information design

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Swashbuckle cover.As a teen, I figured that if I wasn't going to sit in some field in France with a box of pastels earning a living, I might be able to be an illustrator. I don't illustrate very much anymore, and missed it—until I realized that illustration is just information design, which is very much part of what I do now. Take this drawing of a tobacco hornworm. It illustrated an article about Penn State research into natural substances that make crops taste bad to predatory insects. There are things included that likely only mattered to me, but some are there for specific groups. Colored pencil isn't my preferred medium, but at the time- 1991- Tobacco horn worm eating.there were a number of drawings of bugs hanging in the Frost Entymological Museum that were all done in colored pencil. I liked the tie-in, and thought people familiar with the Frost might get a sense of familiarity. The "stage set" features the walls and woodwork of the Victorian Manor. The cart is the same as those used for table side Caesar salads. The waiter's dress is from the Vic and the discarded dinners are specific menu items. The woman in the background is my ex, and the table base, just for me, is upside down- which is how I always saw them when I got to work. It all added depth to the illustration even though many readers probably didn't even get that it was a tobacco hornworm.

Cell cycle.That is all old stuff, though. The information that I include in recent "illustrations" has the purpose of conveying specific facts and ideas to students. Learning the material is an obvious prerequisite for real success, and often guides many of my design choices. Occasionally, as with this example, there's already imagery available that for some reason can't be used. I was shown this image of cell mitosis and asked to recreate it so it could be used in our online course. The circular presentation of the information appears to be standard across the sources that we looked at.Cell cycle. I kept it, and to reinforce the cyclical nature of the process overlapped the arrows. To reinforce the idea that cells appear to be static during 75% of this process and actually split during 25% of the process, I included images of the cell. Orientation was changed to facilitate label reading and colors were brought into line with others used in the course. Interesting stuff even without the pastels and Provence.

I'm curious if we could be contributing successful images to the wikipedia. An image of a cell cycle exists in the wikipedia, for instance, but it's possible that this one may be useful as well. Could it be uploaded, given a creative commons license, and attributed to ets at Penn State? Instead of struggling to maintain resource libraries and repositories of our own, we could add our authority to the public knowledge base.

Incidentally, these are two of the pertinent blogs that I try to follow:

InfographicsNews
Always interesting, information and opinion with noteworthy examples of the presentation of information .
information aesthetics
A blog about data visualization and communication. Great examples on a regular basis.

5 Comments

Brad Kozlek said:

Wondering if I can comment on this post..

dave said:

It looks that way; thanks for checking. Brett was rebuffed when he tried to say this:

"When you work on future class/course projects and do illustrations or graphics, please write your thoughts down on how you approached your work. We instructional designers can learn a great deal from this!"

Adam said:

I love the illustration you did of the cell cycle. I think including renderings of the actual cells gives the design real impact. It gives it an organic touch that draws me in and engages me with the information being presented.

Thanks for posting the two links -- I don't know if you saw it, but the "I Met the Walrus" infographic video blew me away.

dave said:

The interview hit me the same way, Adam- everything about it just works so well. Their style is perfect.

Adam said:

I love the illustration you did of the cell cycle. I think including renderings of the actual cells gives the design real impact. It gives it an organic touch that draws me in and engages me with the information being presented.

Thanks for posting the two links -- I don't know if you saw it, but the "I Met the Walrus" infographic video blew me away.

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April 18, Symposium 2009; reimagine.
New content. Symposium 2008.Digital Commons at Penn State. Improve the workplace; hire for variety.

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