25 October 2008

Shall we join Canada?

The New York Times satirizes its own election graphics here with an infographic that owes more to a wallpaper sample book than Isotype. (My favorites are Alaska and Washington.)

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09 September 2008

Two links to Sutnar

Grain Edit has these two links to Ladislav Sutnar’s work – a brochure for Bell Telephone which is claimed as the origin for the parentheses around US area codes, and one of his Sweet’s catalogues. University of Reading special collections has a number of interesting Sutnar items, purchased with the help of Typography & Graphic Communication.

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05 September 2008

Comics can explain

I was impressed by Google’s explanation of their new Chrome browser in comic-book form. It actually made me want to read this geek stuff, and I think I learnt something about how browser technology works. My only puzzle is why the format is portrait when a landscape format would have fitted most screens better, and eliminated unnecessary scrolling within pages.

(Chrome itself seemed to mess up my XP installation, though.)

Edit
Sorry, Google, Chrome did not mess up XP. A Microsoft Update had stalled, but installing Apple iTunes for XP solved the problem (!).

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11 August 2008

Who won all the medals?

This interactive graphic from the New York Times lets you move a slider across the Olympic timeline from 1896. You can see the medal counts in Eastern Europe swelling (on steroids?) in the post-war period, the odd collection of participants in the early years, the relatively recent rise of South America and the Pacific nations and, perhaps obviously, the head-start the host nation has gaining medals.

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28 July 2008

Keeping your hand in

I don’t usually take photos in loos, but …








Here is the new Dyson hand drier. So good, it needs instructions. And endorsements. In fact, the endorsements are bigger than the instructions. I think I understand the endorsements (‘British Skin Foundation validates Dyson’s skincare research’ = ‘This is really good, it’s scientific). I don't think I understand the instructions. Two unattached mitts are inserted in the drier. Something (waiting time? drying time?) takes 10 seconds (or mustn’t exceed 10 seconds?). The mitts pop out like toast from a toaster. The instructions are white on silver. But hey, Mr Dyson is an engineer, not a designer. Except, aren’t engineers designers?

The University of Reading is, I am told, planning a full-size wall graphic to explain how you use these machines – which are very quick and efficient – no more turning round from the sink with wet hands, seeing the hand-driers, calculating the minutes it will take to dry your hands, and opting for a quick wipe on the jeans instead.

PS. I dried my hands perfectly well by rapidly moving them up and down in the blade-like airstream. It worked. I am told this is the wrong way to do it. You insert and slowly draw them out through the airstream – presumably taking 10 seconds to do this. That's the trouble with instructions. If you try, there’s usually another way to do it.

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04 July 2008

Does that typeface play a tune?


Well, Eurostile always goes dum-dee-dum-dum-dum-dee-dee for me. And yes, Microgramma (‘They call me Eurostile – that’s not my name!’) was the typeface used for the zero-gravity toilet instructions in 2001.

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11 June 2008

To Big Bog from A Spoon Farm

My son David sent me this translation of the Stockholm underground map. It’s a word-by-word translation of the the place-names into English. Perhaps Swedes in London might want to travel from Tuppen Främjar on the Piccadilly Line to Hammare Svensson on the District Line …

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12 May 2008

Forms of address

To pick up on Rob Waller’s note about endless addresses, the official address of the Department of Typography & Graphic Communication at Reading used to puzzle me. Here it is:

Department of Typography & Graphic Communication
University of Reading
2 Earley Gate
Whiteknights
PO Box 239
Reading
RG6 6AU

Then it occurred to me that the reason for the multiple layers was that this was a portmanteau address, interlarding different user needs. This is what a human visitor needs to find the Department:

Department of Typography & Graphic Communication
University of Reading
2 Earley Gate
Whiteknights
Reading

This is all the Post Office needs to deliver mail:

PO Box 239
RG6 6AU

To complicate it a little, this is what the University postal service subsequently needs to get the letter to exactly the right place:

Department of Typography & Graphic Communication

So the official address is a kludge: no-one needs all the information, but each bit of it is used by somebody. But there’s a user who isn’t currently catered for: the SatNav-guided driver who, if they tap in RG6 6AU, will shortly find themselves driving into Reading’s main postal sorting office. What they need is probably

SatNav: RG6 2AU

– would you like to try it and see?

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04 May 2008

Way out exits

Rob Waller commented on his blog The Simpleton that the recorded message at King’s Cross Underground station has changed from ‘alight for the Royal National Institute for the Blind’ to ‘exit for the Royal National Institute of Blind People’.

Hang on a minute – there are no exits on the Underground. If you look at the signs, you will see that London Transport’s house style is ‘Way out’ (previously ‘WAY OUT’), chiming with long-standing advice to avoid Latinisms in favour of plain, English words. I've always liked this directness, although a quick trawl of the web produces several examples of visitors to London who feel obliged to explain that ‘way out’ means ‘exit’.

So, shouldn’t it be ‘way out for the Royal National Institute of Blind People’?

But here, I imagine, ‘exit’ is being used as an imperative rather than a noun: and you can’t say ‘get out for the Royal …’ because that sounds a bit like the bloke in the pub, ‘get out of here …’ ‘Exit’ works both an a noun and a verb, making it flexible in sentence structures – in the King’s Cross example, a verb is required to balance the first part of the announcement, which explains you can change for the Northern and Piccadilly lines, and for the main line station. So perhaps exits haven't finally come in to the tube after more than a century and a half – we’ll still have to find a way out when we want to exit.

The image shows a way out sign at St John’s Wood, 2007, by Oxyman

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28 April 2008

Do not obey this sign!

Just a few yards away from the Department of Typography & Graphic Communication at Reading is this illegal direction sign, carefully set in Helvetica instead of the prescribed Transport alphabet.

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26 April 2008

How much is you house worth?

A reminder that eagle-eyed critics of information graphics are always ready to pounce!

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25 April 2008

Driver location signs – information or noise?

Driving regularly on the M4 and M25, I started noticing new signs, which I couldn’t immediately understand. They turn out to be driver location signs, and seem to be unique in not being part of the Department of Transport signing system – they are in fact put up by the Highways Agency, the body that repairs and provides emergency services on UK motorways.

What was it that puzzled me about the signs? There seems to be an ambiguity about them – are we supposed to see them, and understand them, or are they really intended for highway engineers? I tried to work out why they seemed ambiguous to me. They share the graphic language (colours, typefaces, configuration, media) of motorway directional and warning signs, but these design elements have been tweaked to make them just a little less clear. Orange letters on a blue ground do not have the obvious contrast of white on blue, and the lines are centred. The coded form of language used (‘M25 | B | 43.8’) also sets them apart from the straightforward use of placenames or pictograms on other motorway signs. They are really quite large, and certainly frequent – they occur every half-kilometre or so, but the Agency seems happy to place them beside other roadside objects, or just behind other signs, in a way that would not be acceptable for warning and direction signs. So they look like an add-on to the system.

All of this brought to mind thoughts of how unnecessary elements, especially pattern elements, can distract the reader from information content. It seemed to me that every other motorway sign is encountered only when the motorist actually needs to know the information – on the approach to a junction, or a hazard. These signs really look like signs (because they share the features listed above with true signs) but I think they are really more like the labels on grid-lines or chart axes: they orient, rather than give new data. My first guess was that they were replacements for the much more modest kilometre posts (actually every 100 metres along motorways), and this is pretty much the case: DLSs are intended to give drivers location information that they can relay to the emergency services by mobile phone. The size is dictated by the need to be legible from a moving vehicle in the fast lane – meaning that they have to be as prominent as other signs.

So, do they constitute necessary information or are they the motorway equivalent of ‘chart junk’? And another question is thrown up by a note on the Highways Agency web-page on DLSs:

‘Promoting and communicating the function of the signs is central to them being successful. The public need to be fully aware of the three pieces of information on them so they can then communicate accurate locations to control rooms. The current strategy to disseminate this information will be done through a national press launch which will publicise the purpose of the signs. This will be further supported by local press notices through regional media.

‘Aside from using external communication methods the Highways Agency will also be distributing leaflets and information cards on driver location signs to drivers within areas of installed signage. They also plan to display pop-up posters in prominent locations frequented by drivers.’

So, did you know about them and what they mean? If you see a pop-up poster (whatever that is) do tell me!

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09 March 2008

MA Information Design student's work in Biennial

Christian Mariacher wrote to me today from Austria to tell me that a book he designed recently, Industielle Bildwelten, has been included in the 23rd International Biennial of Graphic Design at Brno.

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