Our 5 Favorite New York Times Visualizations

Given the many problems facing traditional publishing, old-fashioned newspapers like the New York Times have had to adapt to keep up. One way the NYT has done this is to experiment with stories online that change depending on viewer input, allowing readers to, in part, shape the stories they’re reading.

This has taken many forms, from simple infographics and data maps to complex human interest stories with videos and moving images that appear upon scrolling. Here are five of our favorites. Feel free to share yours in the comments!

1. Mapping Migration in the United States (image)

1This “Voronoi treemap” shows how many people living in a particular state were born there, following on from this interactive article showing population changes by state. And it does it in style, with eye-catching, colorful shapes depicting each percentage. As the article points out, one drawback is that the shapes don’t always match the percentages exactly, but overall, this kind of chart is a solid choice. It also lends itself well to certain kinds of financial data.

2. How the Recession Reshaped the Economy, in 255 Charts (see image here)

2255 is a big number, especially when it comes to charts. Nobody wants to sit through a presentation with 255 slides or graphs. But somehow, this visualization makes it work. Combining and overlaying graphs is not a new concept, but by overlapping so many lines in one image, overall patterns and trends emerge that might not have been visible on their own.

Combining so many graphs might be ill-advised in most situations, but careful overlapping keeps each line separate and visible. Additionally, scrolling causes overlays to appear that explain various trends in housing, healthcare, and other fields, highlighting related graphs. This puts each industry into context in a creative, visual, visceral way and drives the enormity of the economy home in a way that separate graphs might not.

3. Up Close on Baseball’s Borders (image)

3This fun visualization puts Facebook data to good use to settle a few perennial questions: where, exactly, does the line between Yankees fans and Red Sox fans lie? And how big are the disputed territories? By using an algorithm to smooth out data for how many people in a particular zip code “liked” a particular team on social media, this nifty little image was born, no doubt settling a few bets along the way.

4. In Georgia, Politics Moves Past Just Black and White (full article here)

4How do you map the changing face of a city? In this story, a simple population map comparing the demographics of Atlanta, Georgia in 1990 to its makeup in 2010 drives the image home. With simple interactivity highlighting particular counties, this visualization provides clear data, grounding a complex piece highlighting the new diversity in the Old South.

5. Norway, the Slow Way (read story)

5For something completely different, this human-interest travel piece on one person’s quest for the Midnight Sun uses video of the Norwegian coastline, excerpts from Norwegian TV programs, hand-drawn graphs illustrating relatively minor points, and charming animated maps to bring its story to life. Are they completely necessary? No. But they are delightful moments that change the pace of a long story, maintaining interest and inviting reflection.

In a story that is so much about pace and the visual details of Norway’s culture, these moving and interactive images contain more than a thousand words. They set the stage as well as dress it and guide us along the narrative in a way that words alone might not have accomplished. Scrolling almost seems too clunky a way to navigate the wonders of sea, sun, and land as it is presented here.

Data is often used to bolster arguments, clarify complex issues, or settle disagreements. Visualizations can be beautiful enough to be art. But used properly, data – in the form of graphs, maps, or images – can also tell a story, the bottom line that unites each of these articles.

How can you use interactive visualizations to tell your story in a more engaging way?

5 Tricks to Create Privacy in an Open Office

Open offices can save money and increase collaboration, but they also increase distractions, noise levels, and the potential for more introverted team members to be overwhelmed by constant social interaction.

When such spaces are well-designed, these drawbacks can be mitigated with clever seating arrangements and a “quiet” office culture that limits conversations to designated meeting spaces. But if you’ve just moved into an open office and feel the need for more privacy, there are a few strategies you can try.

1. Think like a ninja

In an open office, noise and distraction can sneak up on you when you least expect them in the form of chatty coworkers, loud phone conversations, and people walking around or entering or leaving the room. In order to combat these distractions and find space to recharge, it’s crucial to be proactive, taking every opportunity for focused, individual work and recharging.

Elan Morgan, a blogger on the Quiet Revolution site, advocates making space for solitude, even if that means not joining the gang for lunch every day or skipping the daily watercooler or coffee station chit-chat. If constant interruptions are leaving you drained, identify every possible moment of quiet in your day and guard each one like a vitally important meeting.

If possible, find other ways to interact and make yourself available at specific times for collaboration and discussion, but make your own energy and productivity needs a high priority.

Office 2
Brilliant or terrifying? Image via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

2. Build a “soft wall”

Building your own cubicle out of books, furniture, or lumber might send the wrong message to your more extroverted colleagues, but “soft” barriers like plants, artwork, or even a coat rack with a big puffy coat can offer some visual peace and quiet, depending on the layout.

As for auditory distractions, noise-cancelling headphones are great, but it may also be necessary to come up with a system to let people know when you’re unavailable. If your company uses a shared calendar, block off certain times as busy and others as available, or set your status to “busy” on company chat systems.

Don’t have either of those? Do as one commenter on Quiet Revolution suggested and make a deal with your colleagues – you’ll block off time for one-on-one meetings or to help them with their work if they’ll return the favor and let you work in peace for a block of time each day.

3. Find a retreat

If your company is moving to an open-plan office to save money, offer to work from home a few days a week. Not only does telecommuting reduce costs, many people find they are considerably more productive without the distractions of an office and the time spent commuting. If you can improve the company’s bottom line while still making time to build connections with colleagues, you’ll have a solid argument.

For the days you are in the office, pay attention to the typical schedule and try to do your most focused work when everyone else is in meetings or at another location. Or consider booking a meeting room for you and any introverted friends where you can complete important work in silence and then return to the camaraderie and banter of the bullpen.

Office 3
Camaraderie… banter… what’s not to love? Image via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

4. Propose a change

If the office layout is reducing your productivity, ask for a few accommodations such as dividers, movable furniture that creates sound and visual barriers, or definitive “quiet hours” where people can focus on individual tasks and then reconvene for collaboration.

Well-designed open office spaces usually include smaller spaces like meeting “pods” where groups can hold private meetings or individuals can find a quiet place to work as well as large, open areas for discussion (or headphone-mediated silence).

If management isn’t willing to modify policy for the entire office, ask if you can at least move to a quieter corner where you’ll have fewer visual distractions. Chat tools like Google Talk, Slack, and Skype can also allow for discussion that doesn’t break concentration in the same way as a tap on the shoulder.

5. Stand up for yourself.

If management won’t consider your (politely worded) requests for fewer distractions (or the evidence that open spaces decrease productivity), consider looking for another position. It’s easier said than done, but good management should empower employees to do their jobs, not hinder them.

If working in an open office and coping with unfriendly management is damaging your health, driving your stress levels through the roof, and making you dread going to work, make it a priority to look for other options. Many people find working in an open office difficult despite its potential benefits.

Bottom line? If you can’t make it work for you, take the ultimate proactive step and find a place that does. You’re not crazy, and you’re not alone!

Featured image via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Upgrading the Virtual Water Cooler

Telecommuting and remote working are popular cost-saving measures, but the benefits can extend far beyond the bottom line. Many companies are choosing to make remote working a core part of their organizational structure, capitalizing on the productivity gains of distraction-free environments and the lack of overhead that comes from working in already existing spaces. Thanks to a slew of new technology, this approach has numerous benefits, from being able to meet customer demands in multiple time zones to assembling a team quickly to deal with an emergency.

But remote working has a few key drawbacks, as anyone who’s worked from home can attest. Isolation, exclusion from important meetings and social outings, and endless conference calls can make working from home a disaster if it’s not managed successfully. How do the pros make it work? By using solid team management practices to cultivate community intentionally, regardless of where team members are located. And they don’t wait until problems arise; many companies that successfully employ a remote workforce find that solid team building starts from the very beginning.

Recruiting and On-Boarding

Although some companies transition well from an on-premise community to a partial or fully remote team, training employees for remote working is best done early. Candidates need to be able to manage time well, show initiative, and have enough patience to put up with the occasional frustrations of working with partners in multiple locations. It’s also important to hire (or train) good communicators and writers if much of their brainstorming will be done over email, video conference, or chat.

Perhaps most importantly, managing employees remotely requires trust. Hiring people who can be trusted to do their jobs well and contribute to the company’s culture from afar is crucial, as is continuing to trust them once they’re hired. Nothing breaks an employee’s spirit more than micromanaging, draconian check-ins and snooping software, so it’s important to hire people who can be relied on—and then allow them to do their jobs with personal, appropriate oversight. Trustworthy team players who will take the extra step to ask questions, get to know their teammates, and invest in people they don’t see every day are the key to making remote working a success.

Day-to-Day Communication

There are many tools available that will reduce the endless flow of emails and conference calls that consume many a remote worker’s time. Communication tools like Slack or Basecamp can organize multiple streams of conversation and even make space for virtual “water cooler” conversations.

Many companies also find it helpful to have a procedure or hierarchy in place for various kinds of messages. Quick questions that need immediate answers are often best sent through chats, instant messages, or texts, while longer questions that can wait may be more appropriate through email. Face-to-face conversations over Skype or other video conferencing software can be helpful for partners or small-group check-ins, while an occasional conference call can work well to disseminate updates or information to large groups of people.

Innovation and Collaboration

One of the main things remote workers miss out on is the opportunity for spontaneous idea-swapping and brainstorming. New research suggests diverse teams that offer a variety of social and industry-related perspectives can boost innovation, but even a highly diverse team still needs space to share and explore ideas in constructive ways.

Sometimes, distance can be an asset in this case. Introverted team members may feel more confident sharing their ideas when they have time to think them through and compose an email or post a comment on a shared project page rather than being put on the spot in a meeting, as long as intentional space is made for constructive collaboration.

Training employees to work in pairs, a popular option in programming and software development, can also promote this ideological cross-pollination. It requires some finesse to assign suitable teams and resolve conflicts, but done properly, this approach combats isolation, cuts the workload, and strengthens the cohesion and loyalty of the entire team.

Accountability

Although trust plays a big role in remote company relationships, appropriate accountability can keep team members on the same page and catch any problems early. It can also reduce isolation and ensure that all perspectives are given voice.

Time and activity tracking software can be useful tools, but team check-ins, quick reports, and planning meetings can also help everyone see how different individuals are contributing to overall progress and help team members get to know each others’ strengths and weaknesses.

For best results, these meetings should be short, focused, and positive, highlighting good work and setting the stage for a successful week. One-on-one check-ins can also help managers keep tabs on how different parts of a project are developing.

Pros vs. Cons

Remote working is a viable business structure and can even lead to new breakthroughs for companies, but it’s not a cure-all for overhead and expenses. Individual people are still the ones that make a company work, whether they’re working on-site or remotely, and investing in resources to help those people become more successful is not something to skimp on, regardless of employee location.

Photo by Kai Hendry, CC BY 2.0

Slaying the Slideshow Dragon

We’ve all been there, shuffling into an early-morning meeting, hoping that this time, things will be different. The presenter will be engaging. The slides, compelling. The room, awake! And then… the dreaded bullet points appear, and the morning becomes a painful offering to the Slideshow Dragon.

Nobody wants meetings to be boring or presentations to fail. But even the most engaging presenter will find it difficult to reclaim the audience once their attention has been devoured by black-and-white text or slides that could have been emailed out.

But what exactly is wrong with traditional presentations? Do you have to use newer tools like Prezi to save the early-morning meeting? Let’s break it down with some basic design thinking.

Who are the end users?

In a presentation, the end users are the audience, whether they are colleagues, employees, or clients, and success can generally defined by whether they engage with and remember your quarterly report/new marketing pitch/project update.

Because people like connecting with other people, warm, engaging, enthusiastic presenters can do a lot of this work themselves, so why use visual aids at all? Unfortunately, most people remember only a small percentage of information they hear.

Organizing that information visually can increase retention considerably, as well as make the presentation more interesting—thus the allure of the Slidshow Dragon. But this is where many presentations go wrong and the dragon shows his ugly side.

Here Be Dragons

(Creative Commons)
Photo by Milos Milosevic (Creative Commons 2.0)

In order to communicate information, the presenter can use words (spoken or written), images, colors, media, and sounds. Problems tend to arise when those elements are out of balance. If a presenter is spending most of the time talking (i.e. it’s not a discussion or roundtable), then the words are already taken care of.

It may be tempting to highlight key words or phrases with bullet points, but the brain can only handle so many words at once—and most people would rather read than listen, especially if they think they’ll get the information faster.

Some people try to combine words with cool animations to help keep people engaged. Prezi is built on the idea that flying back and forth across a giant canvas and zooming in on important points is more visually interesting than flipping slides.

But visuals that are too interesting (or dizzying) can backfire, keeping the audience’s attention even more firmly planted on the screen, not the presenter. And if the visuals are that engaging, then they might be better off on their own with a voiceover and posted online, rather than upstaging (or consuming) a live presenter.

Define the Need

Photo by Jan Tik (Creative Commons)
Photo by Jan Tik (Creative Commons 2.0)

The answer is to use slides that aid the presentation visually. That means focusing on images, symbols, colors, and movement to support your message.

  • Convert words to images, symbols, or metaphors. Did something decrease? Use a picture of down arrow with the topic at hand and then talk about what happened. Is there a logical flow of information? Use a flow diagram. Make your information beautiful, or give people a memorable picture to latch onto. Only use words that can be integrated into the image).
  • Use the right tool for the job. Is the information you need to present spatially related (like a map, landscape, or 2D diagram)? Then Prezi might be your best choice. But if your information is hierarchical or linear (A à B à C), stick with something like PowerPoint or Keynote to avoid distracting or unnecessary movement.
  • Make any movement part of the message. If you’re flipping to a new slide, start a new thought. If you’re zooming in on an object, zoom in to the details of the topic. If you have a big, dramatic transition to a new image, transition to a new topic or thought as well.
  • Choose visuals you (or the audience) can interact with. Pick images that you can envision someone asking you to zoom in on or that change based on audience participation.
  • Keep it simple. People are there for your content, not a feature film. Choose simple, clear, relevant images, and don’t overdo them, or the Dragon of Excess Clip-Art may yet devour your masterpiece.
clip art dragon
Beware the clip-art dragon! Image by Clarissa Ridney (Creative Commons 2.0)

In the end, good presentations are like any other form of communication. They connect the speaker and listeners and result in the mutual sharing of information. They increase engagement and generate new ideas. Don’t be the Slideshow Dragon’s next victim—regardless of which presentation software you use!

Featured Photo by Richard Fisher (Creative Commons 2.0)

Julie Anixter Selected As AIGI Executive Director

We’re thrilled to announce that Julie Anixter, a longtime friend and mentor to Maga and our Chief Innovation Officer, has been selected to serve as the next executive director of AIGA, the professional institute for design.

Julie Anixter
Source

Julie will help represent and lead AIGA’s 25,000 individual members and 70 volunteer chapters around the country when she takes over in January.

She’ll come to AIGA after years serving as a principal at Think Remarkable consultancy, and as a managing partner at Innovation Excellence, the largest crowd-sourced innovation learning community. She co-founded both endeavors.

AIGA has been promoting design as a professional craft and fundamental cultural touchpoint for more than a century.

They were looking for an individual with a proven ability to manage complex teams, project a strong image, and have a deep understanding of the professional design world. Julie certainly fit the bill.

“In Julie, we found a leader who can be a connective thread across our increasingly diverse community of designers, innovators, educators, and advocates,” said Su Mathews Hale, the president of AIGA’s national board of directors.

An 8-member search team had been looking for a national executive since the fall of 2014.

So what is Julie’s mission at AIGA?

“Continue to amplify our thought leadership and influence on the profession of design and society-at-large, so that design is recognized as the force for good that it is; ensuring that the craft of design is valued, the discipline is taught more broadly, and the expert use of design helps us all navigate our information-laden world with greater ease.”

Our simple reply: Amen.