A friend asked me to collect some interesting visualizations and comment on them…

This communication map shows the company’s strategy in developing excellence; the playful designation of excellence as E2 evokes Albert Einstein’s formula for energy, lending the concept an air of scientific significance. The concept ”strategy” is properly depicted as a journey (airplane flight) and a communication flow (the flight tower directing the individual airplanes). The image is colorful and dynamic, adding curvature to an otherwise fairly predictable flow. The visual design harkens back to the LEGO boxes, which fascinate because they show incredible detail composed out of relatively simple shapes. The 3D perspective helps us to understand the communication as an ”in-depth” process and not just a linear flow. The disadvantage is that the end point of the journey left me wondering: it is at once distant (unreachable?) and confused (I do not recognize the shape which is supposed to depict future success) Some bright rays of light could have solved the problem. Also, if I had the choice, I would use organic drawing instead of the (overused) vectorial illustration.


This visualization blends advertising and infographics strategies. It looks like you’re simultaneously observing an advertisement for commercial products, and a taxonomic study of species that you’d find in a biology book. The disciplined three-column design suggests order, while the objects made of trash introduce chaos – you do not expect to see trash being sold in catalogs. The cognitive dissonance created by this contrast manages to grab your attention without being too obvious. In this way, the poster’s somewhat didactic message about ecology becomes more accessible.


Here the designer breaks the ”rule” of simplicity that is central to data visualizations. He wants to show the perplexing complexity of the situation that there are too many medications available for the same condition (headache). But in playing against type, the designer manages to satisfy another important principle of good design – the medium is the message. The central pattern expresses the message directly, as the vortex-like visual structure perfectly embodies vertigo caused by too many choices. At the same time, the vortex ”pulls us in”, we are attracted to the image…

My complaint is that more images should be used. I cannot discern on first glance that this is about a pharmaceutical subject. Some images of bottles and pills could have solved the problem.


I like the way this visualization deploys storytelling principles. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The introduction clearly delineates the problem: how to find the balance between ”underemployment” and ”overemployment”. This is supported by the graphical design of the title (escalating/descending letters) and the visual structure of the scales. The textile in the background neatly evokes industrial imagery / reflects the subject. The problem is that the question does not lead to a clear answer. The text in the end says that ”in the future, people will be constantly changing careers”. I do not understand how and why we came to this conclusion. From the images in the middle, I would rather draw the conclusion that unemployment oscillates in time, due to changing work conditions. This means that people need to develop adaptability. Also, the last image chosen does not show ”side skills”. It merely suggests diverse skills.

The horizontal ordering of images is static and dull. A timeline shaped like the title would better reflect the nature of the process. The choice of photographs is rather conventional for my taste, and they are difficult to read / have too many details. This could have been solved by the use of political-style cartoon, for example.


This presentation accomplishes a very difficult task: synergy between design and information. The images are gorgeous to look at, but also very studied, realistic. It is like a beautifully designed technical manual. The designers were helped to a great extent by the brilliance of the subject, the organic forms in Sagrada Familia. Still it is admirable that such detailed and complex forms can be represented in such clear and disciplined way.


I am of two minds about this visualization. Character design is put to good use, allowing the viewer to identify with the subject on a gut level. We all recognize the gesture & condition being depicted. The choice of color and lettertype convincingly conveys the style of a food & beverages company. On the other hand, the visualization takes absolutely no risks – everything is so well-designed and ordered, it could be any other McDonald’s or Burger King poster. This could have been solved by the use of unconventional fonts, or by adding more character design, or changing the static visual structure…



HR Giger’s visual design for the eagerly awaited ALIEN prequel PROMETHEUS features a beautiful mural, designed like Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. The mural shows a Frankenstein-like figure connected to an alien life form. It seems that the film, which explores the origins of humanity, will launch the thesis that man became of an alien God. Therefore, man is an alien to himself.

Another interesting area that PROMETHEUS is apparently addressing: what happens when mankind  reaches the level of technological development that allows it to have God-like talents, such as making life?

I can hardly wait for the film’s world premiere in Holland, on May 31st!



I think it was bad reviews that dissuaded me from watching this film at the time of its release – this despite my sense that Oliver Hirschbiegel (DER UNTERGANG/DOWNFALL) is pretty much a genius.  I’m glad I didn’t listen to the reviewers this time!

Based on a 1955 novel by Jack Finney, INVASION is the fourth notable adaptation of the famous story about the Body Snatchers – aliens who attack people in REM sleep, transforming them into emotionless zombies.

INVASION works on so many levels, it’s a shame the snotty critics panned it as they did, back in 2007.

First of all, it’s about the only movie I ever saw (besides maybe EYES WIDE SHUT) in which Nicole Kidman is a good actress. This due to the fact that she’s in chase sequences where she has to stay calm so that the aliens (who have no emotions) wouldn’t recognize her. Now there’s nothing that Kidman does better than a wax museum face: this is because she can’t really act, she can only FROWN. Also, Nicole’s characters have to neurotic, as this is the best wy to disguise her  limited emotional range.

And then we have the more-than-inspired casting of Veronica Cartwright as dr. Kidman’s patient, plagued by a sadistic  husband. From her early appearance in Hitchcock’s THE BIRDS across her turn as Lambert in ALIEN, Cartwright’s always played these conventional women in emotional disarray. What the hysteria brings to the fore are the unconscious conflicts in the other characters (the arrival of the birds, the attack of the alien, etc). Veronica is thus one of those ”girl who cried wolf” faces you can never forget. She is cast ideally in THE INVASION as the Cassandra who will set dr. Kidman on the road to self-knowledge.

But on to sociological matters. One of the reasons I like Hirschbiegel is that he’s the type who will marry crass action sequences with philosophical debates. There are so many laborious scientific and philosophical explanations in the dialogue, you wonder how the movie was ever released to American audiences. The discussions vary from interesting to funny, but the common thread is that the aliens want to remove human emotions from society.

This is precisely the updating that the Body Snatchers story needed in the 00s. In the 1950s film, the aliens were a metaphor of anti-Communist paranoia. In Philip Kaufman’s 1970s update, they were the fear of technological bureaucratization. Then Abel Ferrara brilliantly turned them into the American militaristic complex, which was growing profusely in the 1990s.

In modern-day America, we have reached the apex of all these developments. The USA has become a melting pot of militancy, bureaucracy and paranoia that the three previous directors envisaged in their films.

But the agenda of the aliens, this time round, isn’t bad – they want to calm humanity down, creating a sedated socialism. Wars do not happen, everyone has enough to eat and all the public services run smoothly. The biggest problem of the alien society seems a creeping sense of boredom. Other than that, it is a much nicer world than Kidman’s world of ”emotional management” in the midst of uncontrollable, market-driven individualism.



The remarkable cover of Madonna’s album MDNA is designed to show the schizophrenic nature of her new marketing. It is as though the diva’s face were reflected in a fragmented mirror. Each fragment represents an aspect of Madonna’s ”multiple personality disorder” – superstar, ex-wife, mother, lover, businesswoman, bitch. The album itself combines disparate musical styles, from hard disco to classic ballad. The bright colors on the cover belong to the psychedelic palette, referring to the hard disco scene of the 1990s. Madonna’s defiant pose unites all the various styles. In songs like ‘Gang Bang” and ”Girl Gone Wild”, the superstar wants to undermine gender stereotyping, asserting herself as a 53-year old woman who still has the media power to act like a 20-year old. In the more lyrical numbers e.g. ”Masterpiece”, she reveals her vulnerable side as a person disappointed in love. It’s a matter of taste whether the disco works for you or not, but Madonna certainly has a great design department in her mammoth-sized marketing team.




ATTACK THE BLOCK is a brilliantly timed, brilliantly witty, brilliantly written horror comedy a la SHAUN OF THE DEAD which also raises – in slightly pamphlet-like fashion – important social issues about the decimation of state-funded education, racism and class segregation in London.

And yet, I feel like I just drank a can of Cola Light. I feel a lot like I just saw TIN TIN, in fact, which the director of this film co-scripted for Spielberg. It’s not just that I don’t trust his honesty about delivering social statements at the same moment he’s working for Spielberg. It’s also that the otherwise brilliant scipt remains, at heart, a feelgood story. And curiously infantile, too, given that the movie depicts the child heroes as more mature than their adult colleagues.

I was reminded of an incident earlier this week. Some students from the HKU, my old media academy, graduated with MAC & CHEESE, a short animation which is about a chase. You can see it here:

In Dutch press I read that (my old) professors at the Academy hated the concept, and advised the students against producing this animation. As the students report, the Academy prefers productions that are only shown at festivals and that have a message. (Indeed, I remember them having this attitude in the time I was studying) However the students were dead convinced that their chase concept, stripped of all meaning & purpose*, would have commercial success; and they were proven right when Mac’n’Cheese received countless hits on Youtube, approaching a million this week.

(* including the post-modern sarcasm of the Road Runner, which they quote as their inspiration; there’s no distancing in this animation, it’s earnestly stupid)

The students explained that they were only interested in commercial effects. In fact, they hoped that the professors would give more space to productions solely focused on moneymaking, instead of fostering all these festival movies with a message.

But they still raise an interesting question: in what form do young people today express discontent? Is the fact that none of it makes any sense a kind of meta-satire?

Here I was reminded of what I read in WHY IT’S KICKING OFF EVERYWHERE, a recent London best-seller dealing with new media revolutions such as the one in Egypt.

Although he doesn’t elaborate well enough for my taste, Mason finds a lot of meaning in the fact that things like mobile phones enable you to simultaneously be an individual, and be connected.

In other words, the instantaneous nature of mobile communication allows for a heightened concentration on the Now, which despite appearing completely flat, is in fact layered: a form of mobile Buddhism.


The picture above may lead you to believe that BLACK SWAN is one of those multiple personality disorder movies, with a psychoanalytical plot, great character acting and a positive message about the power of self-healing. These used to star ”quality American actors” like Joanne Woodward, or Sally Field. You’ll also be temped to classify the SWAN in the Moebius narrative genre (e.g. INLAND EMPIRE), where the multiple personality disorder refers to the multiplication of ”reality” itself. In the histrionic relationship between Nina the ballerina (Natalie Portman) and her possessive mother (Barbara Hershey), one hears echoes of gay camp classics e.g. MOMMY DEAREST and CARRIE. And the sordid competition games at the ballet house unmistakably point to the greatest classic of  ’em all, ALL ABOUT EVE.

BLACK SWAN is all of those things, and none of them, at the same time.

Though he borrows a lot in the currently popular Mannerism mode, Arronofsky makes the film his own by  moving the camera along the lines of Tchaikovsky’s SWAN LAKE as though the music and the lens have merged into a synergic embodiment of the heroine’s relentless emotion. Arronofsky had already attempted this in the impressive REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, but that movie lost vitality because of its moralizing on the perils of drug addiction.

In BLACK SWAN, Arronofsky apparently matures, leaving any pretense of social commentary or psychological depth, going for the pure visceral agony, and ecstasy, of body horror, music, narcissism, and ultimately, a celebration of the Drive, where the white swan’s suicide literally does mean perfection.

What is this concretely, readers, without the academic language?

While in an earlier psycho-melodrama, we would be encouraged to think critically about the possibilities of transcending all the psychopathology, in BLACK SWAN, that psychopathology is the only way to go – everything else merely a fragmented mirror. Only at that point where she recognizes that she is, and has always been, the black swan, does the heroine overcome the doubling and fragmentations of everyday life. Her suicide is exemplary, not as transcendence, or sacrifice, but as embodiment.



I was never very attracted to the central idea of HARRY POTTER: a college for black magic. But in this great new sequel, unexpectedly get a Christian Harry Potter – with a human face!

This happens in the crucial moment of Harry’s death. Harry discovers he has been infected with a part of Valdemart’s black soul, so that to rid the world of Evil, Harry must die together with Valdemart.

So Harry dies, and his soul in the Heavens pontificates to the Old Wizard about his further options. Following the series’s Gothic line, and the influence of George Lucas, you’d expect something like the ending of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK – in order to reincarnate, Harry must accept the Dark Side, and then we get another sequel in which he is drawn back to the Good Side, and so on, ad nauseam.

Instead, the Old Wizard tells the surprised Harry that he still has free will. If he wants to, he can choose to climb on the train back to earthly life. And this concept – that God is such pure love, you even have free will after death – is much closer in spirit to Eastern Orthodoxy, than any Gothic religion, with its guilt, predetermination, and eternal punishment.

Were this given against the backdrop of a classic fairy tale, it would of course be sentimental crap. But there is enough misery, bloodshed, and even creep-out horror (note the snake attacks) to counterbalance the sense of forgiveness, telling kids clearly that the world isn’t a pretty place, that suffering won’t be avoided, but that you still have a chance if you can embrace your own free will.

In addition, HARRY POTTER puts to shame the newest so-called ”arthouse” effort by Wim Wenders, whose PINA 3D disappoints by being visually conventional. POTTER’s brilliant art direction recalls Andrei Tarkovsky in the most pleasing way, without being either overly dramatic or stupidly hyper-realistic. I had to ask myself, why should this NOT be considered poetry? Only because it wears the ”commercial” label on its sleeve, while Wenders likes to call himself an ”artist” and an ”auteur”, but fails to deliver on the most basic photography level?

While in PINA 3D people talk endlessly about the human condition, desiring, loving, hating, and so on, until the babble becomes an ”art statement” (YAWN), POTTER has such delightful concepts as a magic spell that replicates objects endlessly, or Harry collecting tears out of his dying teacher’s eye, which will enable the wizard to see his own future reflected in the teacher’s tragic fate.