely tied to the job of a cashier, especially at my store, and I think it really puts a twist on the generative poem.

As mentioned previously, I wasn’t crazy about traditional poetry before this, so I wasn’t too excited for this assignment. While I didn’t love this assignment, I did enjoy that I could essentially have a computer create a poem for me, only each time it would magnificently different than the previous time. This poem definitely challenged me to rethink how poetry is composed in general. By creating poetry in this way, through code, it really changed what poetry can be. It helped me see that poetry, whether through code or traditional, follows some type of pattern with words. However, the generative poetry really expands poetry. Instead of having a traditional sentence, that most people would write, generative poetry can create these crazy, enlightening sentences that one would never think of creating. It’s this aspect that has challenged me to really rethink poetry; maybe I didn’t like traditional poetry because of all of the constraints and limitations. This generative poem has helped me see that anything can be poetry; I don’t need to conform to certain poetry idealism’s in order to create a great poem. Furthermore, this assignment has helped me to start to consider that code itself is poetry; it follows a certain pattern, adheres to certain rules, and creates meaning in something.

Reflection 2:

There are many people in society today who don’t believe that this very assignment on generative poetry is not a true form of literature; we could even argue that there is one of those nonbelievers among our graduate course (cough Jason cough). It’s understandable for most readers to first assume that generative poetry is unlike traditional poetry and literature in general, but after studying it and learning the essence behind codes, it can be argued that there really is no difference at all.

In Perspectives on Ergodic Literature Espen Aarseth (1997) argues that cyber text focuses on the “mechanical organization of the text, by posting the intricacies of the medium as an integral part of the literary exchange,” (p. 1). In simpler terms, the computer is not just the medium, it’s part of the text too.  Aarseth further argues that cyber text is no different from other texts because all literature is different for every reader, the reader has to make choices in order to make sense of the text, and a text can only be read in one sequence at a time (p. 2) All three of these standards apply to both the generative poem assignment, as well as traditional poetry or literature in general.

Generative poetry and electronic literature challenges traditional text, but that doesn’t mean that the newly invented literatures don’t qualify as literature. Aarseth writes that “text is something more than just marks upon a surface,” (p. 12), meaning that text is something that creates meaning and allows for the flow and exchange of ideas. In The Semantic Web Revisited, Nigel Shadbolt, Wendy Hall, and Tim Berners-Lee (2006) claim that the Web consists of “documents for humans to read to one that included data and information for computers to manipulate,” (p. 96).  Even if computers are manipulating the text, much like in the generative poem, meaning is still being made by the reader, or even, humans. And then, the same argument occurs: there is a difference between paper and computer texts. But what is the difference? Aarseth argues that “the real difference between paper texts and computer texts is not very clear,” (p. 10) and it is true; other than the medium, what is the difference?  There are obvious subtle differences, like computers run on electric and the words are coded to appear on a screen, but the argument is that this code is literature too. How? Code uses a certain language and follows a pattern in order to create something meaningful to the reader. Codes can change the color of a text or background, among millions of other things. In comparison, the human hand and mind can write poetry with a certain rhythm that displays different emotions. The medium is still literature.

Since we can consider generative poetry as a type of literature with the evidence presented, we must consider what this means for the composition and structure. Aarseth writes that cyber text “centers attention on the consumer, or the user, of the text,” (p. 1), which changes the way that we compose. Instead of composing a poem for a traditional reader, we must begin to consider other options. For example, readers can be users or even co-authors. We must write in such a way that can account for that; the text must be more interactive to allow for the co-authorship. However, this poses a bit of a threat for the “reader”. Aarseth argues that the cyber text reader “is not safe” which means we can argue that “they are not a reader,” (p. 3). Most books are predictable and allow for full control, but with these newly developed ways of writing, more risks are available for the reader. The reader can fail at understanding how to navigate through the text which leads to a lack of understanding.

Understanding then, is linked to interpretation. But not interpretation as we know it. In “What does it mean to ‘interpret’ code,” a blogger writes that interpretation is no longer what it used to be; it’s not that “search for what the author secretly meant,” but rather it is the exploration of “semiotic objects in order to explore culture and systems of meaning.” This definition changes how we view literature; it’s not about that problem or climax, it’s about the meaning behind the text, and the interaction the text has with the medium to create that meaning. Just as words work together on a page to create a narrative, or within a Haiku to show imagery and emotion, words work behind the screens of a screen with code and the computer to create meaning.

Resources:

Aarseth, E. (1997). Introduction: Ergodic literature. In Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic            Literature. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press. Retrieved from            http://cv.uoc.edu/~04_999_01_u07/aarseth1.html.

Berners-Lee, T., Hall, W., Shadbolt, N., (2006). The semantic web revisited.

What does it mean to ‘interpret’ code? (n.d.) Critical Cod Studies.

Categories: Alphabetic Text Analysis, class activities, elit, ergodic literature, evidence, generative poem, images, information architecture, mapping, semantic web, technology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

#iamondays How to Write E-Lit

On Twitter, Devon posted this:

blogpost4a

Which is a link that leads us to this:blogpost4

The “Fun da mentals” of e-lit. A very old image to teach us how to do something new. When I first saw this picture, I was immediately reminded of Robinson and his book The Story of Writing, and for some reason, the fossils reminded me of the section about “rebuses”. And with good reason, I think. These fossils are rebuses, and they relate to e-lit because most often, e-lit uses pictorial images. It’s crazy to think that we are still using techniques from the middle ages. But then again, everything we know has developed from something in the past. For example, the computer, and it’s many components (such as the internet, hypertext, and cyber text).

Hypertext is e-lit. But first, let’s look at the actual structure of this page that Devon posted. In my own opinion, it’s quite simplistic and bare. In fact, it even seems to resemble a piece of paper, which still shows that we’re relating how we write today to how we once used to write. However, the website seems to do a nice job of incorporating grids, as we learned about from Lupton. If we just browse at the first page, there is a cornucopia of blue. Blue, of course, is hypertext.  As Nelson wrote, hypertext means “forms of writing which branch or perform on request,”; in other words, any of the blue links that we see daily.

But how do these links happen? How can you possible think of making all of the connections? There are ways, tutorials, and even webpages that will do it for you, so it’s really not a question of how. It’s actually, more of a why. But the why is in the purpose of this blog post: electronic literature.

Now then, first we must learn to understand electronic literature. It’s unlike traditional literature, it’s not bound by specific outcomes and there’s no specific beginning or ending. So how can we learn about it with the idea of traditional reading and writing lodged in our noggins? With practice and coherence, it can be done.

Fun da mentals actually offers some interactive ways to learn and become familiar with electronic literature, which is something that Nelson writes is a good thing. There is a “hornbook” which helps students begin to understand how to read electronic literature. The hornbook teaches about nodes and paths, but also provides exercises that allow the students to get involved. By clicking on the “reader” section we can learn how electronic literature let’s us explore it. This section is headlined by “This sentence is false” and then teaches how different nodes (clickable parts of a sentence) can develop different stories or ideas, much like in The Jews Daughter.

The most interesting part of Fun da Mentals is the “Coloring book” link. As the only way to learn how to color is by practicing, at some point you learn that you’re doing it right when you color inside the lines. Students learn about creating electronic literature by doing similar exercises to that of a coloring book. It involves navigation by clicking.

Speaking of navigation by clicking, the Fun da Mentals is almost an example of  e-literature. Yes, it’s obvious that the page is full of hypertext, but what makes e-lit is that the reader is in control. He or she can click around and expand the story on their own. For instance, once I begin reading the description of “the coloring book” I see that the word “anatomy” is a link, in which I click it. It takes me to the anatomy interactive portal, which is not directly related to what I was just focusing on. In this same description, there is a clickable word that says “electronic tool”. I am compelled to find out what an electronic tool is, so I click on it. I read about electronic tools. However, here is where there’s an issue: Each page that I’ve clicked on, they’ve offered other links, but none of them seem to take me back to the original story line. Therefore, we could argue that this is not electronic literature.

Electronic literature can be complex, especially when we’ve grown up and only been exposed to one type of literature (traditional). It takes time and practice to learn a new trade. As Fun da Mentals is attempted to do, it’s important to constantly practice and enrich yourself into what you’re trying to learn in order to better adapt.

Categories: #IAMondays, Alphabetic Text Analysis, class activities, evidence, images, information architecture, mapping, pictorial images, semantic web, technology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

My infographic reflections

info2

Reflection 1

As a huge baseball fan, I wanted to find an aspect of the sport I could make an interesting presentation on (instead of Hey, so-and-so can still throw X amount of curve balls after X amount of years). In researching baseball-not uninfluenced by the amount of “42” trailers-I decided to investigate diversity in baseball. This was further revised to African-Americans and their presence in baseball. I’ve had arguments about this before, and many people simply say something along the lines of “It doesn’t matter what color a person is, baseball is just about how good you are as a player.” While this is true, I wanted to be able to illustrate that there are roadblocks keeping African-Americans from developing into major-league talent.

One of the problems I encountered with my first draft was a lack of any sense of narrative. I was all over the place. In this draft, I was able to focus on one group, which really helped me show change over time and offer reasons for the change. Since my topic is essentially disparity, I wanted visual reminders. To this end, I used graphs and color options to emphasize the differences. I also made use of the icons/images offered by Piktochart when talking about the reasons offered/suggested for why the African-American numbers have dipped, as well as areas in which baseball is trying to improve. I did this because I thought visuals would make the socio-economics that act against integration more concrete.

Many of the design problems I encountered came from the website’s interface. While I was able to graph the 75/856 African-American player representation, I was unable to present more information in that style graph because Piktochart informed me I did not have access too it. This resulted in my having to try to scratch-graph it, which explains why some of the baseballs in the second graph in that block are a bit wonky. I think Piktochart would benefit from some sort of “auto-align” tool for different columns/grouped information.

During revisions, aspects of my presentation (icons or what have you) would sometimes disappear for several sessions, which was unnerving. I would replace it in the infographic, and then the original would reappear sometimes days later. I also feel that Piktochart is a bit over-eager to group things together. Adding/changing text formats was annoying-it would revert to false in whatever font/color/size you wanted to change too, instead of simply changing existing fonts. As a first time Piktochart user, I felt the walk-through tutorial could be a little more robust and in-depth.

I feel that an infographic was a good approach to showing rather than telling, to acknowledge opposite arguments and refute them.

Reflection 2

I wanted my infographic to be beautiful evidence. So in constructing my presentation, I knew that there were definite Tuftean principles I wanted to apply. Firstly, due to spatial considerations, I, like Tufte, would need to become a proponent of visual density. The infographic is a very finite space, and given my topic one that I needed to make the most of.  It was at times difficult to strike a balance. It was in finding a balance that I began to experiment with font styles and size in order to maximize my real estate.

To avoid overpopulating my infographic, I relied partially on using the layout of the theme to separate and compartmentalize ideas. Tufte recommends keeping related information at eye level,  so readers understand that the information is connected (Tufte p.91). By quasi-cartouching, I hoped to avoid presenting a confusing and difficult to read column of text and image. So, I hope to have made it easier to differentiate between ideas in my infographic without having made my presentation choppy.

Font use was another way I attempted to distinguish between information types.I limited myself to 5 fonts, 4 font sizes, and 3 colors during my presentation. I wanted to use group information by font, so that when readers saw a font that had been previously used in my presentation, they would automatically make a link between the two pieces of information. I also but a lot of thinking into font selection, as Ellen Lupton, author of Thinking With Type, writes that there is a whole history and metaphor/ emotive aspect to font selection. Going off of this, I picked very clear, thin, almost severe “hard” fonts for factual information, and a wider, more spacious, “softer” font for quotes. I was my intention to use these alternative fonts to mimic the idea of “hard facts.” Courier New has a sense of coldness (I think, due to the thinness of the characters), so I used that font when talking about the real world and it’s inequality. Likewise, I chose a font for the quotes that counterbalanced this, reasoning that the quotes are from people trying to put their own spin on the situation, and thus are a bit inflated.

I think producing an infographic is a great working example of a selection from Tufte’s book ” whatever evidence it takes to understand what is going on” (Tufte p. 78). Piktochart offers a lot of images and icons, which could easily be converted into the type of distracting “phluff” as Tufte calls it, that litters many PowerPoint presentations. The challenge is to use these images as a mode of information, or as repetitive information. In my infographic, I use visuals (baseballs for timeline, a schoolhouse, etc) to reinforce the topic. This can be used to particular affect in graphing.Instead of using a pie or bar graph, which provide abstract visuals, I chose to display my data in a more visually appealing way. Instead of impersonal lines and circles, my graphs recall humanity. Further, the use of color and countable icons in my graphs is superior to visually abstract pie/bar charts when trying to project disparity.

I tried to show forward progress (where it existed) and used comparison whenever possible. Tufte argues for comparison when presenting data, as it provides context to information. So, for everything I touched upon, I tried to provide a scale. Without such knowledge, we can’t really ascertain if there is a problem. Scale comparison was especially important to my presentation, as it is about a group being marginalized. Instead of just saying there is a problem in baseball now, we must look at this years number as it relates to the whole history of African-Americans in baseball. We must look at contributing factors, and compare the African-American baseball population to African-American total population. Only through examining these factors can we accurately declare that there is a real problem with the number of African-American players represented.

I relied heavily on Tufte and Lupton’s theories in designing my infographic. Without their influences, I feel that my presentation would have been “pretty” (if I was lucky) without really having anything to say, which is a damnable sin in evidential presentations. Being able to go to their works for reference helped me understand way of putting content first, then using other aspects of the presentation as enhancements.

By using Lupton’s approach to layout, I feel that my attempt at a Tuftean infographic was as successful as a first-timer could be.

Categories: #IAMondays, baseball, class activities, diagrams, evidence, infographic, information architecture, tufte | Leave a comment

An Infographic on the Importantance of Breakfast!

infographicfinalforreal

 

Reflection 1

I originally started out wanting to create an infographic on waffles, but I ran into a dilemma: what is there really to say about waffles? This is when I realized that there is so much to be said about breakfast. In this infographic, I wanted to build awareness that breakfast is essential for a healthy life and I also wanted to try and encourage those who don’t eat breakfast, to eat breakfast.  Furthermore, towards the end, I wanted to stress that it’s not just eating breakfast that is important, but what you eat for breakfast.

I start my infographic out with a timeline, which I feel slowly invites people in, especially when they see the “Eggo shortage” point.  After I get my audience’s attention, I share the statistics of the percentage of people who skip breakfast by age groups. These statistics are then followed by what percentages of those skippers are obese. I believe that these statistics alone will shock and draw attention to the changes that need to be made.  Towards the end, I have “building blocks” about nutrition, followed by lists of ways to create, and help any individual stick to a healthy breakfast.  I think these all flow together to help support my goals in educating the world about a healthy breakfast.

I think if I had to write a paper on this topic instead, it wouldn’t be as inviting or as easy to understand. I wanted to show statistics, but not in a way that was boring or repetitive.  However, this assignment did pose some challenges and issues. First, Piktochart separated everything into blocks which allowed for a lot of issues to occur when attempting to move things around. Second, it offered a limited amount of icons that didn’t really apply to my topic. For instance, after we spent a whole class deciding that a coffee cup would suffice for my chart, I had come home and I did not have the coffee cup available any more on my screen (for reasons unknown).  In my other chart, I had different color circles represent the amount of favorite breakfast foods, yet Piktochart made the key displayed as boxes. While I was able to cover these boxes with my own circles, this was a lot of unnecessary work that could’ve been avoided if Piktochart created a better presentation.

In the end, I think this might’ve been easier if I was a designer with some experience on how to put things together in a way that creates a good flow. However, as an experienced writer, I think I was able to create a good piece of writing. A piece of writing is about good content and the presentation of it, not just one or the other.

Reflection 2

Before I even started putting things on my infographic, I realized that Piktochart was already separated into blocks, which made it easy for me to think about it in terms of grids. As Lupton writes, grids “break space or time into regular units,” (p. 151).   On each block, I tried to figure out how I could create grids. For example, the title and explanation (at the top of my infographic) is broken into two grids, while the one that follows (the timeline) is displayed in one grid. I tried to alternate grids to create a better flow, but it also depended on the type of information I planned on displaying.

The information I used in my infographic varies on how it needed to be displayed. The timeline is a great example; it needed to be displayed in a whole block to show the distance of time from year to year. Furthermore, it was shown across the page, because according to Tufte “reading across describes sequence of movements,” showing the movement of time from left to right (p. 33).  I originally had my timeline going downwards, showing movement from an older year to a newer year, but I decided to change it as it didn’t match our metaphor of time. As humans, we often view time as across the horizon, moving towards one year and away from the other.

In the next grid, I display two statistics, which were crafted around both Tufte and Lupton’s theories on information design. Lupton writes that “design and text gently collaborate to enhance understanding,” (p. 7).  I put the percentage in a circle and had it displayed larger than the text it collaborated with in hopes that it would draw more attention to itself, and I believe this technique worked. The number and the text are not directly together; instead the text lies parallel to the number, but in a way that is not directly connected. As Tufte argued, most graphics that have nouns are connected by arrows or links, because “the evidence in variation in connections is stronger than evidence for sameness,” (p. 79). From this, I was able to pick out an arrow/link to connect the two together that provided a strong connection without distracting my audience. When I first came to these two statistics, I wasn’t sure how to display them. Originally, I had just thought that by writing it out as “22% are obese”, it would come off as boring and ineffective. I had remembered how I once read statistics in a magazine that was similar to the way I presented it, and then I recalled the theories presented by Lupton and Tufte, which were right on point. Tufte claims that there should be “no distinction among words and images” (p. 49), and I think by using arrows and links, there is no distinction between the two, at least in this case.

Next to this grid, I show more statistics; the percentage of people who skip breakfast, varying from male and female and from age group. This was originally displayed in a bar graph, which was what Tufte defined as chart junk. It was chart junk because it took information and made it into a bunch of junk that really had no effect on my audience. As Tufte argued, mapped pictures should “combine representational images with scales, diagrams, overlays, numbers, words, and images,” (p. 13).  In this grid, I attempted to do just that. I used the icon of a plate and utensils to display a certain percentage of people. This is what Tufte refers to as a sparkline, or a “data intense, design simple, and word sized graphic,” (p. 47). By displaying this information in this way, instead of the original bar graph way, it provides a greater level of understanding.

Understanding is the main goal of any piece of writing, so it’s important to involve metaphors in the way information is presented, as that’s how humans relate to things. In the next section, I used a squiggly boarder to make the grid appear as a chalkboard. Inside of the “chalkboard” I put blocks, and labeled them as “the building blocks of breakfast”.  I thought that this was a dead giveaway to the metaphor of building up your life to a great one. Furthermore, I really wanted to incorporate movement arrows in among these blocks, to show the relationships of the blocks. Tufte argues that “important comparisons among images should be pointed out by arrows, labels, and other methods of directing attention,” (p. 45). I added the circular arrows and other arrows to draw attention to the importance of each, but also to show the relationship among them.

In regards to relationships among the design, the text relationship to the design further enhances understanding. Although I was limited to the types of fonts available, I made sure each font correlated to the words. As Lupton writes, the goal is “to find an appropriate match between style of letters and the specific social situation and body of content that define the project at hand,” (p. 32). In other words, I viewed each portion of text as a human. Lupton claims that “words originated as gestures of the body” (p. 13) and that they give “language a physical body” (p. 13). I selected certain fonts depending on how they appeared, much like how we judge humans on how they appear. Furthermore, Lupton argues that the contrast between big and small type “creates drama and surprise,” (p. 45), so I attempted to use this technique to my advantage at certain points in my infographic. Overall, I think it’s safe to say that without Lupton and Tufte’s information design techniques, I may not have created a beautiful infographic that enhanced understanding on healthy breakfasts.

Resources:

Lupton, E. (2010). Type (2nd Expanded ed.). New York, NY: Princeton Architectural Press.

Tufte, E. (2006). Beautiful evidence (3rd ed.). Cheshire, CT: Author.

Categories: #IAMondays, class activities, diagrams, evidence, images, infographic, information architecture, mapping, pictorial images, technology, tufte | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Asking Questions Without Expecting Answers

This past week, we read and discussed former Formula One racer Franco Moretti’s book, Graphs, Maps, and Trees: Abstract Models for Literary History. While his layout might not be the most beautiful-several expressed a Tuftean dislike for placement of visuals and scale-Moretti’s key idea is revolutionary and exciting.

His concept of distant reading (focusing not on individual words and individual texts, but on genre, literary trends) is one that helps us as consumers and presenters of information. By using his process of deliberate reduction and abstraction, we can parse away unnecessary details that might otherwise draw our attention away. A perfect example of this is Charles Minard’s map of the retreat from Russia.

Tan line thinning

Notice that superfluous details-geographic map, description of army components, even Napoleon’s name-are left out of the graph. These are all things that distract us from what we are trying to understand. To borrow Tufte’s word, chartjunk. As Moretti puts it, distance is not an obstacle, but a specific form of knowledge.

Graphs are important, to Moretti they provide “quantitative research which provides a type of data which is ideally independent of interpretations.”

We made our own graph. For zombie movies. Because genres.  (The rise/fall of genre and literary trends is a large topic of Moretti’s book.)

The construction of the graph brought up an interesting question. As consumers of evidence, are we too schooled to ask Tufte’s question of “compared to what?” and expect visuals to provide perfect/complete context and understanding of it’s topic?  As a class, we were very-almost over-eager to explain why the sudden rise for zombie flicks. Each rise, surely, is instigated by a worldwide disease outbreak. No, the spikes reflect a war beginning or ending.

It could be both. It may be neither. To be honest, we don’t know. It doesn’t really matter. We got caught up in the why-did-this-happen, at the cost of saying, ok, this happened. Moretti says that we put many people off teaching because we have the answer to everything.

Are we as consumers and producers of information too eager to apply readings and rationales to graphics? Are we, as Moretti implies, unwilling to accept that we might not have the answers?

Such questions clearly shade how we think of ourselves as presenters. Instead of presenting to prove a point, maybe we should provide, and request others to provide, raw data.

Going back to our zombie chart, we were very excited to be able to show that other things were happening concurrent to the rising spike in zombie movies. But we need to temper this excitement of proving with the threat of false causailty. In class, we could not prove that zombie movies shot up do to global illness or war. It just looked coincidental and we made the assumption that the twain were linked. THIS IS BAD! Both may prove to have some influence on the success of the zombie genre, but without hard proof, it does us no credit to make any suppositions.

This needs to inform our evidence presentations. We must be wary to present information in a way that makes inaccurate connections. We, as presenters, must swallow any pride and admit when we do not know, and simply present what we have as raw data.

Moretti is more than happy to conclude passages in his book by admitting he has no answers, that there might not be any answers.  This is an attitude we should adopt. It may infuriating to some, but sometimes the smartest thing we can say is, “I don’t know.”

 

Categories: diagrams, evidence, franco moretti, mapping, tufte | 4 Comments

Embodied Connections: Meaning-Making in a Multimodal Discourse

This past week in our graduate course on Information Architecture with Professor Bill Wolff, we’ve explored techniques and design philosophies centered on information display. Our discussion was informed by selected readings from Edward Tufte’s  Beautiful Evidence, as well as interactive and PDF versions of  Fighting to Live as the Towers Died, by the New York Times. A specific area of focus was the concept of  ‘mapping,’ within the context of  multimodal composition. (As a preface, it is important to make the distinction that, for purposes of discussion, our definition of mapping is not limited to ‘maps’ in the conventional sense of cartographic renderings–although, it could certainly include the use of them.)

According to Tufte, mapped pictures are representational images that combine scales, diagrams, overlays, numbers, words, and images (13).

Multimodal-mapping presents the audience with several different kinds of information, via a single, visual plane–through a process of layering. Each ‘layer’ serves to signify a different kind of knowledge. For writers, mapping affords a visual dissemination of  interconnected webs of knowledge and causal relationships. In terms of information architecture and as a form of composition, multimodal-mapping frames and contextualizes specific intersections within a greater body of knowledge.

If we reflect on the discipline of communication, as writers, at the heart of our craft is effective communication with our audience. What this means in terms of execution–is that in our ‘writing,’ the intended message should come across in a way that is consistent with precisely what we mean to say. In other words, it is paramount that our composition–and therefore our message–not transmit in a convoluted or disjointed way.

So, you may ask, how does multimodality come into play, and why is ‘mapping’–or incorporating other elements besides plain text–important?

As our author asserts, at times, it is necessary to include multiple sources and levels of data (78) in order to illustrate connections and relationships, as well as make different kinds of comparisons; the use of additional kinds of information assist to better explain what we mean to say. For example, the strategic arrangement of annotative and  typographic elements–lines and arrows–as well as colors, images, and text, all function together to transmit a message that is dynamic, visually engaging and robust. Important to note, is that these elements also function to provide context and directional navigation to the page–therefore, enabling the reader to clearly ‘decode,’ or ‘read’ the message.

Another facet of multimodal-mapping is that it offers the capability to take extremely complex, high-density information–such as that of cartography, brain research, molecular biology, physics and other high-resolution fields–and re-present it in a way that the linear data becomes embodied into a single, compact, visual representation. Tufte refers to this type of visual information as sparklines or data-words (58). This definition lends itself to that of semiotic metaphor. Another way to imagine sparklines or data-words, is to think of a ‘constellation of information’–or individual, interconnected pieces of knowledge that come together, making up a whole. An example of  a sparkline is the double helix of DNA encoding (13) or Tufte’s representation of all 65 of Galileo’s published observations of Jupiter and its satellites. (Pertaining to Tufte’s re-design of Galileo’s work, we note that when the original, ‘intervening’ text was omitted, a new architecture of information presented itself, resulting in the visual evidence becoming adjacent, sequential, linked, moving (108)–a continuity became present that was not there before.)

To further extrapolate on this concept, imagine an illustration of an adult, human skeleton. Now, in order for the message to be clearly understood, specificity is essential–what is needed is clear direction, scope, and scale. With a nod to the author, presenting ‘everything’ results in contextualizing nothing (31)–it conveys a message that is abstruse. So, we don’t want to focus on the ‘whole skeleton’ per say–instead, what we want to focus on is one area. Say, it’s the left leg–and even more specifically, the tibia. According to Tufte’s definition of beautiful evidence, every image presented must reside within the universal measurement grid (45). So, connecting back to the example I discussed above, what we are concerned with, is the portrayal of relationships within a given body of knowledge–showing things in context with one another provides for a local and precise way of understanding.

Tufte also discusses explanatory mappings and the practice of exploratory image analysis. Explanatory mappings appear in scientific research, newspapers, textbooks, technical manuals, legal proceedings, engineering reports and medical research (45). However, they are not constrained exclusively to these fields of discipline; they also extent into the arts and humanities and many times are interdisciplinary, because they represent complex information.

Below is image is from a journal article in Current Opinion in Neurobiology; an example of an explanatory mapping.

Networks for segregation in the human brain.

Below, this image  is a representative time-space map of the USA belonging to an article titled, The shrivelled USA: representing time–space in the context of metropolitanization and the development of high-speed transport from The Journal of Transport Geography.

During a discussion centered on one of the interactive mappings in Fighting to Live, one of my classmates commented, I don’t know when I’m supposed to stop and when I’m supposed to look at the images.

Regarding the page’s architecture of information, my classmate’s comment was reflective of bad design in terms of the page’s directional signifiers. In sum, just as a freeway has road signs and indicators of when to stop and when to go, when to turn here and exit there, multimodal mappings are beautiful evidence of what they represent only when elements therein properly signify or ‘point to’ what they were intended to, and result in a clear transmission of the message.

Categories: evidence, mapping, tufte | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Mapped Images Provide Understanding

As Edward Tufte argues in Beautiful Evidence, mapped pictures combine “representational images with scales, diagrams, overlays, numbers, words, and images,” (p.13). Mapped pictures are very complex as they have multiple incorporations. It’s for this reason that mapped pictures are much better than just plain pictorial images. For instance, in “Fighting to Live as the Towers Died,” there are both mapped pictures, as well as simple pictorial pictures. On the very first page, there is a picture of the tower, with no added words, numbers, overlays, scales, or diagrams. While this picture does create a nice effect, adding aesthetic emotion, it doesn’t really advance any further than that. However, if you move to page two, there’s a nice outline of the North Tower that provides scales and words (labels) to help the reader associate with the text in the article. Instead of the article just talking about the different departments of the North Tower, there’s a diagram that further enforces the reality of what the article is saying. Furthermore, Tufte argues that an architectural drawing style that has a measurement scale, plain views, and labels shows that the object was “examined carefully” thus adding credibility to the image (p. 22-23). While the mapped images in the New York Times may not need credibility (as it’s the New York Times), the images do meet all of Lufte’s requirements for credibility.

Mapped images help the audience make a further connection with whatever lesson is at hand. As Tufte acclaims, a pile of “loosely related images” add up to a “coherent multiple viewpoint,” (p. 35). This claim is proven true in “Fighting to Live as the Towers Die,”.  There is a timeline of September 11th, with arrows, pictures, words, and labels. Throughout the article there are pictures that display the faces of those that were lost (also with labels). The usage of many different mapped images adds up to show a coherent viewpoint which help aid in seeing and reading the article.

Tufte seems to think that labels should be used differently depending on the genre and context of an image. For instance, on page 42, Tufte claims that the diagram below the historical picture allows for a greater detail then placing the labels on the actual picture. I personally find this type of mapping confusing and I think it requires too much effort. I can barely figure out which shape represents each person, let alone realize that the dog is not labeled. Do you think it would’ve been better to label each person in the picture (using white labels perhaps)? I understand that this type of mapping allows for more details in the labels, but I question this too. For instance, on the next page, the dogs are labeled by name on the picture. Yes, this type of labeling is simplistic, but what if we wanted to put their breeders or some other information? I think we could also put that on the picture, underneath their names, without much hassle. Furthermore, Tufte acclaims that types of measurement should be placed directly on the photograph and that science should use this way of reporting standards (p.43). While I don’t disagree, I wonder if Tufte would agree to put measurements on the historical picture, if it were deemed necessary.

It’s interesting because, before I read Beautiful Evidence, I thought of mapped images just as the words state; an image of a map. During my reading, I thought that mapped images were strictly used in science and nature books, used to show the scales of animals and such. However, now I understand that it can and should be used virtually anywhere as it strengthens the writing it’s placed with.

All of this information helps us understand and evaluate the architecture of writing. Not only is the definition of writing becoming redefined, but the architecture of writing is also being redefined. A clear example of this is when I first started college. I took Composition 1 and 2, where I strived to write great essays and papers. The criterion for this was simple: write with a purpose, audience, and main idea in mind through clear and concise words. As I advanced my degree, it started to become much different. There were still papers and essays, but writing started to involve technology. I created a mashup video, which was basically similar to a persuasive essay. Yet I did this with only clips of videos. It’s still a form of writing, yet the architecture of it was very different from that of an essay. The involvement of mapped images in our writing will also become much more present as the idea of what writing is evolves.

Categories: class activities, diagrams, evidence, images, mapping, pictorial images, technology, tufte | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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