Friday, March 14, 2008

Information Design

I'm updating and revising arthropod fact sheets at work. I genuinely enjoy this part of my job, where the free rein I'm afforded to wed science with education and a little art means the sky's the limit. And with all that rein, one of the things I've come up with is the above chart: a 2"x 2" diagram to sit unobtrusively in the corner of each fact sheet, showing an arthropod's life cycle activity by month over a calendar year. Pardon the incompleteness; it's a crud prototype. Whether such quick-reference visuals will be helpful to the primarily non-science audiences reading these fact sheets is a big "?". I would think so, but then...I walk around with a collection vial in my purse.

There are a lot of passerby here, some regulars, and rarely comments. I'd really like your opinion... Would you consider this a useful thing on a fact sheet? Do you have any experience with visual design of arthropod biology?

Such charts are really not original. A quick google search and consult with a colleague didn't yield anything quite like the above, but there were others -- more complex and snazzy. This colleague of mine, a seasoned entomologist, suggested keeping the chart simple given its intended size and the audience... Just before lending me a book by Edward Tufte. Tufte is an expert in information design, among other things. My colleague, apparently a big fan of Tufte's, explained that the author and lecturer obtained a NASA PowerPoint presentation that was associated with the mission of space shuttle Columbia a few years back. He used it to make an argument about how the use of PowerPoint effectually glossed over the technical errors that led to Columbia's explosion -- and the loss of several astronauts -- upon the shuttle's re-entry. Egads, that's pretty heavy.

I doubt my arthropod charts as a fact sheet compliment will cause any space shuttles to crash. But they might -- just might -- be that extra enlightenment to cause pause before spraying a pesticide.

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