Saturday, February 18, 2012

Visual examples: Three alternatives to using squares

Last night while standing at the cashier's line a magazine cover caught my eye by their use of a circle. Allow me to explain,  sometimes magazine covers (and slides) use circles to add text to a photograph, like in the image below.

Source: Flick
Now, what I saw yesterday was a pointy circle, something like this:

I think is this ingenious not only because it gets more attention, but also because it has more white space. An additional advantage is that straight lines make alignment easier.

Trick number two. This one comes from the Periodic Table of Typeface, where the elements are not enclose in normal squares, but in "pointy round squares", something like this:
 
where all but the top right corner are rounded. If the stroke is bigger, the effect will be stronger.  Cool effect, not nothing more than eye candy. But we can modified it get a visual communication booster.

Trick number three. What if we inverse the last effect and sharpen the round corners and round the sharp one? By itself this is no more than eye candy, but if we multiply it ....

bang!  We get a great "these 4 things belong together" effect like  the one shown above.

You might be thinking, "but Juan you just split a rounded square in four parts!". I know I just realize that... Anyhow,  is simple, clean, elegant. 

So there you have it. Three ways to escape the regular shapes. If you interested in how to actually do this, drop me a line on the comment section below.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Presentation Guru: Geoffery West

Geoffrey West is a theoretical physicist, a former president of the Santafe Institute, and a good speaker. "The surprisingly math and science of cities and corporations" is data driven talk, heavily data drive. Although the visuals are generally rocky and the structure is at times not clear, I love this talk. It leaved me in awe to learn and know more about it. Enjoy!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The use of clipart in presentations

The use of clipart in presentations is usually not advised. However not all clipart is bad. In this post I talk about how Silhouettes and Outlines can be good for slides.

This topic seems to be a complicated one, but it isn't. Presentations Pros are likely to advise us not to use clipart in our slides. I think we are wrong, or at least they haven't told us the whole truth. A better statement is "Bad clipart shouldn't be forbidden from presentations visuals, and good one should be used carefully". Pros use top quality clipart like in Obama's State of the Union address 2011—SOTU 2011— (click here to see it) or in The clock is ticking on Long Island design by Duarte, so saying no to all clipart can't possibly be right. It is not to say that the camera on the left is bad clipart. There are different types of clipart, but not all are appropriate for slides. So what is good and bad presentation clipart?
Source: clker.com

The camera on the left is not appropriate for scientific presentations, the one on the right might be. These two represent the abstract concept of a photo camera, the one of the left is found in museums where photographing is allowed, the one on the left may be for a children'S book or website. There is also clipart that tries to be more realistic, like this one:
Source: Wiki Commons
This is serious and could be consider aesthetic, but I wouldn't use it in a presentation. if I want to show detail, I would use a real photograph of a camera or an outline of the camera. In fact, outlines and silhouettes are good building blocks for slides, like in Obama's and Duarte's example.  In the latter, the maps are outlines and the houses are silhouettes.  Facebook's default avatars are also a example of good use of silhouettes.
Another further example is this Infinity car.
Source: all-silhouettes.com
Observe how there is only one color used, just like the good camera example above,  SOTU 2011, and The clock is ticking on Long Island. Note that it follows the idea of our museum camera, abstraction with more detail.If even more detail is require we can opt for outlines like this one:
Both are cars, but the latter allows to have more detail, while removing the reality of it. Serious silhouettes and outlines of objects are just fine for visuals. They add to the toolbox of visuals.
One good thing about clipart in general is that you can modify somebody's else work (provide the license allows it) if you get access to the vector graphics file, like .ai for Adobe Illustrator or .svg. In the svg case, you can use the free multi-platform software Inkscape.

The website all-silhouettes.com is a good source with bundles of high quality art, and it is free.

    Although there are many tutorials about the pen tool in Inkscape on the internet, the best reference is The Book of Inkscape by Dmitry Kirsanov. Another good source is the free online book Inkscape: Guide to a vector drawing program by Tamvjong Bah.

    Clipart should be used to graciously leverage  the visualization of general and abstract concepts.As a rule of thumb only one color, and its absence, should be used. To avoid the cliché of cheap bad cllpart, the less is more principle should be furthered enforced. This means, among other things, that the use of  cute, silly or childish art is out of order.

    The use of clipart in presentations is closer to the use of diagrams, technical drawing, i.e. blueprints, than of the use of art. Instead of thinking to use clipart think using of an object's outline or silhouette, as well as abstract symbols that represent an idea to the audience.