Increasing Data Density in Web Design

I changed the layout on this site in response to what I took away from my session with Ed Tufte. Here’s an applicable quote from Tufte:

Whatever reasonably serves the content, avoids non-content pixels (including navigation and designer pixels) as much as possible, favors user scanning over substantial amounts of material rather than premature linking, reduces impediments to learning, and never requires the phrase “skip intro” on its frontpage. All this usually implies that there should be between 100 and 400 content links on the frontpage, just like a good news site.

Nearly all users come to a website for a content experience, not a designer experience.

So my new layout tries to increase the data density. I shrunk my header (the eyes will probably change) and added links to my previous 200 posts. The titles of these posts say more about me than any “About me” text and provide an easy way for people to peruse my content.

Tufte Course Review and Notes

Yesterday I attended Ed Tufte’s one day course on Presenting Data and Information. His book, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, completely changed the way I think about data. If you love his book, I highly recommend his course. He doesn’t cover a lot of new ground, but he puts emphasis on a few things I didn’t pick up on before.

Books by Ed Tufte
His 4 books came with the cost of the course

Key points:

  1. Show causality
  2. Don’t pre-specify the medium of the presentation. Use whatever it takes to show causality.
  3. Annotate linking lines.
  4. Be inspired by maps.
  5. Web design is too influenced by internal hierarchies and ends up being a turf war. Make the interface flat and filled with content.
  6. Your presentations should strive to be as data dense as the sports page.
  7. No zebra stripes in tables.
  8. Most interesting data is multivariate. Supergraphics like Minard’s Napoleon’s March show 6 or more variables.
  9. Progress in most fields is measured by information resolution and throughput. Why are our power point slides limited to 4 or 5 bullets?
  10. Put important analysis and comparison in a common eyespan (no flipping or scrolling)
  11. Be wary of focus groups. Good design is not a democracy.
  12. Start every software project with the interface.
  13. Make the data the interface.
  14. Instead of trickling in data during a presentation, dump a ton of data in their lap, have them read it, and have them cross examine you.

I got to talk to ET himself for a few minutes before the course started about his work on the stimulus bill. I mentioned some work I’ve been doing on making sparklines in HTML 5 and he said to make sure I paid attention to the length and width proportions. I got to meet a lot of interesting people and even convinced PMMI to send Jorge and Paula. So glad I went!

Running Mix for Tomorrow’s Race

Chuck Berry – Maybellene
The Blow – Eat Your Heart Up
Ween – It’s Gonna Be A Long Night
The National – Abel
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Upon This Tidal Wave Of Young Blood
The Bloodhound Gang – Ralph Wiggum
Beck – Mattress
Neutral Milk Hotel – Holland, 1945
White Stripes – Blue Orchid
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Date With The Night
Pixies – Isla De Encanta

Net Neutrality and the Railroad Business

Here’s a perfect explanation of why Net Neutrality matters, why it should be enforced by the FCC, and how it’s been done in the past. I wish I could link directly to the comment, but Wired offered no way to do that. A comment on Why Google Became A Carrier-Humping, Net Neutrality Surrender Monkey:

posted by: kibbles | 08/10/10 | 5:35 pm |
@bill_the_kat ? let me paste you a little story on the net neutrality ?scheme?.
Think about Netflix. It has unlimited streaming movies now. Comcast has streaming movies too, at $4 per movie. What if Comcast tells Netflix ?unless you pay us the equivalent of $20/user per month we are going to put you in the slow lane and your users won?t be able to stream.? NetFlix?s streaming business will be crushed. Comcast, Verizon and AT&T want Congress to allow them to do exactly that, and this is why net neutrality legislation is so important.
This isn?t a result of a fertile imagination. This actually happened 100 years ago. Imagine the year is 1900. I run a steel company and you run a railroad. I sell steel for $50 per ton and you ship it for $3 per ton. I have two major competitors. I come to you and offer you $10 per ton for shipping if you agree not to carry steel for the other two. That number will give you far more profit for far less effort so you say yes. You?re happy. My two competitors cannot move steel from Pittsburgh to Kansas any other way (what, by horse and wagon?) so they go out of business, or a least their business is limited to local purchasers.
Then I raise my steel price from $50 per ton to $75. The steel buyers have to pay because they have no other choice. The competition is gone. I make huge profits. I?m happy. You make huge profits. You?re happy. The consumers and my competitors aren?t happy, but who gives a flying f*** about them?
This is the history of the railroad business in the late 1800s. This scenario played out again in the 1920s in trucking. Both times Congress mandated that any shipping company must charge identical amounts for all customers, based only on size, weight, and transit time.
We have 100 years of success with ?net neutrality.? It?s working pretty well.
?make sense? now explain why thats a bad thing.

Active vs Passive Interruptions

In all work environments people have to communicate. Sometimes they are across the hall and sometimes they are across the world, but in every case someone initiates the contact and the other must decide what to do. The Initiator must first choose the method, whether it’s a phone call, text message, email, etc.

Does your question really require an immediate response?

What makes these methods different is level of interruption of the person being contacted. If you take my call, I am not just asking a question. I’m also requesting that you remove yourself from the context of your current task and prepare an answer for me immediately. If an answer is not available, I at least want a response with an estimated time of when it can be answered. A question spoken out loud and in person is an even greater disruptor, since the receiver has almost no choice to ignore the question. These interruptions can be powerful detriments to productivity if it takes a certain amount of time for the receiver to reorient himself into his previous context. A recent study said these transactional costs can be up to “28 percent of a worker’s day.

A potential interrupter should ask themselves, “Does a quick answer to this problem justify a disruption in someone else’s time?” If not, use a more passive method of communication like email or text messaging to get the information you’re looking for. That way the receiver can answer them with the least disruption possible to their productive time. The interrupter should use the least disruptive communication method that results in getting an answer in the appropriate time.

In order of most interruptive to least:

  • Active: Asking a question out loud
  • Active: Phone calls
  • Active: Paging
  • Passive: Physical note left on desk
  • Passive: Text messages
  • Passive: Emails
  • Passive: Memo left in mailbox
  • Passive: Other passive electronic methods other than Email

It’s partly for this reason I have stopped taking voice mail on my land line at work. It used to be a dump for solicitors and rarely contained messages I needed. It took time to sort through and delete them and I also didn’t have access to it remotely like email. My greeting now says I don’t take voicemail and to please send me an email.