MEREDITH Strategy & Design

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Filtering by Tag: Graphics

The superior power of approximation

approximation_1798_001 I’ve been interested, tangentially, for a while with the rapidly developing discipline of data visualization. I think my interest has been piqued mostly by the cleverness and beauty of the graphics that are generated to express what matters in a mountain of data.

There are so many variants on the form, and more developing daily. I have seen samples that are just great graphics in the Edward Tufte discipline, great interactive and interactively dynamic models, data-based furniture, and even architecture. All of them provide enough fascination to not only get interested in what is represented, but also to dig into the discipline and to become immersed in the art.

As my interest increased, I also realized that I was beginning to learn new things. And as I reviewed these graphic representations, I began to inform my own business discipline, motivate my own actions, and use data forms more in my work with my clients.

But what was most interesting was the feeling my own actions and those of my clients accelerating as a result of the visualizations. That is, the representation of an idea, with the implications of data behind it, engaged discussion, built confidence, and moved action. Once again, the visualization was the motivator, not the data behind it. Sorry, one more time—the visual representation of data, even in the absence of specific data, was a powerful motivator of action in cases where conventional data representations, or no data, clogged the flow of decisions and action before.

I do not mean to imply in this a lack of discipline, a misrepresentation, a telling of untruths, disrespect for data, or lack of professionalism. Every time I approach a subject with a diagrammatic representation of “data,” I am doing it with care, transparency, and a deep interest in the intelligence that provides the insight that generates innovation.

But I am finding that, perhaps in the “Blink” sense, I know enough data to represent it without a table, spreadsheet or database behind it. I find that my clients are apparently seeking a way to see things in a different light, and a clever visually approximate representation of data that we mutually sense and understand is what is valuable to them.

In most cases, the visual representation of an approximation of relative values is the device that moves the team to action. In one recent meeting over very critical market strategy, I saw staff members feverishly paging through data binders while their leadership, discussing very simple diagrams I had prepared based on assumptions, were making decisions and selecting options to take to their board.

It appears that the most important thing in these tough times is to overcome inertia and to get moving. Once in motion, we can all correct our path by further investigation and analysis. Less may be more now, and an approximate visualization of an idea can inform strategy in the most powerful ways.

Postscript 3/22/9: a couple of related ideas?

To dig each other out of the current economic morass, a fundamental integration of the arts and business worlds is urgently needed.

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How to deliver a "tweet" that will last a lifetime

massimo-2 I've been caught by this wonderful story on the always delightful Design Observer.

Referencing "the kindness of strangers," Jessica Helfand recalls the power and influence of simple, unexpected, generous communications.

What really caught me is the power--that is, the influential generosity--in this image. I can almost feel the crispness of the page, and can certainly see the texture and quality of the paper. I can imagine the day it arrived in the mail, distinguishable among the ordinariness of the other pieces in the pile. I can feel the anticipation, the expectation, before even opening it simple from the nature of the envelope and the line advising who it was from--that very simple formula guiding brand communication so elegantly executed--"tell them who you are and what you do."

I can image the feel of the letter opener and the sound of the envelop tearing, the texture of the stationery, the sound of its unfolding. Look at the composition of the page, the absence of logo, the abundance of white space. Look at the length of the line and the number of words between margins. Look at the color and gestural character of the signature. Note even the marks of the  typewriter and that bit of ribbon fuzz to the edges of the font. Note that convention of capitalized author initials and lower cap typists initials, and its implications of the time taken in draft and final edit, of collaborative composition, of process and engagement.

I can imagine holding that letter and reading and rereading it. I can imagine its place on the desk and the number of times it was picked up and read again. And here it is, more than a quarter of a century later, physically re-presented as an observation of the power of professional consideration, a reflection on manners, a parable about generosity, a remembrance that makes a history.

I believe that the power of this note to Jessica, and its relevance to others beyond her, is not only in the message itself, but is embodied in the sensual generosity of the page and the implications of its production.

Vignelli's letter is about a dozen lines, maybe 75 words. It's not much more than a "tweet," but the character of its generosity, embodied in its physicality, still resonates almost 30 years later.

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