Archive for the ‘visual language’ Category
Physical tokens, digital presence
New shirt idea: QR a QT!
I figure I can start writing about an emerging technology once it hits Kanye West’s blog.
From my rigorous research, I learned that Q(uick) R(esponse) codes are like barcodes, with information that you can scan, decode, and get some kind of data from — usually a website, text, or an image.
You use a a mobile phone as a decoder to snap the QR’s picture, and decode the information that will lead you somewhere else in the digital world. If the purpose of QR sounds vague and open-ended, that’s cause it is!
For a QR scanner, try the Kaywa Reader. If anything, you should check out the illustrated “story” on the home page, which explains QR as a treasure-hunt serendipity factor for nerds, with the closing moral being “The early nerd gets the QR code!”
On a trendspotting note, I have yet to see QR codes out and about in everyday life. How will I ever get that micro-platform-blogging dream job like Susanne above??
Big in Japan
Japan’s had QR forever (from Denso-Wave’s work for the Japanese auto manufacturing industry in the mid-1990’s) but it’s now resurfacing, likely tied to the rise of personal mobile phone use. QR codes are often used as a promotional tactic — gaining you entrance to “Try-vertising” sampling salons in Tokyo, for example.
If you’re not a big ad agency, perhaps you’re using QR codes to help mobile technology in developing countries. In India, 40% of the rural population are illiterate. This population is challenged the text-based format and confusing iconography of mobile phones. Experience design consultancy Adaptive Path came up with a video sketch for MobileGlyph, a system of using QR codes to capture photos and information about contacts that can be used in an easy user interface, without having to rely on text or numbers.
For a BRAND YOU bent, Emma Cott turns QR codes into wearable art “through a beautiful and elegant code concealing your hidden message.” In other words, you customize a QR code and stick it on a t-shirt or a button. The open code creator is simple: enter your URL website, pick a motive (HIRE ME, ADD ME, DATE ME, BUY ME, or customize your own) and out comes a custom generated QR patch.
Here’s mine for Indienomics. (Besides “Hire Me”, I can think of some other motivations I want to silently and mysteriously communicate to people. Ahem.)
QR codes are kind of ugly, aren’t they? The Marc Jacobs one is cute only because it’s blocked by a cute illustration of “Miss Marc.” I think the design aesthetic flaw of the QR code is a small part of what Microsoft Tag is trying to conquer. No ugly, black-and-white pixelated squares there! You can create, customize, and color your own series of machine readable codes…. even using, yes, PowerPoint as a design tool! (The design aspect is no small part of our perception of a product’s functionality. This is why Donald Norman’s Emotional Design book is on my reading list. And also because Matt mentioned it.)
“Miss Marc” QR code for Japanese mobile website, launching today.
Vizitag, a startup in the “mobile tag management system” industry, had a good FAQ that answered at least two of my questions:
I Already Have a Website – Why Do I Need Vizitags?
These days, every business has a website chock full of content but you have to find it, visit it and search it to find what you want. Vizitags are designed for the ‘mobile generation’ who expect instant information gratification via the phone they carry with them everywhere.
In practice it doesn’t take much longer to load the reader and snap a tag as to load a browser and click a bookmark to go to a web page. The difference is that snapping a Vizitag will display some very specific and useful information immediately on your mobile and/or email you some targeted content that you can refer to straightaway or later.
What’s the Difference Between a Vizitag and Barcodes/RFID?
Barcodes are normally used to identify products – for example for the purposes of pricing them, stock taking or asset management. Barcodes usually require fixed or handheld scanning hardware and convert a specific alphanumeric code – like a Universal Product Code (UPC) – into a black-and-white bar image.
A RFID chip is a piece of hardware that can act in passive or active mode to be read or to read/write data and requires fixed or handheld readers. RFID chips are often used to track products through a supply chain for inventory control and lifecycle tracking purposes. Unlike a Vizitag, RFID chips cost money to buy the device itself. They are also more vulnerable to damage and therefore could be subject to replacement costs.
The Big Picture
Prezi is the kind of presentation app that could possibly make you excited about public speaking. It’s based on a shared understanding with your audience of a “big picture” and the ability to smoothly drill down and focus on details as needed, without ever losing sight of the top-line messages.
Instead of a PowerPoint deck with a series of linear, chronological slides, Prezi is essentially a giant picture. At different points, you can zoom in and zoom out and zig zag your way throughout this giant picture. The “presentation” itself is really a map, a pathway, you create through the picture.
The fluid motions as you transition from one cluster of ideas to the next makes the presentation more.. smoothly cinematic than, say, a typical series of PowerPoint animations.
This would be an awesome way to break down those large infographics that GOOD Magazine just posted to Flickr! (See their Transparencies archive.)
As you create text and images, you manipulate everything by a series of spinning discs in the top left hand corner. You basically judge a lot of things by sight, and by rotating a circle, instead of messing with numerical values. Kind of like using a mouse trackball to make things bigger and smaller.
For example, when you are typing text, there are no font sizes to choose from — only the zebra rotator tool that lets you inflate and deflate the scale, visually.
(Tangent: this use of manipulating data “by sight” reminds me of some innovative market research questionnaires I’ve seen that use visual metaphors instead of numerical values. For example, instead of asking you to rate on a scale of 1 to 10 how satisfied or dissatisfied you are, it allows you — via an animated illustration — to pour liquid into a tank until it reaches a level in the container that you feel represents your level of dis/satisfaction. At the least, it makes for a fun, game-like experience while slogging through a survey.)
I can’t wait to use Prezi for… something. Hot Pot??
Please comment if you have used this tool before, and would like to share the results. (Or if you thought the narrator in the video tutorials had an amusingly familiar accent. I guessed Armenian. The company appears to be based in Budapest, but I can’t confirm.)
See a sample Prezi showcase here. Where’s your masterpiece?
(limited editions x low prices) + the internet = art for everyone
That’s the formula Jen Bekman used to launch 20×200, a website that spotlights 2 new art pieces a week, priced from $20 up, according to size.
If you’re 1) an art-world outsider and 2) broke like me, shopping for art is not easy. You get your big-box retailers selling you mass market wares (Ikea, Crate and Barrel, Urban Outfitters) or you have to do a lot of hunting on your own: roaming the street markets of SoHo or paying admission to art shows to haggle for pieces.
In contrast, websites like 20×200 offer enjoyable, laid-back browsing. You get to read a little about the artist and their inspiration for the work. You can browse high-res photos of the work, and detailed information about the edition, pricing, and quantity.
It’s a great example of a traditionally offline market (the buying and selling of art) taking advantage of an online space and adjusting for how people engage with prospective purchases on the web. 20×200’s U/X design (user experience design) is spot on, as illustrated by their awesome and deceptively simple infographic for estimating print size:
illus. by Cristiana Coucerio
Collage: arranging disparate scraps into a meaningful whole.
In the hands of an artist, collage can be an artful blend of figure, type, annotation.
In the hands of Bernd Schmitt, collage can be a strategic business tool.
Schmitt — professor at Columbia’s B-School, director of its Center on Global Brand Leadership and, consequentially, Matt’s boss’s boss — sees collage as a tool that helps managers “encourage unusual connections in the brain.”
Combining the (seemingly) incompatible
Here’s an exercise Schmitt likes: rip up magazines and create a visual board of brands and business trends. Now, pair the two randomly.
Say you have a Coca-cola ad, and an article on the green movement. How would you design a campaign strategy around this combination? What are the challenges and advantages to the brand’s positioning?
“It is key to pair concepts that seem incompatible because they stretch people’s imagination and facilitate the formation of unusual connections.”
To read Schmitt’s full explanation of the collage exercise, search for the term in his book Big Think Strategy (2007).
Matt Dickman is a techno-marketer — he explains, in plain English, technical terms that “confuse or intimidate marketers.”
Take API for example, one of the core tenets of web 2.0. There’s a lot of tech jargon behind this “Application Programming Interface” but Matt breaks it down in a 3-minute whiteboard video, “What is an API?”
Basically, an API gives people a “key” to a company’s data. Your API key lets you do what you want with the company’s data, within limits.
This is like Google giving you access to their maps, so people have the ability to make crazy maps that no self-respecting company would touch, such as “She Went of Her Own Accord”, a Google maps mashup comprised entirely of location-based jokes, i.e. place names that are puns.
Cool enough. And what if the company is a museum? What does an API bring to that organization and its marketing?
Enter the Brooklyn Museum, which this week launched an API of their collection. This API key consists of “a set of methods that return structured data and links to images from the museum’s collections.” It works nicely with “Tag! You’re It!”, the museum’s previous foray into tagging their online collection.
So, awesome, you get to mash up all the pretty art in the Brooklyn Museum’s collection. What’s the benefit from this kind of work?
Even the museum blog doesn’t pretend to know the answers:
“There’s a wonderful X factor to all this—that we just don’t know what interesting something that someone will come up with—so it is exciting to wait and see. One thing we do know is people within our own industry have been working to create various pan-institution collection databases. By releasing our API, Brooklyn Museum data can now be included in these endeavors without requiring more staff time from us (something that would have been impossible prior to the API). The API offers us a way to share our data in a very democratic way—the work we do on the API can benefit all developers working with our collection online—not just major projects coming out of the non-profit sector.”
Lesson learned: APIs introduce the X Factor… hope you like surprises.
Vodpod videos no longer available.
Withered noggins, neural pathways
Watching this “visual essay” gave me more insight into the credit crisis than the stream of news-media chatter bombarding us the last few months. Smart animation and infographics can explain complex stuff in a short amount of time (see lifecycle of a blog post) and I get excited about what this means for the futures of education, entertainment, journalism, and just plain storytelling.
I have a strong hunch about the new visual languages but I’m not sure where it will take me. For now, I’m just enjoying the ride! So far it’s brought me to Edward Tufte’s seminars and visual thinking conferences. I’m still putting together the pieces and looking for inspiration in kindred communities. One group that should have been obvious to me from the beginning (but wasn’t) is motion graphic designers.
When motion design is paired with intelligent writing, you get a brilliant form of persuasive reasoning that sticks in the mind of many contemporary viewers.
I’m a visual guy. I need you to draw me a picture. Mr. Jarvis [creator of the credit crisis video] has done exactly that, helping my withered noggin create more lasting neural pathways to understanding and retention.
Semiotics, semantics, and other academic hacks
As an ex-English Lit major, I’d always preferred text over image. The film version is rarely better than the book. A picture is worth 1000 words, but real prose strings meaning together in narrative sequential order.
The information age is rapidly dismantling my worldview. What started as a system of linked text — HTML’s Hypertext Markup Language — is increasingly a system of signs and symbols, from icons to avatars to emoticons.
Eye-catching: some links
- Israeli-based Zlango specializes in “pic-talk”, a colorful icon-based language for web and mobile.
- Three fun webcomics: xkcd, Perry Bible Fellowship, Toothpaste for Dinner
The Story of Stuff is a quirky and effective 20-minute animation of our consumerist habits and how they affect the environment and society.