Monthly Archives: July, 2013

Robert Kosara, EagerEyes and the Bikini Chart

Robert KosaraRobert Kosara

Robert Kosara is a Visual Analysis Researcher at Tableau Software, and formerly Associate Professor of Computer Science at UNC Charlotte. He has created visualization techniques like Parallel Sets and performed research into the perceptual and cognitive basics of visualization. Recently, Robert’s research has focused on how to communicate data using tools from visualization, and how storytelling can be adapted to incorporate data, interaction, and visualization.

Robert received his M.Sc. and Ph.D. degrees in computer science from Vienna University of Technology (Vienna, Austria). His list of publications can be found online on his vanity website. He can be found on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ and Google Scholar.


EagerEyes is Robert Kosara’s place to reflect on the world of information visualization and visual communication of data. The goal is to help digest things that are happening in the field and discuss developments that may be tangential or early, but that are likely to have an impact.

The original idea for the site involved the interplay of art and science in visualization. While the focus has shifted, questions of representation are touched upon regularly. In fact, Robert believes that visualization can be vastly improved by a better understanding issues of representation and reading of data.

Other topics of interest include visualization for the masses, open data, and where the field of visualization is heading. Criticism of visualization techniques and applications, websites, and books is also a regular feature. Discussions of visualization techniques provide insights into the thinking behind them. Around important conferences like VisWeek, the site is also used for updates and pointers about things that are going on there.

Robert points out that this is not a blog. Blogs tend to aim for quick, current commentary. The articles on this website are meant to be of value over a longer time period (except for the ones in the blog category), and are usually much longer than the typical blog posting.

The Bikini Chart

Source: By Robert Kosara On February 29, 2012,

The Obama administration released a chart a while ago that shows job losses during the last year of the Bush administration and the first year after Obama took office. The chart is simple yet effective in the way it communicates a message. It also has some very subtle design elements that communicate a much more negative undertone than is immediately obvious.

I have to say that I have admired this chart since the day it came out. It is clean with just the right amount of decoration to work: scales and legends that explain what we are seeing. The colors are based on the typical colors associated with the Republican Party (red) and the Democrats (blue). The data is also indisputable, coming from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The chart shows the number of jobs lost per month over about two years, ending in early 2010. The message is clear: things were getting worse under Bush but have been getting better under Obama. It doesn’t take a lot of skepticism or knowledge of politics to know that things don’t happen that quickly, but the message still comes across quite clearly. (Click image for larger version)

It is interesting that they chose to use bars that are pointing down rather than up. In a way, that makes sense: negative numbers typically are represented by bars that point down. But the number of people who lost their jobs is not negative, it’s only negative if you look at it as “negative job growth.” This was clearly a conscious decision. Since almost all the numbers are negative, it might have still made sense to show them pointing up though, to make the chart look less unusual. Its shape has earned the chart the nickname bikini chart, though.

But the downward-pointing bars communicate something beyond the values: there is something wrong here, these bars should not be pointing down. While longer bars are often better (more income, more votes, etc.), this is not the case here. This choice of direction for the bars explains what the viewer should be looking for.

The inverted version of the chart below shows why bars pointing up would have been much less clear: the shorter bars under Obama look like something is decreasing, which is surely is not a good thing, right?

All of these are good choices and make the chart both attractive and effective. This chart is one of the cleanest examples of political communication I know, and it is based on actual, real data – imagine that!

But there is also something devious going on here. The choice of colors is the only logical one given the political context, but there is more to it. The red is quite a bit darker than the blue. That is not a bad choice in principle, since it makes it easier to tell the colors apart when the difference is not only in hue but also in brightness. Of course, the blue could have been darker than the red as well.

The second design choice is one I only discovered fairly recently. It is a lot more obvious in the inverted image than the original, too: there is a gradient in both colors from light at the top to dark at the bottom. That is not very obvious in the original version, since we expect lighter colors at the tops of things and darker colors at their bases. After all, light tends to come from above, and the lower parts of things are where shadows are cast. Only in this case, the effect makes the brightness differences in the colors even stronger. The dark red is close to black, and the entire red-to-very-dark-red gradient is somewhat suggestive. What else is red and turns black? Drying blood.

In addition to that, I believe that the dark color, especially towards the lower end, makes the red bars appear heavier than the blue ones. Since they are also pointing down, the additional weight might make them appear longer, or at least cause people to remember them as longer. Vertical bars appear longer than horizontal ones of the same length, and it may well be that the combination of bars hanging down from a baseline and the heavier color have a similar effect.

This is unproven at this point, but if I am correct I think it opens up some interesting possibilities. It means that we need to be much more careful with our choice of color, since the perceived weight might influence the way the data is read and remembered. Even if long-term recall is not a goal in visualization, we have to remember what we just saw when we switch between views as we think about our data. Subtle shifts could make a big difference if they make some values appear just a bit larger or smaller than the others.

The bikini chart is a great example of just how strongly simple design choices can change the appearance of a simple bar chart. Even if my speculation about weight is wrong, the other choices communicate and explain what the viewer is supposed to look for, without the need for explanatory text or a “shorter bars are better” annotation. That’s pretty good for a simple bar chart.

DataViz History: Vintage Infodesign from Visual Loop

I saw this on Visual Loop’s blog and it was too good to pass up. I love vintage data visualization and the stories they tell.


Best Regards,


Vintage Infodesign 

The first picks of today’s round-up come from a long post written back in February, 2012, by blogger Rosa Rubicondior, called The History of Disbelief. Rosa, who usually writes about UK politics, history, religion and science, provides in this post an extended comprehensive overview about the long list of scientific facts once disputed by Creationists, only to be proven wrong years after.

You should definitively read the post, and Rosa featured two classic maps to illustrate it, the Map of the Square and Stationary Earth (1893), by Orlando Ferguson, and Bartolomeu Velho’s 1680 Geocentric System illustration, both shared below:

Map of the Square and Stationary Earth (1893) | Orlando Ferguson

Vintage Infographic Map of the Square and Stationary Earth (1893)

(image: Orlando Ferguson)

(Via Rosa Rubicondior)

Geocentric System (1568) | Bartolomeu Velho

Vintage Infographic Geocentric System (1568)

(image: Bartolomeu Velho)

(Via Rosa Rubicondior)

World, with Wind Heads (c.1750) | Battista Agnese

Vintage Infographic World, with Wind Heads (c.1750)

(image: Battista Agnese)

(Via Old Book Art)

Map of Taiwan and the Pescadores Islands (c.1890) | “Transreklama” NKPS

Vintage Infographic Map of Taiwan and the Pescadores Islands (c.1890)

(image: “Transreklama” NKPS)

(Via World Digital Library)

The second pyramid of Memphis (1795) | Frederik Ludvig

Vintage Infographic The second pyramid of Memphis (1795)

(image: Frederik Ludvig)

(Via Vintage Printable)

Governemnt of the U.S vs U.K. (1886) | K B Smellie

Vintage Infographic Governemnt of the U.S vs U.K. (1886)

(image: K B Smellie)

(Via Tom White)

London Underground map (1908)

Vintage Infographic London Underground map (1908)

(image: London Underground)

(Via Wikimedia)

The motel of the future (1935) | Everyday Science and Mechanics

Vintage Infographic The motel of the future (1935)

(image: Everyday Science and Mechanics)

(Via Paleofuture)

Relative Rank of the States for Nine Decades (1878) | Ormando Willis Gray, G. Woolworth Colton

Vintage Infographic Relative Rank of the States for Nine Decades (1878)

(image: Ormando Willis Gray, G. Woolworth Colton)

(Via David Rumsey Map Collection)

Anatomical chart (1728) | Ephraim Chambers

Vintage Infographic Anatomical chart (1728)

(image: Ephraim Chambers)

(Via Wikimedia)

The Extent of the British Empire (1941) | Life magazine

Vintage Infographic The Extent of the British Empire (1941)

(image: Life magazine)

(Via Ptak Science Books)

Africa Population (1913) | J. G. Bartholomew

Vintage Infographic Africa Population (1913)

(image: J. G. Bartholomew)

(Via Michigan State University Map Library)

Die Gantze Welt in ein Kleberblat (1581) | Heinrich Bünting

Vintage Infographic Die Gantze Welt in ein Kleberblat (1581)

(image: Heinrich Bünting)

(Via BibliOdissey)

Why you Should Never Trust a Data Visualization


Photo by Jesse Means

Note: This is first from Pete Warden’s Blog titled Why You Should Never Trust a Data Scientist and then ‘s article in The Guardian Why you should never trust a data visualization. I encourage you to first read Pete’s blog and then come back and read John’s article below.

Best Regards,


Why you Should Never Trust a Data Visualization

Pete Warden is spot on about being sceptical of data, but it is data visualisation, not data science, where caution is most crucial More from our series on big data and analytics

Religion scatter plots

Data visualisation is a wonderful tool and an extremely efficient way of communicating a message. But what if the message is wrong?

First of all, let me be clear: the headline of this article is a reference to Pete Warden’s post, and should be read in the same way – as a caution against blind acceptance, rather than the wholesale condemnation of data visualisation.

An excellent blogpost has been receiving a lot of attention over the last week. Pete Warden, an experienced data scientist and author for O’Reilly on all things data, writes:

The wonderful thing about being a data scientist is that I get all of the credibility of genuine science, with none of the irritating peer review or reproducibility worries … I thought I was publishing an entertaining view of some data I’d extracted, but it was treated like a scientific study.

This is an important acknowledgement of a very real problem, but in my view Warden has the wrong target in his crosshairs. Data presented in any medium is a powerful tool and must be used responsibly, but it is when information is expressed visually that the risks are highest.

The central example Warden uses is his visualisation of Facebook friend networks across the United States, which proved extremely popular and was even cited in the New York Times as evidence for growing social division.

As he explains in his post, the methodology behind his underlying network graph is perfectly defensible, but the subsequent clustering process was “produced by me squinting at all the lines, coloring in some areas that seemed more connected in a paint program, and picking silly names for the areas”. The exercise was only ever intended as a bit of fun with a large and interesting dataset, so there really shouldn’t be any problem here.

But there is: humans are visual creatures. Peer-reviewed studies have shown that we can consume information more quickly when it is expressed in diagrams than when it is presented as text.

Even something as simple as colour scheme can have a marked impact on the perceived credibility of information presented visually – often a considerably more marked impact than the actual authority of the data source.

Another great example of this phenomenon was the Washington Post’s ‘map of the world’s most and least racially tolerant countries‘, which went viral back in May of this year. It was widely accepted as an objective, scientific piece of work, despite a number of social scientists identifying flaws in the methodology and the underlying data itself.

Few will be surprised to know that while the original map has to date received over 80,000 shares on social media – not to mention republication on dozens of large news websites around the world – the various critiques have had less than 1% as many shares.

I am certainly in agreement with Warden that professional data scientists are more likely to have the data, tools and capabilities to design a compelling – and potentially misleading – data visualisation than the average member of public, but as both Warden and the racial intolerance map show, a visualisation does not need to be hand-coded by an experienced designer for millions to blindly accept its message as hard fact.

My experience as a data journalist here at the Guardian has also coloured my views in this debate, as our readers are far quicker to cry foul over data quoted in text than to question a visualisation that uses data of the same quality or from the same source.

In fact, I believe part of the problem with the automatic attachment of credibility to data visualisation comes about because of the way we encounter different forms of information presentation during our education. While text is frequently presented to students for critique, diagrams and data visualisations are overwhelmingly used simply as a medium of displaying final results.

The result is that reading text and thinking “I disagree with this” comes much more naturally to us than looking at a well-presented map or line graph and thinking the same.

Of course, we must also consider that there are problems wholly distinct from the visualisation process, some of which are particularly applicable to data science.

Data scientists are typically attached to technology firms, and are therefore disproportionately likely to analyse and visualise data that is not in the public domain, rendering it unavailable for interested parties to attempt to reproduce results or carry out analyses of their own.

Warden also makes some important points about the need to encourage greater openness from data scientists, and I include the paragraph below because he puts it better than I could:

What am I doing about it? I love efforts by teams like OpenPaths to break data out from proprietary silos so actual scientists can use them, and I do what I can to help any I run across. I popularize techniques that are common at startups, but lesser-known in academia. I’m excited when I see folks like Cameron Marlow at Facebook collaborating with academics to produce peer-reviewed research. I keep banging the drum about how shifty and feckless we data scientists really are, in the hope of damping down the starry-eyed credulity that greets our every pronouncement.

Lest I give the wrong impression, the same characteristic of data visualisation that makes it susceptible to misuse – its sheer efficiency in making the author’s point – is at the same time its greatest strength.

A dataset that could otherwise take hours to unpick, and may simply cause many readers to switch off, can be brought to life, allowing rapid identification of trends and outliers. A story that would otherwise risk being labelled tl;dr can become an interactive journey.

It is a strange world we live in where analysts, data scientists, data journalists and any other data-handling group you care to name are faced with the dual battles of convincing the wider public to pay attention to important, rigorously researched studies, while at the same time holding our heads in our hands when the same people lap up error-strewn, intentionally misleading or bit-of-fun data visualisation with barely a thought for its veracity.

Ultimately, I believe the solution is a two-way street. First, anyone building a data visualisation must go to great lengths not only to link to sources and to fully explain any caveats relating to the data or graphic itself, but to state the degree to which their work should – or more importantly shouldn’t – be taken as scientific fact. And second, we must better inform the wider public of the danger signs to watch out for before spreading what may turn out to be misinformation.

Where do you sit on this debate? Is it data scientists or data visualisations that are the most deserving of distrust, or do simply narrow your eyes when taking in any figures that haven’t passed the peer review process? Leave a comment below or contact me directly at @michaelangeles

Data Visualization: Super Graphic – Visualization of the Comic Book Universe


Comic-Con International: San DiegoWhen my kids were younger and living at home, we made the annual trek to San Diego Comic Con each year. I really wanted them to have the same appreciation for comic books that I had. I use to sit on the floor of our local drug store for hours as a young boy and read all of the new comics that came in that week. Each year at Christmas time, we would visit Santa at Cobo Hall in Detroit multiple times as he would give you a free comic book for each visit you made to him.

Alas, none of my kids took to reading comic books. I have tried with my 12-year-old grandson, but he is more interested in video games and Legos.

What is the San Diego Comic Con? Per their mission statement, Comic-Con International: San Diego is a nonprofit educational corporation dedicated to creating awareness of, and appreciation for, comics and related popular artforms, primarily through the presentation of conventions and events that celebrate the historic and ongoing contribution of comics to art and culture. However over the past 5-10 years, Comic Con has become a media event for Hollywood studios to hock their latest movie and for stars to see and be seen to show your demographic fan base you are really cool. Big corporations have taken over most of the floor space and now the comic dealers have been relegated to a small area of space. Most of the panel discussions are now about next year’s big movie and which stars will be on their panel. In many ways I feel SDCC has lost its soul. I have not gone in 3 or more years since I don’t want to fight the crowds, the endless pushing and shoving to get the toy exclusives only to put them on eBay for 5 times the prices they were purchased, and the Hollywood saturation of the event.

Anyway enough about Comic Con, let’s talk about data visualization.

Super Graphic!

In the latest issue of Wired magazine (August 2013), Tim Leong has created a series of charts titled SuperGraphic!, which is a rigorously researched, highly analytical visualization of the comic book universe. Tim is both a hard-core comic book fan and a data visualization guy. Tim has always wanted to answer questions like tracing the blood line of Scrooge McDuck or being able to name every reptilian villain in the comic book universe. He recently published a book to answer these questions titled Super Graphic: A Visual Guide to the Comic Book Universe.

So as Tim says, let’s save the planet tomorrow and read about the Daley Planet today.

Enjoy and get yourself a few comic books. You won’t regret it.





Naldz Graphics: An Extensive Look on Flat Design

Here was a interesting article from Kareen Liez at Naldz Graphics.



Flat Design

One of the hottest topics in design is Flat UI. Many design blogs and websites have talked about this and there had been various reactions from the audience worldwide. We can also see that many websites had adopted flat design in their course in achieving a responsive website.  Flat design can be seen in every digital device because it had a huge impact to world of technology. But it has an even bigger impact to designers. It poses a challenge to designers on how they can work minimally when they have so many ideas in mind.

So today, let us join the web’s conversation about flat design. Let us talk about what flat design is, its principles, its similarities to skeuomorphism, and others. We will try to give you an in depth thought about flat design. In the end, let us all ponder if this is merely a trend or if this is something that is meant to last.

What is Flat Design

One look at it would give us one word- minimalism. Yes, flat design is more on designing with minimalism in mind but it doesn’t totally equate to minimalism. It has stripped off the three dimensional effects. Remember how icons looked like years ago? Most icons would appear like candies with striking colors and embossed effects. But in flat design, you will see icons free from bevels and other ornamentations.  Flat design doesn’t use any decorative elements like gradient, shadows and textures. It is clean, crisp, two-dimensional, has open spaces and uses bright colors.

What is Flat Design Image: Abhimanyu Rana

Flat design is focused more on communication rather than the appeal of the elements in it. It simplifies usability since it will draw the audience’s mind towards how a site or on how an application works rather than dwelling on how well-designed the elements are.  It introduces visual clarity to communicate. It gives more emphasis to function rather than style.

The name is clearly derived to the way it looks- just flat.

Principles of Flat Design

It is actually easy to tell if the design is flat or not but let us look into five things that make a design look totally flat. These five principles of flat design can also be your guide in order to come up with a design that is not just “almost flat” but is really flat.

1. No ornaments and complex effects.

Use of geometric shapes Image: Ben Bate

Any tool that adds an effect to a design is no longer used. No gradient, bevels, drop shadows, gradients and even textures. Icons and buttons no longer look beveled or bulged.  It is just plain and flat. No extras.

2. Bright colors.

Bright colors Image: Norm

One thing that makes flat design beautiful is its colors. Instead of sticking to the usual colors like blue for business websites, flat design encourages the use of bright and colorful palettes. It uses colors like lilac purple, green sea, carrot orange, midnight blue and other colors like the ones in Flat UI Colors site. Color is important in flat design for it can help the users recognize them and would also help them identify what actions they could take.

3. Simple yet beautiful typography.

Simple yet beautiful typography Image: Marcel Henkhaus

Of course, typography has to be simple too because if you will use special typefaces, it will look odd on a simple design. A sans serif type family looks best for flat design. But you can also combine it with a serif type or another novelty font. With a simple background, type would be given more emphasis which is one reason why you need to pick a good font.

4. Use of geometric shapes.

No ornaments and effects Image: Cosmin Capitanu

Flat design makes use of simple squares or circles for its buttons and icons. Squares could have sharp or rounded edges. You can also try using triangles and other custom shapes as long as it is consistent all throughout the design.

5. Minimalist and simple.

Minimalist and simple Image: Frantisek Kusovsky

We can never skip this part because flat design would always look minimal. You can observe that since the ornamentations were stripped down, it looked simple. But it isn’t really totally minimal because some flat designs still have so much design elements in them only that they are stripped off from details and effects.

Flat Design Usability

The emergence of smart phones is like a call for flat design. With smaller screens, more details on the aesthetics of a website or application will seemingly crowd it. Ornaments are like excess elements that can actually still make things work even if it is no longer there. Excessive decorations could cause distraction to the users and might even decrease usability. This is the problem that flat design responded to. It obliterated the ornaments and opted to focus on function.

Flat design becomes compelling and functional since it draws the users eye to the information instead of the distracting decorations. It is designed to show users the realism of on-screen experience and not to create a parody of physical things and experiences. With that, user experience is enhanced. As other design elements were stripped down, it allowed websites to load faster and to create cleaner codes for a more legible and adaptable design. This is great for responsive websites enabling easier usage and neater view.

A large number of the human population these days are exposed and aware of how computers and smartphones are used.  It is no longer the time when people needed bulging buttons just to let them know that it is clickable. The “introduction” era has ended which means that it is time to “move forward”. Flat design is moving forward.

Is Flat Design, Skeuomorphism?

Heard of skeuomorphism? This word is kind of hard to spell and pronounce but yes, you might have seen it around the web. If not, let us ask Wikipedia what this word really is. As defined by Wikipedia, “skeuomorph / is a derivative object that retains ornamental design cues to a structure that was necessary in the original. It is compounded from the Greek: skeuos, (container or tool), and morphê,(shape). The term has been applied to material objects since 1890 and is now also used to describe computer interfaces.”

There had been many arguments about skeuomorphism and flat design. We have seen articles that referred to flat design as skeuomorphic. But is that really true? Let us try to examine both designs closely so that we will have better understanding on this. Take a look at the example below. These icons are from Apple’s iOS6 and iOS7. Notice their difference and similarities. Those from the iOS6 are beveled and had more details on it while the flat design for iOS7 had a simpler design minus the effects and bevels. The skeu design for iOS6 were based on physical things which was still adapted in iOS7. The only difference is the aesthetics or appearance but the representation is still the same. People will still be able to recognize what function the icons represent.

Apple iOS7 Icons

Skeuomorphism make use of textures, gradients and shadows to make an object look real. It copies the design of physical objects to make them real on screen.  This is the cosmetic texturing era where you can see a real book with flipping pages, an application with leather borders or how a calendar icon looks like with binding paper calendar. With this, function is like converted to ornamentation. This is done in order to create a sense of familiarity to the users like how they use real objects. This was the time when people were not too familiar with how icons functions and how apps work.

In one way, flat design can be a skeuomorphic as it imitates the design of some items like a camera icon to represent its function as a camera. This way, it is related to the physical usage of a camera. But this has to be the case in order to easily relay its function to the users. In this aspect, flat design can be skeuomorphic. But if we look at how flat design is done, it is actually far from that of skeuomorphism because it is much simpler.  So, flat design could be but is not skeuomorphic. It has reunited minimalism and skeuomorphism.

Why a Current Trend

Many would think that Flat UI is merely a stage or a phase in design. But some would think that it is actually an evolution- not just in design but in usage. Take a look at the Google Chrome logo below. Notice their difference in aesthetics while retaining its look and its brand. It is still the same logo we used to see minus the shadow, bevel and other details. The 3D motif was used from beginning of Google Chrome until March 2011 while the 2D motif was use from March 2011 to present. The logo shows us that even the web’s big boss adapted the use of flat design. You can also see that despite shedding it from the effects, it can still be recognized as Google Chrome’s logo. Aside from retaining the colors, style and shape, one reason why it is still an effective brand is because people are already familiar with it. Same is true with the implementation of flat design to websites and applications. The digital users already know how to use it and are entirely familiar with it which makes the design effective even if there are no longer bulging buttons to signify that they are clickable. It even looks lighter, understandable and cleaner which can aid in easier usage.

Google Chrome

The question of how this trend started confuses some. But it can also be trailed back to printing and Swiss Style design. In printing, designers have to lessen gradients, bevels and shadows because it would appear different on print. That is why, designers need to be a bit minimalist when it comes to print. This time, even on screen, designers can also be minimalist. The rise of flat design on screen is due to the complex and huge amount of information that needs to be displayed. This calls the need for simpler design and simpler interface. With flat design, a website can be constructed much easily and it can also be good for responsive designs. It also help focus on delivering a clean and clear content to the digital users especially to those who have weak internet connections which means it would take much longer for websites to load. Flat design even became more famous when Microsoft launched Windows 8.

So, we could say that the popularity of flat design could be greatly connected to the digital evolution because we are living in the “now”. But that does mean that we all need to use flat in everything we do?

When to Use Flat Design

When to Use Flat Design Image: Andy Law

It doesn’t mean that you have to use flat all the time. It depends on what you are working on. Flat design could look good in websites but there is always an exception. If you are working on a website for kids, it would be better to add some ornaments on it to make it look more colorful and attractive for children. Kids might not be able to understand a website with everything in “flat”. But if you are designing a portfolio, flat design can be good. This shows that you have to consider the kind of project you are working on and not just the trend.

Instead of sticking with the trend, know what will be good for your target audience and determine how your design can be effective for a long period of time. Prioritize substance, function and usability when working so that you will never go wrong. Use your mind to determine if a certain trend or style is suitable to a project. You can even work on something different from the latest trend and still look good. But this will also depend on what your clients want.

Giants Embraced it, Clients Want it

Let us face it. Even if a designer wants to work on a different style, it is still the desires of a client that will be followed. Most of the time, the client wants to have a project that adapts to a current trend. Clients look up at the “giants” and wanted theirs to be like what the giants have.

Giants who? Microsoft’s Windows 8 and Apple’s iOS7 are examples. They use flat design for simple, easier usage and more beautiful presentation. Microsoft is a big player in flat design when it used a minimalistic approach in Zune (which was not successful in the market) with big typography and neater design. From there, it then developed flatter designs up to the recent Windows Metro UI.

Microsoft Windows 8 Image: Microsoft Windows 8

Apple iOS7 Image: Apple iOS7

What’s next?

Well, after flat design, there would surely be more trends that will come. Most likely, it would be an evolution to flat. Maybe some would add some 3d-ness into it while others would add some shadows or maybe textures. Or a new trend might arise. We will never know. Let us watch and wait on what is going to happen in the world of design on the next months and years to come. But what is really important is that whatever the trend is, you should be able to design with usability and the audience in mind. And also, it has to be timeless- trend or no trend.

So, what do you think of flat design? Is it here to stay or is it merely a fleeting trend?

Infographic: The Lac-Mégantic Runaway Train Disaster

In the aftermath of the Lac-Mégantic train derailment that levelled the downtown, killed 37 and left 13 presumed dead, the National Post takes an in-depth look at the inner workings of a runaway train, its path and impact and what could have been done to stop it. [SOURCE]

The Lac-Mégantic Runaway Train Disaster

8 Things You Didn’t Know About Nikola Tesla

Futurist Nikola Tesla, seen here at age 34 in 1890, is the inventor of the Tesla coil and alternating current machinery. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

In honor of inventor Nikola Tesla‘s 157th birthday, we’ve turned to two Tesla experts and historians to help us compile a list of interesting facts you probably never knew about the guy. The information below comes from interviews with W. Bernard Carlson, author of “Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age,” and Marc Seifer, author of “Wizard: Life and Times of Nicola Tesla.” [SOURCE]


Nikola Tesla was born around midnight, between July 9 and July 10, 1856 during a fierce lightning storm. According to family legend, midway through the birth, the midwife wrung her hands and declared the lightning a bad omen. This child will be a child of darkness, she said, to which his mother replied: “No. He will be a child of light.”


Most people don’t know that Tesla had a terrific sense of humor, Seifer said. For example, after dining with writer and poet Rudyard Kipling, he wrote this in a correspondence to a close friend:

April 1, 1901

My dear Mrs. Johnson,

What is the matter with inkspiller Kipling? He actually dared to invite me to dine in an obscure hotel where I would be sure to get hair and cockroaches in the soup.

Yours truly,

N. Tesla


Many have characterized Tesla and inventor Thomas Edison as enemies (see this and this,) but Carlson says this relationship has been misrepresented. Early in his career, Tesla worked for Edison, designing direct current generators, but famously quit to pursue his own project: the alternating current induction motor. Sure, they were on different sides of the so-called “Current Wars,” with Edison pushing for direct current and Tesla for alternating current. But Carlson considers them the Steve Jobs and Bill Gates of their time: one the brilliant marketer and businessman and the other a visionary and “tech guy.”

On a rare occasion, Edison attended a conference where Tesla was speaking. Edison, hard of hearing and not wanting to be spotted, slipped into the back of the auditorium to listen to the lecture. But Tesla spotted Edison in the crowd, called attention to him and led the audience in giving him a standing ovation.

Seifer qualifies it more, saying the two had a love/hate relationship. At first Edison dismissed Tesla, but came to eventually respect him, he said.

“When there were fires at Tesla’s laboratory, Edison provided him a lab, so clearly there was some mutual respect,” Seifer said


Tesla may have had a brilliant mind, but he was not as good at reducing his ideas to practice, Carlson said. In the race to develop transatlantic radio, Tesla described to his funder and business partner, J.P. Morgan, a new means of instant communication that involved gathering stock quotes and telegram messages, funneling them to his laboratory, where he would encode them and assign them each a new frequency. That frequency would be broadcast to a device that would fit in your hand, he explained. In other words, Tesla had envisioned the smart phone and wireless internet, Carlson said, adding that of all of his ideas, that was the one that stopped him in his tracks.

This tesla coil snuffed out the power in Colorado Springs when this photo was taken. Photo by Dickenson V. Alley, photographer at the Century Magazines via Wikimedia Commons.

“He was the first to be thinking about the information revolution in the sense of delivering information for each individual user,” Carlson said.

He also conceived of, but never developed technology for radar, X-rays, a particle beam “death ray” and radio astronomy.


One famous legend surrounding the eccentric Tesla was that he had an earthquake machine in his Manhattan laboratory that shook his building and nearly brought down the neighborhood during experiments.

Tesla’s device wasn’t actually an earthquake machine, Carlson said, but a high frequency oscillator. A piston set underneath a platform in the laboratory shook violently as it moved, another experiment in more efficient electricity.

It didn’t bring the block to ruins, Carlson said, but it did “shake the poop out of Mark Twain.” Twain was known for having digestive problems, so Tesla, who knew Twain through their gentlemen’s club, invited him over. He instructed Twain to stand on the platform while he flipped on the oscillator. After about 90 seconds, Twain jumped off the platform and ran for the facilities.


People aren’t aware that he was close friends with conservationist John Muir, Seifer said. Muir, one of the founders of the Sierra Club, loved that Tesla’s hydroelectric power system was a clean energy system.  It runs on waterfalls, which Tesla referred to as “running on the wheelwork of nature.”  Also among his friends: financiers Henry Clay Frick and Thomas Fortune Ryan. “He lived in the Waldorf Astoria, at the height of the gilded age,” Seifer said, adding that his fame later in life lessened.


Tesla could not stand the sight of pearls, to the extent that he refused to speak to women wearing them. When his secretary wore pearl jewelry, he sent her home for the day. No one knows why he had such an aversion, but Tesla had a very particular sense of style and aesthetics, Carlson said, and believed that in order to be successful, one needed to look successful. He wore white gloves to dinner every night and prided himself on being a “dapper dresser.”

Every photograph of Tesla, he said, is very carefully constructed to capture his “good side.”


Tesla had what’s known as a photographic memory. He was known to memorize books and images and stockpile visions for inventions in his head. He also had a powerful imagination and the ability to visualize in three dimensions, which he used to control the terrifying vivid nightmares he suffered from as a child. It’s in part what makes him such a mystical and eccentric character in popular culture, Carlson said. He was also known for having excessive hygiene habits, born out of a near-fatal bout of cholera as a teenager.

MicroStrategy World Europe 2013 – CEO Michael J. Saylor Keynote Video

This past week, MicroStrategy World Europe 2013 was held in Barcelona, Spain. As usual, Michael Saylor, Founder and CEO of MicroStrategy, Inc. provided the keynote address of the conference.

I have listened to Michael’s presentation today and want to think about it a bit before I post some commentary.

In the meantime, here is a link to the video of his presentation. Just click on the image below.



[Click image to watch video presentation]

[Click image to watch video presentation]

Human Cartography: Maps That Define the Mind (Brain Pickings)

02POPOVA_SPAN-articleLargeOne of my favorite (and most interesting) people I follow on Twitter is Maria Popova. Ms. Popova is the brain child of Brain Pickings. She is a self-described “interestingness hunter-gatherer and curious mind at large,” who also writes for Wired UK and The Atlantic, among others, and is an MIT Futures of Entertainment Fellow.

Ms. Popova describes Brain Pickings as follows.

Brain Pickings is a human-powered discovery engine for interestingness, a subjective lens on what matters in the world and why, bringing you things you didn’t know you were interested in — until you are.

Because creativity, after all, is a combinatorial force. It’s our ability to tap into the mental pool of resources — ideas, insights, knowledge, inspiration — that we’ve accumulated over the years just by being present and alive and awake to the world, and to combine them in extraordinary new ways. In order for us to truly create and contribute to culture, we have to be able to connect countless dots, to cross-pollinate ideas from a wealth of disciplines, to combine and recombine these ideas and build new ideas — like LEGOs. The more of these building blocks we have, and the more diverse their shapes and colors, the more interesting our creations will become.

Human Cartography: Maps That Define the Mind [SOURCE]

The Kingdom of Wisdom, the Isle of Knowledge, and other whimsical geographic representations of the human condition


I love maps. There’s something about cartography that lends itself to visualizing  much more than land and geography. I have previously blogged about Charles Minard’s map of Napoleon’s Russian Campaign of 1812, Henry Beck’s map of the London Underground, and John Snow’s map of the 1854 Cholera epidemic in London.

The Kingdom of Wisdom
In 1961, Norton Juster wrote The Phantom Tollbooth, a timeless children’s classic and one of our essential children’s books with philosophy for grown-ups. It tells the story of a bored little boy named Milo who one day receives a magic tollbooth that transports him  to a fantasy land called The Kingdom of Wisdom. Though at first he gets lost in the Doldrums, a grey place where  thinking and laughing are not allowed, he goes on to incredible  adventures before returning to his own room as magically as he had left  it.
This map by mid-century American cartoonist Jules Feiffer, who illustrated the book, depicts the marvelous land that Milo finds himself in as he follows his own curiosity.
Isle of Knowledge
Last week, delicious new work by designer Marian Bantjes (whose latest book, I Wonder, is among the most ambitious and beautiful visual communication volumes ever published) made the rounds–and for good reason: Isle of Knowledge is a beautifully illustrated map of “the ‘known’ beyond which lie  monsters,” created for the second installment in Bantjes’s column for U.K.  illustration magazine Varoom on the theme of “Knowledge.”
bantjes_knowledge1.png bantjes_knowledge2.png bantjes_knowledge3.png bantjes_knowledge4.png
The map is clearly–whether consciously or not–inspired by the Phantom  Tollbooth map, which is perfectly fine: With the concept of combinatorial creativity in our DNA, we deeply believe that all creative work is derivative, everything is a remix, and good ideas come from other good ideas.
Map of an Englishman
English artist Grayson Perry’s 2004 Map of an Englishman portrays his mind in a mock-Tudor etch of an imaginary island,  surrounded by the “seas” of his perceived psychological flaws–desires, vanities, prejudices, fears. The island itself is vaguely brain-shaped, turning the map into a kind of cartographic phrenology of the self.
mapofanenglishman.png Image courtesy of Grayson Perry and The Paragon Press via BBC
mapofanenglishman1.png mapofanenglishman2.png mapofanenglishman3.png
Carte de Tendre
Carte de Tendre (Map of Tenderness) is a 17th-century French map by the writer  Madeleine de Scudéry depicting the peaks and valleys of amorous pursuit, from the River of Inclination to Lake of Indifference to the Great  Spirit. With its undetermined itinerary that offers you multiple routes  to Tenderness, it’s part map, part choose-your-own-adventure narrative  for love.
The Empire of Love
We first featured this extraordinary antique German map of Das Reich der Liebe (The Empire of Love) more than three years ago, and it remains an  absolute favorite. Created by Johann Gottlob Immanuel Breitkopf in 1777, it’s a pinnacle of sentimental cartography, as detailed and obsessive  as love itself.
If you don’t sprechen Sie Deutch, here’s the gist:
  • GABIET DER JUGEND = Land of Youth (Forest of Love, Kiss Field, Flirting Game,  Charm Castle, Stream of Wishes, Worry-Free, Joy’s Home, Beautiful House, Source of Joy, Sweet Look, Wisecrack Place, Rich River, Warning Castle)
  • GABIET DER RUHE = Land of Rest (Nightcap, Grandfather City, Equanimity, Manly Place)
  • GABIET DER TRAURENDEN LIEBE = Land of Mourning Love (Anger’s Home, Flood of  Tears, Whim Mountain, Complaint Place, Hopeless Mountains, Loathing,  Strict Place, Swamp of Profanity, Desert of Melancholy)
  • GABIET DER LUSTE = Land of Lust (Illness Valley, Weak Home, Intoxication Field, Lechery, Hospital)
  • GABIET DER GLUCKLICHEN LIEBE = Land of Happy Love (Lust Wood, Answered  Prayers, Pleasant View, Enjoyment, Tenderness, Good Times, Affection  Farm, Satisfaction, Compliance Mountain, Fountain of Joy, Marriage  Harbor, Reward City, Peace of Mind, Bliss Town)
  • GABIET DER HAGESTOLZE = Bachelor Country (Stupidity Town, Rejection Place, Irritation,  Indifference, Place of Contempt, Reprehensibility, Old Age Mountains,  Separation, Hat, Obstinacy, Wrangler Hall, Exasperation Heath, Hamlet of Death, Sea of Doubt)
  • GABIET DER FIXEN IDEEN = Land of Obsessions  (Place of Sighs, Desire Town, Unrest, City of Dreams, Bridge of Hope,  Disloyalty, Sweet River of Tears, Little Town of Instincts)

Many of these maps can be found in these seven must-read books on maps, particularly in the excellent You Are Here: Personal Geographies and Other Maps of the Imagination–a treasure trove of imaginary and imaginative cartographic explorations of self-conception.

I encourage you to visit Maria’s Brain Pickings site or follow her on Twitter. A tasty treat awaits you.



This post also appears on Brain Pickings.
Images: Courtesy of Brain Pickings

Early Infographic: How They Sent Photos Across the Ocean Back in 1926


These days, it’s easy to take for granted what the magic of the Internet, wireless technology and fiber optic cables has made possible, but there was a time when sending a photograph a long distance in a short time wasn’t quite that easy. [SOURCE]

For instance, in 1926, someone on an oceanliner called the S.S. President Roosevelt snapped the above photo of the S.S. Antinoe during a rescue attempt. When that photo was sent almost instantly from London to New York City, it was such a big deal that the April 1926 issue of Science and Invention printed a huge infographic to show its readers how this miracle was achieved.

Here’s that graphic (click the photo for the full-res version):


You’ll have to zoom in on the full-resolution version to get the picture, but the process goes something like this:

Once the negative arrived in London, it was developed in stages, and each progressively more detailed photo translated into dots on perforated tape. That info was then sent over the Atlantic cable to New York, where it was “copied” onto another piece of tape, which was then translated using a special machine in a newspaper office into a fresh negative.

That photo was then copied by an engravers camera, printed on a copper plate, etched, sent to press and printed on a newspaper. And thus, a photo from London made its way all the way to New York City as “instantaneously” as they could manage at that point in time.

Today, all we have to do is press a button, but as Matt Novak over on Paleofuture points out, an infographic that shows what has to happen in that instant to distribute a photo from our phone to the entire Instagram community would probably be just as complicated … if not more so.

Photo: The S.S. Antinoe as it appeared in the March 1, 1926 Laredo Times (Laredo, Texas)

Illustration: scanned from the April 1926 issue of Science and Invention magazine


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