Sunday, November 25, 2012

Visual Examples: Combining Clip art with pictures

It is been a while since I have posted new visual examples. I'm thrilled about this one: not all pieces of clip art are created equal. The guys at Yiibu have done a great job combining clip art and pictures in a very interesting presentation. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Minitutorial: Creating a title slide from a portrait image

Back in January I promised I would do a tutorial on how to turn a portrait image into a full side slide. Well I can't start a series on tables without first doing that tutorial. Let's get started.

The "problem" is simple, you have an image with the right height of a slide, the the width is not enough. In the case of a 1024 × 768 slide, some images come in the 512 × 768 size, so what to do with the other half? Case in point,
Figure 1: Original portrait image.
I would like to use this image taken from Wikimedia commons, but what to do with the other half? The result that I what to go is this
Figure 2: turning Figure 1 into a full side slide
With would give me white space and a sense of continuity that I really like. SO that's what we are going to do,  makeover Figure 1 into Figure 2.  The trick is simple, (1) we crop some pixels from Figure's 1 right border,  (2) stretch it to cover the rest of slide, and (3) blur it.  There is pre-processing and some pos-processing however. 
1. Open the original image in the Gimp or Photoshop and resize the canvas (Image menu -> Scale Image)  to have the same width of the slide. I have already done this in Figure 1. 
Figure 3. Selection of 20 pixels on the right border
2. Make a rectangular selection of approximately 20 pixels (see Figure 3)
3. Open the Layer dialog (Ctrl-L)
4. Copy the selection (Ctrl-C)
5. Paste it into a new transparent layer by clicking on the left-most button on the bottom of the Layer Dialog.
6. Move to the layer you just created and stretch that selection (Layer Menu -> Scale Layer) to 532 pixels (see Figure  4). 532 = 1024 - 512 + 20. 1024 is the slide's width, 512 is the image's width, and 20 the width of the selection.
Figure 4, Stretching the border selection
 7. Now move the stretched selection all the way to the right, so that the slide's right border and the stretched image's right border are the same.
8. Blur "step 7" (Filter Menu -> Gaussian Blur) by 10 pixels.
There you go! You have arrived at the result.

One more thing

Let's examine the interface between the original image and the stretched and blurred one.
As you can the change between the two images is abrupt. We can soften it to get a nice continuity, something like this
For that purpose you need to add a layer mask to the stretched image. The figure below shows this mask
If you compare it with Figure 4, you would see that the black-to-white gradient is located at the same place of the original border selection.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

"What are the important numbers here?" — How to improve tables. Part 1

The presentation of data in tables is a usual practice in scientific talks. Sadly, most tables are ineffective. In this first installment, I give an example of before and after table design. 

Writing about tables is something I wanted to do for long time, after all quantitative data is at the heart of science and its communication. Tables are ubiquitous, and if you are like me, you learned how to design them by imitation. The problem is, most tables suck, as illustrated in this quote
Getting information from a table is like extracting sunlight from a cucumber.
— Farquhar & Farquhar, 1891
By the way, I got this quote from Wainer, H. (1992). Understanding graphs and tables. Educational Researcher, 21, 14-23, as well as the images below.

Tables should communicate, but instead they are used as a dump of tabular data, which the audience is supposed to  navigate through, understand and make sense of. Oh yeah, all of that in a couple of minutes.

Let's dive in. Before considering showing a table at a talk, ask yourself, "so what?". Does it support your point?  Does it prove someone's else point wrong? You might want to write down 2 or 3 questions that the audience should be available to answer after you have shown and commented the table. If you can't think of any question, or if they sound stupid to you, drop the table, because it doesn't move your talk forward.  After you have done with the table, ask another set of questions about the retrieval of information in the table. Let's look at the example of Wainer.

  Set the clock to 90 seconds. Go!
  • What are the principal causes of accidental death? 
  • Which are the most frequent? Which the least frequent?
  • Are there any unusual interactions between country and cause of accidental death?
  • How do the countries differ with respect to their respective rates of accidental death?
 After 4 iterations Wainer present us this improved version

What Wainer has done is to highlight the data by partly reducing the non-data ink and enhancing the data ink.  In other words Wainer must have asked himself
"Would the data suffer any loss of meaning or impact if this were eliminated?"
— Stephen Few, author of Show Me the Numbers.
and where the answer was no, he got rid of it.

 In addition to improving the data ink in the table, Wainer has 
  • reordered the rows and columns in a way that makes sense to the audience
  • added  statistics that summarize the data
  • clustered the data
  • and, finally, rounded the figures.
In the coming posts I'll be going to these points and others in more detailed, so that hopeful getting information from a table is like opening a can with a Swiss Knife.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Every presentation ever!

I watched this video some months ago on Duarte's blog, and finished the book last weekend. I recommend the book,  it has some fresh views of presentation. Specially relevant is the analogy of how presentations resemble  bottled water. Water (the message) is timeless, precious, and always important. The bottle (the package) has adapted through time and socienties to deliver the message. Enjoy it!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Mini Tutorial: The Ken Burns effect in slideware

First  things first, what is the Ken Burns effect? Take a look at this "video"

That simultaneous zooming and moving of the image (call panning) is called the Ken Burns effect. Using this effect you can literally move from the "big picture" to the details within seconds without losing your audience. And it is easy to do. Now, if (like me) are a documentary fan, you might have seen this effect before

The tutorial

I got the idea of this tutorial from Jakob Jochmann's Cutting Edge Keynote. This last video is made of two slides, the  first one has a size of 1538 × 2048 but has been reduced to 576 × 768 to fit in the canvas that is 1024 × 768.
The next step is add the zoom (scale) and move action.
Image of man from Wikimedia Commons by Christaan Briggs under CC-by-SA license.
The order of the action doesn't matter for their are set to be simultaneous.  After adding the move, add the zoom(scale). In this case I zoomed 135% so that man's chin in touching the lower border of the canvas the move + zoom.

That's how to get do the Ken Burns effect in slideware! Obviously there are so fine details to work. The  time of this move and zoom have to be the same. Also, the effect is better if it is relatively slow, I chose 2 seconds.

Now the man cuts to a girl dissolving also in 2 seconds. The position of the eyes is also same. That should ensure continuity between the two "shots". The girl image's size is 2181×1523.
Image of girl from Wikimedia Commons by Alvesgaspar under CC-by-SA license.
The girl goes from the detail to the "big picture" and I scaled it down to 85%.

Here are a couple of these to watch out when doing the effect.
  • Always work with image's in full resolution. Scaled images to the size of the canvas will get pixelated if zoomed more than 100% 
  • As corollary don't scale images more than their original size
  • If you have an image where you can remove the background, do it. This will allow you to move the image easier and not worry that the image is on top of the background at all times.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Improve your slides using icons

Last week I briefly mentioned the Icon Representation Principle. Let's dig in a bit further. According to Lidwell, Holden and Butler (LHB) the use of pictorial images makes easier to learn and remember concepts.  They list  4 classes of iconic representation:
  • Similar icons. Images that are visually analogous to an action, object or concept. They are most efficient to represent a simple concept. 
  • Example icons. Images that exemplify or are commonly associated with a concept. They are useful to represent complex concepts. 
  • Symbolic icons. Images that represent a concept at a high level of abstraction. Mostly efficient when involved concept involves well-established and easily recognizable objects. 
  •  Arbitrary Icons
 So much for the theory, let's go to the example. If you are interested in more check out their book Universal Principle of Design.

The prime idea of the slide is to show the  4 dimensions that constitute the argumentation competence according to Grundler. First I was shown only text based slides with very few text (good), but poorly aligned (ugly). My idea of using the icons was to help the audience to remember the concepts by associating them with a family image. I based the design following my own post. The icons were taken from The Noun Project (see my last post).

 Here is a different version of the slides above.


Saturday, August 18, 2012

Batch of visual resources

It's summer and I though it would be nice to spend more time outside, so I'll change the format of the post today.   


A Book: Universal Principles of Design

This is a great read. There is a lot of good scientific supported advice on how to improve a presentation. From the visual to the organization and cognitive front. You don't have to be a psychologist or a industrial design to understand and enjoy it. I counted at least 20 principles that directly apply to presentations. For example the Picture Superiority Effect and Iconic Representation which leads me to...

Links to get images and icons

  • The Morgue Files offers stock-photography-quality images from free, even for commercial purposes.
  • TinEyes Lab provides a Flickr search by color.
  • The Noun Project "collects, organizes and adds to the highly recognizable symbols that form the world's visual language."
Another item  in Universal Principles of Design is the Signal-to-Noise Ratio, which refers to the ration between the amount of decoration, and unnecessary elements (the noise)  and the amount of information that wants to be convey (the signal). The following video feature graphical designer John Mcwade is an example of how to apply this principle to slides.


A Video from Before and After Maganize

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Turn rocket science into the Rocket Man: Scientific and presentation writing. Part 1.

Finding the right words and connecting with the audience are two problems scientific communicators face.  One way the overcome this problem is to turn scientific writing into presentation writing. 

One of the smartest things I have read in the last weeks about presentation was
Great presentations rely on great writing.
                        — John Rode, Slide Rocket
Great writing implies clear thinking, thoughtful structure, and respect for the audience, among many other things. No wonder great writing is hard work, really hard work. Professors and young researchers know this. In fact they strive to achieve excellence in scientific writing. And here is where the problem starts: Scientific writing is not the same as presentation writing.

Last week Gavin MacMahon offered a free webinar on the 6 different types of presenters there are
  • The storyteller and the coach
  • The counselor and the teacher
  • The inventor and the coordinator,
their strengths and weakness and how to use slideware to leverage the weakness.  Gavin says that 75% of the presenter-population falls into the inventor and the coordinator categories. The problem these type of presenters face, Gavin continues to argue, is that they have trouble finding the words, and therefore their visuals end up being teleprompters. The counselor and the teacher also have problems and find it hard to connect with the audience putting content before people.

Hmmm... Presenters reading from their slides about their research. Yeah, you see a lot of that at scientific talks.

This brings me back to my point. Scientific writing is in many ways the opposite of presentation writing. For starters, the use of the passive voice is applied on purpose to detached the experiment from the researcher. Try to rephrase  the main object of your research in 2 or 3 sentences. Have ever read the titles on  research journals? 

Presentation writings relies on storytelling, scientific writing on argumentation and explanation.  And like film making, scientific writing has different genres. Finding common territory between scientific fields is tough. But there might be an important one: quantitative measurements. Make your quantitative results tell a story, make your conclusion the lessons learned from that story.  Click here for a concrete example.

How good is your writing? How do you present your data? How do you empower your audience with your research? What kind of presenter are you? Find out by taking Gavin's presenter diagnose.

While you think about it —and perhaps leave a comment— watch how rocket science is turned into a larger-than-sci-fi-thriller.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

How to make better LaTeX/Beamer slides. Part 2.

In part 1, I talked about how using no Beamer themes and creating atomic slides are  better ways to create better visuals. Now I would like to talk about a particular case of transition between slides that look the same but  make a comparison. Take a look at this three slides:

I have also applied a certain continuity to show a comparison. The problem here is that the continuity

weakens the comparison's contrast.  Up to a certain degree amplifying the contrast makes the comparison clearer, hyperbole is also unwanted and unprofessional. In this case clear signalization of  the different experiment and the change of parameters (plus getting rid of the noise) would be enough.

It is also worth think about if all the same data has to be compared or if only a selected subset makes the point. Remember that too much information has a toll on the working memory. If too much information is presented your audience most likely be overwhelmed processing it. Leave the full comparison for a later article or thesis, where the reading can consult the detail as much as it is necessary.

To present the right amount of data and content is to show professionalism. This professionalism has to be hold up the last slide: start strong, finish stronger. So avoid being cute and being funny. 

 When I see this, I feel embarrassed myself.  The thank is fine, just don't put it at the end of your talk, but at the beginning. Salute your audience, thank them for coming to see you. This is my alternative to the closing slide.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

How to make better LaTeX/Beamer slides. Part 1.

I still hate Beamer. But that won't stop people from using it to give the worse-than-powerpoint scientific talks. Instead, I give a concrete example on how to improve an existing stack.
Two weeks ago a good friend gave a presentation on the status of this research in applied math, and obviously he used LaTeX's s Beamer package. His use of Beamer is rather decent but I think it can be pushed  a nudge further. Here is how.

The fundamental problem of Beamer is that it forces the user to use templates.

The problem with most Beamer templates is that their have so much noise, that the message is generally lost in the midst of that noise. Here is the list of irrelevant things  in this slide:
  • A "progress bar" on the top right. 
  • The affiliation's logo on the bottom left.
  • A date, the name of of speaker, the name of the presentation and the slide name on the bottom.
Neither does your audience need that nor does it care about it! So get rid of it.

The message of this slide is clear. This is my favorite slide. My friend says I'm a minimalist, but in fact it  I'm not. I like atomic slides: One slide, one idea. This slide is an example of an atomic slide.  If you take all that slide-junk away, you are left with this.

As much as I think Beamer is a really bad tool, I understand that people use it to display their math in a high quality way. The problem is the way people use it. And one of those problems is that poeple create none atom slides. Here is what I mean.

This slide shows research results, but what is the most relevant one? Where should the audience focus? There are a lot of things happening here, 3 to be exact.  No atom slide, sniff.

The first one is the experiment's parameters, which comes on the top because logically, because without naming the parameters the results make no sense. However the top is strongest part of the page. Parameters are important, but not the focus, some they can (and should ) be put on the bottom. However this doesn't make the slide atomic. I would do it like this.

Why black? Because I want the audience's attention, and by dramatic contrast I get it.

The second and third are the results. Judging for the placement of the table and the graph, they seem to be the focus. Only this part has a lot of noise. First, all the graph needs is an axis, not a box. This is chat-junk. Second, the text on the chat isn't readable for the audience. Make it readable, otherwise drop them.

I praise the author for the slick table. That's minimalism! There is however one thing that can be improve. Your audience doesn't need all of those significant digit. In this case, one will do it. My version. I removed all but one additional line in the chat. This serves as a reference point of the residuum.

You know what's coming.

Beautiful. Quiet. I love the fact that just by removing the unwanted and breaking slides to the atomic level, the message becomes clearer. All of this using Beamer…

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Quick tutorial: Getting more typograhical options in Keynote

Before I wrote the last post about Keyboard shortcuts, I dig into the  ⌘+T that opens the font window:
If you click on the tools (gear) drop-down on the bottom left, you will find the Typography dialog, which opens a whole new set of typographical options. The specific options depend on the typeface. Some like Roboto have just a few, and some like Adobe Hypatia have many.

Here is a concrete use of this dialog. Last week I was doing some slides using Roboto and  noticed how ugly the fi ligature was. I was thinking about write the f and the i separately and join them by hand, which is a dangerous and time consuming job. But after I discovered the Typography dialog, it was just click-easy:

Here is another possibility, this time using the Ubuntu font.  Using this font the spaces between numbers can either we set to constant or proportional. So, if you are constraint by horizontal space, this might be something you want to try:
One last thing, the differences of options between typefaces suggests that the results are not the product of algorithms, instead they seem to have be created by a graphic designer. This guarantees unity in results.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

20+ useful Keynote keyboard shortcuts

Finally, last night out of frustration I googled Keynote's keyboard shortcuts. Wow, why did I do this before?  Knowing these shortcuts will help me be more efficient, and it also might help you. Note that I skipped the obvious and not included paste, smaller and out. If copy is c, paste is v. If bigger is +, smaller is −. If in is >, out is <.

This is a small subset of all the Keynote's shortcuts, and it is mainly for slide editing. One piece of advice, learn two or three shortcuts, practice them, and when you have automated them, then learn one or two more, practice them, and…

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Visual examples: seeking for a concept

You might remember professor's Jay Lehr 1985 article "Let there be stoning!" about the state of scientific talks. Inspired by it, I have been working on a slide stack about presentations . It is still work in-progress, but it has been a while since I posted some visuals, so here a sneak peek of it. Just a legal matter, all of the images under CC licenses and were taken either from Wikipedia or Flickr.

The point of this example is to seek unity, a concept, among the slides. Keynote or PowerPoint templates provide a unity concept, at the expense of death by Powerpoint.  Getting to that unity has proved, at least for me, extremely difficult. Going through this stack makes me uncomfortable knowing that although there is similarity there is no unity.