VISUALIZATIONS

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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PROMETHEUS

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!

MDNA

 

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.

 

 

THE BIRD CONSPIRACY

I am not a microbiologist and I cannot claim that bird flu does not represent a real danger for the world population. However, I have noticed that the media formulate this threat in a way similar to the Millennium Bug campaign. In our digital society, operating on the notion of global connectedness, fears are also experienced in networked form.

Let us remember Hitchcock’s film The Birds (1963), where crows and seagulls attack people for unknown reasons. In a crucial scene, the heroine is sitting on a bench, waiting for her niece to come back from school. While she is smoking a cigarette, birds flock around the playground beside her. When after a few seconds the woman looks towards the playground, she sees that countless birds have gathered around it, ready to pounce on the schoolchildren.

The scene is replayed in the current press reports on bird influenza. Judging by Western TV, the trouble started in Romania. This is where the first infected bird appeared, and now we are facing the threat that the virus might crawl through the window of the developed world. All across the planet, from Croatia to Madagascar, there are ominous signs in the sky. An infected hen has been found. The virus could be dangerous for humans. Several people died in China, but we do not know whether they had been vaccinated. The European Union warns that the influenza requires ”coordinated international effort”.

The conspiracy has a comical dimension, for the gathering of birds recalls the Eurovision song contest. The victims of the attack invariably populate the same region (Romania and Turkey, then Greece), while Eastern countries are usually defined as originating. Since the Balkan hygiene standard is lower than that of the developed countries, I expect that the Northern neighbours will vote for each other. In addition, there is no doubt that the Western countries will join hands to sell us new medication against the illness. Predictably, ”Western organisation” must control ”Balkan irrationality”.

The paranoid script draws its inspiration from the concept of clear and present danger: although it is by no means inevitable that the virus of the bird influenza would mutate to some infectious form, the danger is certainly lurking in the background. Just as in 2000, we used to live in permanent fear that the Millennium defect could bring down computer systems, causing a domino effect with apocalyptic consequences for the world economy.

Of course, paranoid scenarios are nothing new, and neither are the debates on the subject of which pharmaceutical companies might profit from the generated fears. The new element is the implied idea of a conspiracy taking place in the digital sphere.

In the supernatural thriller The Ring (1998), we find a good example of networked paranoia. Whoever dares to look at an accursed video tape becomes the victim of a digital demon. Using her telekinetic powers, a raven-haired witch managed to possess the tape. When one watches her film, the digital recording materializes and the witch comes out of the television set to kill you. The only way to break the curse is to offer the tape to another victim. To save himself, the victim then gives the tape to a third-party and so a ”digital curse” is created.

In a similar way, the carriers of bird influenza are no longer real birds, but their digital versions, ones that can fly out of the television set. When the user enters the circle of avian damnation, he becomes part of an invisible network. Events in Romania come to his room, colonizing his private universe. Turning off the media doesn’t help: if the user disconnects from the internet, the birds might attack him from advertising boards.

The reasons to fear are more virtual than real, as bird influenza indicates that our lives are increasingly determined by the dramaturgy of the media.

WHY DOES I-POD RHYME WITH GOD?


 

Omnipresent advertising boards show black silhouettes, representing people from diverse age, gender and vocational categories. The silhouettes are shown in commonplace situations, such as skateboarding, or dancing to disco music.In an especially suggestive image, we see a girl taking her dog for a walk. By an implicit association, the iPod is  the girl’s faithful companion. The images suggest that this musical device has become a part of our daily routine, with MP3 music as the soundtrack of our lives.

Observing the images in a sequence, you get the feeling that you are participating in a general social phenomenon. Everyone is dancing to the same rhythm, plugged into a collective musical experience, much like believers share a common God in religious ceremonies.

The black silhouette conjures up the Rorschach blot. As in that famous personality test, one cannot identify with the shadow because its facial features remain invisible. In this way, every user can project own content into the figure, establishing a personal contact with the iPod. The visual style of the advertising, full of dark shadows and subdued colours, generates the atmosphere of a cult.

The very brand name ”iPod” refers to the religious aspects of the MP3 technology. The blending of ”I” and ”pod” has biotechnological connotations: information hardware fuses with bodily processes. As a white surface set against a dark background, the I-pod collapses the boundary between the inside and the outside. On the one hand, the player is hanging from the user’s neck, resembling a hearing device, thus extending the body’s sensorial apparatus. On the other hand, the iPod may be perceived as an internal organ. A seamless connection is established between the medium and the human agent. Much like a religious believer is ”taken over” by the Holy Spirit, the iPod user becomes a vessel for the machine’s mysterious vibrations.

At this point it is highly instructive to remember the film ”Existenz” (1999), where Canadian director David Cronenberg uses the word ”pod” to describe video game devices. When the users touch their pod, they are transported into a shared virtual experience. At one point the pods get out of control and the players find themselves unable to distinguish between parallel reality levels.

The cult of the MP3 player leads to a similar paradox, because the position of an iPod ”believer” remains split between isolation and sharing. While he partakes of the musical experience with a group of fellow users, the listener is simultaneously closed into his own universe. As the author of the Guardian article quotes, the critics of the iPod craze consider its users ”anti-social people”. The listener can never be sure whether his enjoyment comes from communicating with the outside world, or being enclosed in a virtual hallucination.

A philosopher might say that the iPod relates to solipsism, as defined by the English writer Berkeley in the 19th century. If tree´s existence depends on my gaze, when I close my eyes, the tree shall disappear. If my existence depends on God’s gaze, who is to say that I won’t disappear when God closes his eyes? In 2004, NEWSWEEK published an article on iPods which drew on the famous maxim by Descartes, ”Cogito ergo sum” (I think, therefore I exist), redefined in the solipsistic key – ”iPod, therefore I am”. Being plugged into the musical network becomes the guarantee of our very existence.

The slogan’s implications reach beyond the scope of MP3 players. iPods are but one instance of the coming nano-technology, which will make it possible to inject microscopic devices into our bloodstream, pushing the machine deeper inside the body. In this strange new world, questions will arise about the best way to replace traditional forms of bonding with media technology.