Sunday, July 14, 2013

A word on visuals: Redrawing a diagram

Scientist and engineers need diagrams to express ideas, and so they make it into a presentation's visual stack. Some caution is necessary when inserting diagrams into a presentation's visual stack.  Some could come in the form of a scanned document, some could come from a cropped pdf, or a image file. Biology Professor Zen Faulkes  has also written about the topic of redrawing here.

Here is an example of a diagram that needs to be redrawn:
If I would have inserted this diagram as it is there would  have been several problems, including
  • Not all text would have been legible. 
  • The diagram would have included information the audience doesn't need.
  • The diagram might have looked pixelated.
In other words, I would have lost control over it. I can recover the control by redrawing the diagram. Nowadays it is fairly easy to do this. High quality SVG maps are released under public domain or Commons Creative licenses. Plus, open source for manipulating vector graphics are not only free-of-charge, but also multiplatform.  Here is end result of my remake.
Finished slide

The actual colors (see below) are the result of the different transparency value assigned to each country and the slide background. I added  the color legend and the result of the text on Keynote. In fact I animated the color legend to layer the information presented on the slide.

As I mentioned the finished map does not come directly from the vector graphics program. Here is the raw version. Note how the light green turns dark and viceversa in the finished result. This is a result of the dark blue background. That color is also playing the role of the ocean. The new diagram is not 100% the same as the original one. It zooms-in more than the original. In the latter the whole  black sea and the southern part of Italy are shown, but do I needed them? No. 
Slide's raw version right out of Inkscape
Are there other benefits in remaking a diagram? The new diagram is now consistent with the style of my overall visual stack. I could also reuse the diagram in a written document.

Should all diagrams be redrawn? No. Some diagrams might be just fine as they are. Also there is the practical issue of time. This takes time on preparing a talk. In case of doubt, use the time to rehearse, not to redraw. And if you think you might need the diagram as a building block of for research presentation, redraw it after the talk and use it on the next one. Remember that a raw version could be reuse in a written document.  

Saturday, July 6, 2013

How to improve the text on a slide

On this post I show to improve the text by using compress fonts and all caps text. I also show 2 variants to place white text over a white background.

I obviously like to doing slides. So after an in intense last weeks of doing non-photographic ones, I was in the mood today to experiment. Some context, I was watching the New York Times' dining section videos, which have a strong typography and after some minutes I fired up Keynote and started to play with serif fonts

It didn't take long to open Wiki-Media's Picture Of The Day (POTD) collection, where I found a picture of the 1986 Challenger disaster. The picture serves as an analogy of things that can go wrong. I cropped it to an aspect ratio of 4:3, scale it to 1024 × 768 so inserted it into a slide. That makes a full-bleed slide, but I also wanted to add some text: Causes of error. Here are 4 variants of the same image and same text:

I like the bottom right better.  Although all 4 use the same Trade Gothic typeface, the bottom ones use its Heavy Compress variant.

Compress fonts are great space savers. Both slides on the top use Regular Trade Gothic. The top left text has a size of 156pt, the top right 118pt, meanwhile the bottom slides use Heavy Compress Trade Gothic has a size 170pt (right) and 209 (left).

Another question is the all caps text.  For short title like this one, all caps is fine. Research shows* that the idea that all caps text is harder to read is a myth. A more important issue on readability is the white text over white background positioning. You don't necessarily have to change the text color to make your text readable. On the computer screen it might look fine to read the, but on the LCD projector it might not be readable. Here are 2 alternatives:
You can either give the text a shadow (middle) or you can place a semi-transparent black background underneath the text (right). Usually 30-40% opacity is a enough.

In conclusion
  • Use fonts that have (heavy) compress variants. Roboto and League Gothic are 2 good free options. Play with available type variant and choose something you like.
  • Don't shy away from using all caps in text.
  • It is possible to use white text over white background
* Weinschenk, S. 100 things every designer need to know about people. 2011 New Riders