Ever Been on a Bad Flight? Here’s How Experience Design Could Have Saved You

Every experience is the result of intentional design, or lack thereof.

I recently flew on a discount airline flight to visit friends. Perhaps you’ve done this, too? If you have, you have my deepest condolences.

Even if you have somehow avoided this hell, you probably know that flying, especially on a budget airline, is the worst.

this is the worst

So imagine my surprise when I walked off the plane having had one of the best customer experiences of my freaking life. I was offered not just a snack, but a choice of snack!

When I asked to have both coffee and a Diet Coke, no one gave me any shade about my severe caffeine dependency and I even got a full can.

When was the last time you had an in-flight TV on a domestic flight? With on-Demand? There were leather seats, people. Leather. Remember that anti-vegan material that used to dominate the airline recliner game?

I literally raved about the airline for three days to my friends, lost acquaintances and even strangers.

happy girl

TBH, I was attending my high school reunion so it was an occasion that called on conversation with close friends, lost acquaintances, and strangers.

(I didn’t actively seek out all of these people just because I had a great flight. But still.)

And apparently I have less in common with some of my former classmates than I would have thought. Fortunately, I had my amazing flight story to fill those awkward silences with the former-football-captain-turned-lawyer types.

And you may think that makes me sound lame, but you’d be wrong. Because everyone had his or her own bad flight story to tell in return.

bird crash

It is literally the most effective conversation starter I’ve ever used.

Bad flights seem to be a universal experience. A massive plague that has infected the human experience one trip at a time.

So why had my flight gone differently? I assure you, I didn’t pay up to avoid any unpleasantness. I’m far too cheap (re: student-debt poor) for that; round trip my tickets were under $150.

My experience was so great because it was designed that way. (Did I mention I got a full can of Diet Coke?!)

And it was a timely experience, with some useful lessons to put into practice because Maga is currently working on it’s own experience design project for a defense industry conference.

See also: DC EXCOMM 2015 Recap

Conferences, as a rule, aren’t known for being the most exciting or even pleasant experiences. Despite the promotional efforts that a million conferences have used before – networking!, new products!, technology!, free coffee and donuts! whatever! – here’s the truth:

Conferences across industries tend to be predictably dull and serving the same cheap wine for your one free drink coupon.

got wine

So Maga is excited to be working with the CDCA to bring some intentional design to the conference experience for this years 9th Annual Summit Conference.

We’re leaving behind the traditional makeshift hallways of booths (aka the corporate equivalent of Halloween corn-field mazes.

Imagine booth lackies are the zombies placed periodically between the corn, half-heartedly trying to gurgle an indecipherable line at you before you hustle off to the nearest exit.)

We’re opting for open spaces to interact, linger, and converse. We’re bringing in interactive displays that get you talking. So you know, you might actually have a real conversation with a new contact.

nice to meet you

And we’ve got a few more tricks up our sleeves for later.

We’re taking conferences a step further. We’re not just getting a bunch of pieces together. We’re assembling them in meaningful ways; building an experience through intentional design.

We’re not just hoping that attendees will get something positive out of this experience; we’re making sure they will.

strange love

If you’re interested in attending, we’d love to see you there. You can get tickets here:


Read next: Beginner’s Guide to Graphic Recording

Why You Should Use Noun Project to Download Icons

Let’s begin with a brief thought exercise: What is the first word or concept that comes to mind when you see all of the following images?

Icons examples

Hopefully you guessed something along the lines of “communications,” which is exactly what these icons represent — at least for the Noun Project community.

Wander over to thenounproject.com and you’ll discover countless icons created and uploaded by people all over the world – from the US to Poland to Hong Kong to Lebanon.

All you need is a free account — and the willingness to get temporarily lost in an immensely cool repository of iconography.

Icons, as simple as they can look, are integral parts of what we produce here at Maga—whether it’s a map, a website, an app, or an invitation to an office birthday party. They often prove to be quick answers to visually-based questions.

Need to direct a reader or viewer’s attention to a key idea?

Want to convey a concept or object in a single picture?

Or maybe just want to spice up that PowerPoint presentation you made for an upcoming meeting?

Icons will be your dependable friend—like a dog that loves you unconditionally (as all dogs do), except you don’t need to walk it, bathe it, or potentially surrender your personal objects as chew toys for it.

Dog icon
Dogs are loyal and make you feel loved. They are man’s best friend. Like icons for a presenter.
Raccoon icon
Raccoons steal your food when you go camping. They cannot be trusted. Raccoons are not like icons.

At Maga, we’re fortunate enough to have a dedicated group of designers and design strategists who can create icons for our work products. But not all of us are wizards in Adobe Creative Suite.

Many of us don’t consider ourselves artists.

In fact, for some of us (we’ll call them Muggles), just being able to make a colored rectangle in Illustrator is a minor accomplishment. Yet no one at Maga is exempt from having to make the occasional brief or PowerPoint deck.

And because we all like to practice what we preach, this means that the Muggles of the bunch—including yours truly—often have to find simple, easy ways to make their presentations more visually engaging.

See also: Beginner’s Guide to Graphic Recording

This is when Noun Project proves to be an incredibly useful tool. Adding icons into a document allows that document to catch the reader’s eye in ways that blocks of text couldn’t.

It also allows the author to arrange content in more interesting or compelling way. With Noun Project, an appropriate icon is only a search away. And once you’ve found the right image, a quick download is all that stands between you and your visual aide.

One noteworthy aspect of Noun Project is that its contents are not limited to traditional, concrete nouns—that is, to people, places, and things that you can see or touch.

A search for an abstract concept will unearth a myriad of interpretations. For example, here’s what turns up for “solution”:

Solutions icons

Is a solution an idea? Yes.

Is it a technological fix? Yes.

Is it putting two things together? Yes.

Is it a chemical mixture? Yes.

Is it an answer to a math problem? Yes.

In some ways, then, Noun Project highlights the complexities of the human language. Mitigating this complexity is always part of the challenge at Maga, but it’s also a big part of the value that we provide: visual communications that are easily understood by varying audiences.

So next time you’re trying to enhance a presentation or document, check out Noun Project. You can almost always find what you’re looking for…or, if not, you’ll at least stumble upon something humorously unexpected along the way (looking at you, R2-D2).

Icon Creds: Luis Prado, Jose Campos, Christy Presler, Demetria Rose, Marcio Duarte, Gabriele, Malaspina, Yazmin Alanis, Mister Pixel

Take Better Notes: A Beginner’s Guide to Graphic Recording

Have you ever seen a visualization like this one?

Example of Graphic Recording
Image credit: See Your Words

Be careful not to confuse this sketch with an infographic, which is designed to distill information in a quick and simple way – much like a blog post.

Graphic recordings, while similar in appearance, actually serve a completely different purpose – one that’s extremely significant for any workplace.

Before we get into that, let’s quickly go over the idea behind graphic recording.

What is graphic recording?

A graphic recording is a visual representation of a meeting or discussion. The artist creates it during the meeting, as people are speaking, on a whiteboard or large flip chart.

The artist captures spoken word and turns it into something visual.

Outcomes vs. Outputs

Graphic recordings are most often used in the corporate environment, such as in large meetings or presentations.

(An infographic, in comparison, distills already captured information into a more digestible, consumer-friendly format.)

Why should you care about graphic recording?

Graphic recording, or graphic facilitation, is a fantastic tool. Once you’ve seen a graphic facilitator in action, you will wonder how you ever accomplished anything without him (or her).

Here are a few benefits of graphic recording:

Increased engagement

Are you tired of people using their cell phones during meetings? Do you use your phone during meetings? Wait… are you reading THIS during a meeting? Tisk tisk.

Everyone knows that smart phones are a huge problem for meetings. Most of us are completely addicted to our phones and, whether or not we are looking at work related material, they definitely distract us from the matter at hand.

See also: 5 Data Visualization Blogs You Will Fall In Love With

According to Atlassian, it takes an average of 16 minutes for us to refocus after handling incoming email. No wonder half of us consider meetings a complete waste of time.

One of the best ways to combat the tyranny of meetings is with graphic recording.

Not only is it incredible to watch, but it’s collaborative. Everyone can throw ideas at the graphic facilitator and see them visualized in a simple, colorful, and powerful way.

Fewer people on their phones. Fewer people taking notes. More people listening. More people communicating. That’s the power of graphic facilitation.

Increased Memory

Have you ever finished a meeting and realized that you were only listening to half of what was said? Maybe you don’t remember anything at all? If you’re the boss, maybe this doesn’t happen often. But there’s a good chance this is happening to your employees.

We all know that pictures stick better than words. There’s actually a name for this, it’s called the Picture Superiority Effect. People are way more likely to remember information when it’s been presented in a visual format.

When they collaborate in the creation of that visualization, such as in a graphic recording, the effect is compounded.


We love to facilitate this sort of collaboration everyday in our office, on site with clients, and at events like DC EXCOMM.

A secret of great musicians is to practice immediately after a lesson. Most wait a bit, thinking that since they just had a lesson, practice can come later. This is a mistake.

Immediately recalling something from you memory is like adding rebar to your brain. (You know, rebar, the metal bars they put in concrete to make it a million times stronger.)

When we recall and analyze things immediately after we learn them, our memory increases exponentially.

Graphic recordings allow us to recall entire meetings immediately without getting bogged down in tedious meeting notes.

Reflection & Shared Outcomes

The average employee attends 62 meetings a month. How do you categorize all of that information? How do you separate and distinguish each meeting?

With graphic recording, you don’t have to. Each meeting will have a beautiful drawing, one that tells the entire story of what was said.

The best part? It’s super shareable (and share worthy).

Let’s say someone couldn’t make the meeting.

Sure, you can send over the meeting notes. But how many people are actually going to read through those? And not to mention, notes are completely hidden from the group and dependent on the notetaker.

A graphic facilitator is much more efficient because they won’t miss anything.

It’s collaborative. Everyone contributes. It tells a complete story.

Plus it’s fun to look at!

Where can you find someone to do it?

It takes a special kind of person to create graphic recordings. These people aren’t just artists – they are storytellers, craftsmen, and facilitators. They often function as consultants, mediators, and advisors.

In short, graphic recording isn’t a task for your assistant who has a knack for drawing. You’ll want to hire a professional.

An Example of Graphic Recording
Image credit: See Your Words

Finding an individual or firm that provides this service isn’t hard. A quick google search for “Graphic Facilitation Your City” will do the trick. One trait to look for in a graphic facilitator is industry experience.

If they speak the lingo, is will help to keep everyone on the same page. Some companies have gone as far as to hire or train internal graphic facilitators, a practice we definitely recommend.

Design to Connect: DC EXCOMM 2015 Recap and Review


Last Thursday, we hosted the first annual DC EXCOMM: Design to Connect Executive Communications and Visualization Conference.

Congregating in a room with beautiful views of Georgetown and the National Mall from across the river in Arlington, our guests were treated to two phenomenal keynote speeches from bestselling author Dan Roam and renowned communications expert Vincent Covello.

Dan Roam DC EXCOMM Presentation

Within minutes Dan Roam had our crowd drawing stick figures, and showing them the powerful impact that simple communications can have on their thinking and communications through materials from his book Back of the Napkin.

He shared stories of some of the most important doodles in history, from the development of Southwest Airlines business model to the conception of trickle down economics.

Scott Williams and Dan Roam

After the group had caught their collective breaths (and snagged a quick bite to eat) Vince Covello launched in to the second keynote speech.

He introduced the rules and techniques of high-concern communications, and walked the participants through a variety of case studies including his first hand experience working with the World Health Organization during the Ebola crisis.

DC EXCOMM Graphic Recording

As impressive as the keynote speakers were, our guests in attendance matched them. They were all decision makers and executives from across different industries, inside and outside the federal government and military fields.

DCEXCOMM Attendees

We saw just how quickly they picked up the tricks of the trade during our interactive workshops. In short order they visually developed solutions to deal with hypothetical cyber attacks, figured out ways to lower the cost of space exploration, and even explored the structural societal pressures that led to the rise of the “free range” parenting style.

“Who here thinks they are good at drawing?” Dan asked early in the day. At that point, only a couple of people raised their hands in the affirmative (and that may have included one of our designers).

Yet despite the modesty on their artistic ability, all of our participants were eager to learn.

DC EXCOMM Challenge

Throughout the day, the pens and markers were flying across the page as doodles, drawings, and message maps took for.

Were they all beautiful? Of course not, and that was never the point. Too often, design, communications, and visualization are seen as tasks handled by only a select few. Instead, as DC EXCOMM showed, these tools can be used to help any person confront any challenge.

To all who attended, thanks for being a part of a great day. To all who couldn’t make it, we hope to see you next year!

5 Data Visualization Blogs You Will Fall In Love With

If you work in graphic design or any sort of visual communication field, you’re intimately familiar with terms like data visualization, information design and big data.

It’s easy to forget that most people don’t really know what this stuff is. Truth is, data visualization is still a new discipline.

But it’s working its way into a bunch of different fields, and the world of information design is getting more exposure everyday.

That’s why we love any blog that’s dedicated to sharing data viz tools and tips – or just beautiful examples of data design in action.

There are so many awesome information design blogs, but these are our five favorites (in no particular order):

1. Flowing Data

Why We Love It: This blog goes way beyond posting pictures of infographics. It’s full of awesome data-driven projects like multivariate beer brewing and mapping the most popular races by country.

Favorite Post: The Subway sandwich map takes the cake (or hoagie). It shows just how much Subway is dominating the sandwich game in America.

Subway Sandwich Domination

Nothing against Subway but, for the record, we’re partial to the sandwiches at So’s Your Mom (not just because it’s across the street from our office).

2. Visualising Data

You might be thinking that we spelled “visualising” wrong, but this is how they spell it across the pond in the UK, where freelance data guru and blogger Andy Kirk resides.

Why We Love It: Andy uses a bubble chart to display his top 100 most popular posts. Talk about practicing what you preach!

Visualising Data top posts

Favorite Post: It’s hard to pick just one, but this post about using grey in your visualizations is a must-read.

3. Information is Beautiful

Why We Love It: Because, like founder David McCandless, we think that information should be designed in a way that is useful – above all else. We don’t share David’s hatred for pie charts, although we do love pie.

Favorite Post: We’re fans of the Best in Show dog data chart. It uses orientation, size, shape and color to pack a ton of data in a small space.

Best in Show dog infographic

Plus it confirms our belief that Chauncey is, in fact, a “hot dog”.

4. Cool Infographics

Why We Love It: Truth be told, we think the term “infographic” has lost its luster over the past few years, mostly because the web has been flooded with infographics that often leave something to be desired.

But, Cool Infographics is a very cool blog run by a guy who loves data viz just as much as we do – Randy Krum.

Our Favorite Post: Randy recently posted an infographic from Tabletop Whale that teaches you how to make animated infographics (meta, we know). In a saturated market, bringing your infographic to life with animated GIFs is one surefire way to stand out.

Animated Infographic

How cool is that?

4. Infosthetics

Why We Love It: First off, Infosthetics is an awesome name for a blog. Second, this site has a vast archive data visualizations, from charts about dissapearing amphibians to urban math art.

Pi visualized

Our Favorite Post: We think that Carlo Zapponi‘s interactive GitHut map is fascinating. It shows the relationships and range of programming languages “used across the repositories hosted on GitHub”.


We’re still dissecting what exactly that means, but this visualization sure is fun to play with.

5. Chart Porn

Last but certainly not least, Chart Porn is one of our favorite curated collections of beautiful maps, charts and graphics.

Why We Love It: Partly because it’s run by a fellow Washingtonian, Dustin Smith (yup, we’re biased, but at least we’re aware of it). But also because it helps us discover amazing visualizations that we might otherwise miss.

If you could only read one data viz blog, Chart Porn is a solid option.

Our Favorite Post: If we have to choose just one, this interactive Wizards’ shooting graphic from the Washington Post is it:

Wizards shooting graphic

Beautiful colors, clean design, data driven… plus it’s about the Wizards. Did we mention we’re from DC?

Now you know our top five data visualization blogs. What are yours? Leave a comment below!