Friday, June 5, 2009

Consider My Mind Blown

I was in class the other night, and I totally had my mind blown in the best possible way.

Back Story:
After several delays on January 28, 1986, Shuttle Challenger launched. In the second minute of its departure, the shuttle exploded/disintegrated. In retrospect, scientists were able to discern that extreme damage to the O rings were the root cause for the explosion.

That morning, engineers from Thiokol and NASA managers exchanged information regarding the launch. The engineers, based on their data, felt that it was unsafe to launch. Over 10 charts and graphs were sent between the two groups, the engineers desperately attempting to convince the NASA managers of their concerns. Below is an example of the types of visual information Thiokol sent over:

My smart and kind professor, Nancy Kaplan brought to the class' attention that the "story" Thiokol was trying to tell was not being properly revealed. What is their point in this graph? It's difficult to say. Thiokol didn't presenta strong enough argument about the dangers of the flight, and the NASA managers gave the go ahead that led to disaster.

DaVinci of Data:
Years later, enter the "daVinci of data" as the NYTimes calls him, Edward Tufte (hello, new nerd crush, this guy's work is awesome!)

Edward Tufte is renowned for taking data and turning them into visual displays that are one, and most importantly, conherent and bursting with vital information and two, beautiful.

Visual heirarchy:

He took the information that was sent between the Thiokol engineers and Nasa managers and reworked them. He figured out what was important and what was less so. Here's the graph that Tufte came up with:

I apologize for the low resolution. But the y axis is "amount of damage in O ring", and the x axis is "temperature increasing." And it becomes VERY OBVIOUS, with the data they have, that as the temperature goes down the O rings damage increases.

The data points are from like 53 degrees F to 84 degrees F, roughly. At the lowest recorded temperature, 53 degrees, they recorded the most damage to an O ring (level 4). This being the case---how could you launch a shuttle when it was only 26 degrees F outside?

The graph shows the "story" clearly and immediately. Good design saves lives. Tell that story the next time a lousy client belittles the significance of your profession.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Great Divide

A few days, as part of my I'm-a-professional-so-I've-got-to-start-working-on-my-branding etc etc, I joined Twitter. Yup, Twitter that name dropping social networking thing. I justify it on the basis that Twitter, from what I've been told, was like made for the graphic design industry. Or maybe this is how everyone in the industry justifies jumping on the band wagon?

Anyway. There are two things that I wonder about. 1. Isn't Twitter just another social fad? We have Twitter, and before that Facebook, and before that Myspace, and before that AOL Instant Messenger, and before that ICQ. Ahh the good old days of ICQ.

What is interesting is the relationship these all have to each other. AIM and ICQ were direct chats. But, as we become adults and are time frames are no longer consistently in sync like they once were when you and all your friends were in high school. And as a result, we can't be online at the same time. (Although, I question this, because people are now connected at much more ease and thus for longer time frames even if not fully engaged with the activity of being online) Thus, we use social media like Facebook and MySpace to leave messages.

So, what is the improvement of Twitter over these other social media? The fact that people must articulate themselves in less than 140 characters--do we no longer have anything real to say to each, or has our communications devolved into a grunt-and-point, err click, system? Perhaps, users like that there is less spamming? Although, commercial entities are trying to jump onto the social networking bandwagon--it's like parents trying to be their kids' best friends--you're not fooling us, you're not really a friend. But that's another aside.

What is it that makes Twitter a better social outlet then Facebook, MySpace or plain old blogs? Is it because it gives us the impression that we're chatting and thus connecting to people? Recently, it was noticed that men follow other men on Twitter. Normally on social media sites, men follow women. I'm not about to take a gender stance on this, but rather want to say, that maybe the popularity of Twitter has to do with being able to follow someone without needing their permission/approval/acceptance. (Although a user can always block another user from following them, but street is initially one way.) Any other ideas, anyone? I suppose in a few months, I can report from the field with some brilliant new insights.

2. While, I don't know if Twitter has an inherent value, I plan to give it one to suit my needs. My Twitter account is now my professional resource. I follow other designers and I want them to follow me. I post design posts/blogs on Twitter. I plan to make with the nerdy talk about typefaces and spatial organization. This way I can let Twitter represent the professional me and maintain a social self as well on Facebook. "Funny" photos or discouraging words about work are better left for the inner circles of my friends and family who aren't going to judge (i.e. stop paying me) because of them. I plan to reposition my relationships in this new way, and hope no one will take offense. Of course, I'm willing to allow some leeway for those who fall in both worlds.

I just don't think it's fair for people to be fired for writing, work is boring, on their Facebook page. It's a common sentiment and what company could be so insecure and so dehumanizing at the same time. (This happened to a girl interning.) Plus, it does help to keep the online profiles organized. It's a minor way in which to keep my public information in check, not everything is for everyone. And I think it'll be better for each respective audience, my family doesn't care about the latest design trends, nor do my colleagues and clients care that the sushi place around the corner gave me wicked neaseau.