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2 different redesigns of the controversial military slide illustrating the current situation in Iraq, posted here a couple of days ago. some of the original visual features seem to have been kept, such as the cryptic icons accompanying the categories.

the first version presents a 3D perspective of the data. the visual form conveys the path towards chaos, as measured by time & conflict factors, in its progression towards the foreground. the 2nd alternative offers a flat view of the same data, rendered as a 2-D barometer of order to chaos, with relevant timepoints signified on a yellow-red continuum.

which one do you like the most & why?

[link: frogdesign.com|thnkx Dave]




(redesigns copyright Frog Design)


I dislike them all because they put too much emphasis on chartjunk. Too much aesthetics and little to no information.

When people's lives are on the line, the military should not spend too much effort disseminating arbitrary quantities, in chart form or otherwise. Knowing whether or not a "barometer" is approaching order or chaos does not help our troops make headway in a war whose objectives are complex and interdependent on factors both in and out of our control.

If the time that was wasted generating a graph was spent on fleshing out the fragmented statements into meaningful text, then perhaps someone in the military wouldn't need to scratch their head and wonder what was meant by the word "Governance".

Any information that cannot effectively influence decision-making, planning, or swift reaction in wartime is noise, and the lives that are lost due to it make it a most sinister noise.

I am very pleased that Rumsfeld has resigned, and hope that the former CIA head set to replace him will place high value on quality intelligence practices that have stood the test of time, augmented by technology rather than replaced wholesale by it.

Fri 17 Nov 2006 at 2:17 PM

these charts are meant for decision makers, not for the soldiers on the field. these people should make their decisions based on effective representations of the data. I would argue that the time spent designing them is in fact useful, so no wrong decisions are made.

see also Tufte's famous analysis of the charts used before the Challenger & Columbia accidents.

Fri 17 Nov 2006 at 3:03 PM

I kind of agree with grant: the redesigned slides look great, but they don't necessarily represent the information in the best way. Especially the second one puts a huge emphasis on the barometer, and the arrow also suggests that the development towards chaos will continue (which is not there in the other version or the original).

The type is also too small to read. Sure it looks good, but these images are larger than the original slide, and the text is hardly readable. I think it would make sense to be a bit more pragmatic here, even if that means sacrificing some of the design, to make something that looks better but is still easily readable.

Introducing additional information that was not there (the arrow, the numbers of items in each category) should also be avoided, because we don't know what basis those decisions are made on.

Oh and BTW, on Tufte and the Challenger: see Representation and Misrepresentation (PDF) for a dissection of Tufte's argument.

Fri 17 Nov 2006 at 3:24 PM

I also dislike the assumption that the progression from order to chaos is linked to the timeline.

I prefer the 'barometer' because with a slight change, it presents a model that could be used and reused over time. For instance it could go from red back to orange.

I also think it is better to list the factors in the order of severity. (critical to common)

Fri 17 Nov 2006 at 10:19 PM

i understand the concern about the misinterpretation of information based on the charts. and i agree that there is not much emphasis on information in these charts. but–

i think the 3d version has much better hierarchy. it gives you an instant overall feel about the change, without having to read much. i think this is because there is a variation of type and object sizes, including the bar, the shorter all-caps titles, and smaller icons.

if the barometer might be a more accurate display of information (i cannot read what is actually written there), i think it could benefit from a re-design using the elements that make the 3d graph easier to read. the 2d chart has no hierarchy. the lines of the type descending from the "today" carry the strongest weight the text is going left and right and left again, making it difficult to follow.

does a "designy" looking chart make the information look less official? less believable? or make things clearer, legible, and inspire more change because they can be understood?

Sat 18 Nov 2006 at 6:19 AM

I believe that any representation of such information pertaining to war, should as well reflect the fact it isn't a binary proposition, whether "good vs. evil" or "chaos vs order". That is already buying into the administrations belief system, thus destroying any possible function of the chart to serve in some analytic way.

Indicators that really reflect this war, which are also concrete, would be better served by attempting to generate material out of the specific, unique character of this war: this war can be described by the amazing gap between events, facts and U.S. / U.K. administration rhetoric. That can be done in some VERY quantifiable ways, one could follow how the "gap" forms, and have some historical dimensions apparent after 3 years. It would be starting off from a more particular signature of the info-aesthetic if you like, of this war.

Certainly since Vietnam, there is a reason to be sensitive to charting out facts about wars, where the bodycounts may just windup as if "numbers" and lose respect as lives. But that said, it can't be that one ignores dealing with any society-related issue that has to negotiate deaths. Sometimes there is an implicit public, even civic role for information that can be presented in formats that make certain points clear - whether the rise in Aids-related deaths, the effects on infant-mortality in poorest of urban settings, and so on. These can also end up diminishing human lives to numbers, the distanced, "so many thousands in Africa" feeling numbing us to what is actually occuring on a closer, human relation, person to person.

One of the important aspects of info-asethetics is the dialog concerning just how to create a relation not to information but to intended audience, to avoid running into the worst-case scenario.

I would contrast this attempt made by the charts here to illuminate a real-time condition, with as one example, the fake visuals, powerpoint presented at the U.N. by Colin Powell et al for proof of going to war. There, in those scientific, neutral, satellite etc..images, few clear titles and captions, all in link with his administration rhetoric, one finds a callous, disrespectful info-graphic, shaped to sell non-facts, or lies (as we know now and they knew then) and can be attributed to leading to the deaths of soldiers today.
So at least this chart is trying to reflect a reality.

Tue 28 Nov 2006 at 5:28 PM
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