Monday, November 17, 2008

Color is relative video clip

Gabe had some questions about my last post, and I realized it would be fun to use a Jing video capture on his cool Color is Relative website. He's built some interactive pages demonstrating the relativity of our color perception, based on our recent classes with Dick Nelson. The video above shows just one example. Check it out!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Cool tool

Today I discovered a new free tool that I think will be very helpful. It's called Jing, and you can use it to capture, annotate, and share screen shots, and make short videos of your screen. I captured the image above from their website, and added their tag line, "Visual conversation starts here", in the blue annotations. The intuitive interface lets you highlight or frame areas in the image, and use arrows to point to areas of interest. You control the colors, fonts, and sizes.

Here's a 34-second screen capture video:

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The six secrets of sticky ideas

Short and sweet today - just the facts. From the book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by brothers Chip Heath and Dan Heath. I highly recommend it.
The six secrets of sticky (memorable) ideas - they are:

Hint: it spells SUCCESs.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Campaign photos

Yard sign

Bumper sticker

T-shirt: Ray of Automatic T-shirt Printing in Kahului

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Beyond Bullet Points

We developed another presentation last week, and I used Cliff Atkinson's Beyond Bullet Points approach to structure it. It wasn't a full-on BBP presentation, because a large portion of the time was devoted to working sessions, and because my partner wasn't that familiar with the approach, but I found it a helpful development tool. The Word template helped me to focus, order, and limit our ideas. I sketched out ideas for some of the slides' graphics, and actually wound up using some of my crude sketches in the final presentation, as the hand-drawn look, though casual, conveyed the important concepts. I kept a consistent look and theme through the "call to action" and three key point slides.

There were some glitches, but they could be traced to the rushed timeframe and limited review cycle time, rather than the methodology.

The title slide and 8 key BBP slides (Setting, Role, Point A, Point B, Call to Action, and 3 Key Points) are shown above. Get a copy of the BBP Storyboard Sketchpad PDF (below) here. Also see my May 26 post, Walking his talk.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Campaign season

A friend of mine, Michael Howden, is running for the Upcountry seat on the Maui County Council, and he's asked me to help with some of the publicity aspects. We've ordered signs and banners printed with the design above. Check out his website for his take on local issues.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Film and veil

Films and veils are two visual phenomena that Dick Nelson teaches about in his Interactions of Color class. We learned to recognize them, how they behave, and how to recreate the phenomena. This photo, taken yesterday by my husband, has an example of both.

Unlike solid objects, which are opaque, films and veils are both translucent, allowing us to partially see through them. Common examples of films are sunglasses, tinted glass in windows, and bright or dark colored tissue paper. Shadows also behave as films. Films make everything behind them appear darker. Veils make everything behind them appear lighter. Examples are bridal veils, white tissue paper, and atmospheric mist.

In the photo above, both sails have portions that are opaque, and portions that behave as veils. In addition, the dark top of the sail on the right acts as a film. The spray raised by the sailors' boards is a veil.

Our eyes and brains automatically take in all this information as we make sense of our world. Artists learn to see these details to create the effects they want.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Show and Tell

Dick Nelson hosted a "Show and Tell" this week, where a handful of artists shared some recent work. Sue's quilt miniature was set off nicely by her top and Donnette-Gene's!

I showed a mind map summary of color class concepts:

Monday, May 26, 2008

Walking his talk

In the last few days, I've been studying the work of Cliff Atkinson. I've ordered his book, Beyond Bullet Points, from Amazon. The second edition just came out last year. He has developed a presentation formula that really makes sense to me, using the classic structure of stories to design a presentation. I'll tell more about that another day.

You've probably experienced many PowerPoint presentations in your life, most bad. Cliff co-authored a paper with Richard Mayer, a researcher at UCSB, which gives insight into why they can be so mind-numbing. The fundamental reason is that they don't correspond to how humans take in and make sense of information.

"The design of PowerPoint presentations should be compatible with how people learn."
The typical PowerPoint presentation contains slide after slide of text, which the presenter often reads to the audience. Because we have parallel channels for processing visual and verbal input, our verbal channel gets overloaded, reading and translating the written words plus hearing what the speaker says, while our visual channel has little to do (look at the speaker, the room, other audience members) and does not receive any reinforcing input. If a presentation is to inform, the speaker should understand how best to get their message across, which is to use both the visual and the verbal channels. Give the eyes something relevant to look at, and speak the message they are trying to convey. As Bob Horn says, let words do what they do best, and let pictures do what they do best. By stimulating both channels, the brain automatically seeks to make connections between the new information in the presentation, and relate it to existing knowledge.

What I mean by "walking his talk" is that this paper exemplifies the format that Cliff recommends for presentations. It is a "notes page" view handout from PowerPoint, which shows the slide on the top of the page, and the speaker's notes or narration on the bottom half. You can see that there is an engaging graphic on the slide, with a headline that summarizes the current topic, and useful details are given in the narration. The paper, in PDF, is "Five ways to reduce PowerPoint overload". This is one of the most succinct and informative explanations I've seen about why to use visual communication, and how to do it effectively.

Cliff's websites are well worth exploring. There is one for each version of the book. The new site is a focus for a "Beyond Bullet Points" online learning community, so much of the content is restricted to members (currently $25 annually), but there are still a lot of free resources, including PDF downloads of chapters 2 and 3 of the new book, and templates for Word and PowerPoint. Here is Cliff's new website, corresponding to the 2007 edition of the book. The older website represents his business, Sociable Media, and also has chapter and template downloads, plus a lot of articles and interviews, and an archived forum (new discussion is moved to the new site). Here is the website corresponding to the 2005 edition of the book. I invite you to explore these resources to find inspiration, rationale, and tools for improving any presentation you may need to give.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Working, part 2

More work I've been doing lately is freelance mind mapping for a software company called NovaMind. They make the NovaMind mind mapping program I use for planning, organizing, note taking, and more. They've just revamped their website, and a lot of the mind maps in the informational pages on mind mapping are mine, and I'll be working on mind maps to illustrate some of the pages that don't yet have them.

The illustrations in this post come from this page, Mind Mapping for Students. While I did all but one of the mind maps on the page, the webmaster did the nifty "cover flow" gadget at the top of the page that scans through the mind maps, and the automatic magnifying lens that gives you a closer view when you move your cursor over an image.

See this page, and others linked from it (in the Mind Mapping menu on the right) for more of my work. Check out the informative video (8 minutes) on the NovaMind home page to see just how useful and versatile this program is. I couldn't be without it: it helps me think!

Thursday, May 22, 2008


Wow, it's been over two months since my last post. Like many bloggers, that means I've been busy with higher priority, i.e., rent-paying, things. Plus, I feel more comfortable posting finished work and considered thoughts, rather than ramble about raw work in progress. So today, I'm posting links to some of what I've been working on lately.

A couple weeks ago, I went to Oahu for a meeting on a Clean Water Act water quality project with the state Department of Health. The lead contractor on the project is a woman named Robin Knox, who has water quality expertise, and she asked me to partner with her to help create informative graphics and facilitate the workgroup meetings we will be convening. She gave a repeat performance on Maui today. This PDF is a good summary of the project, and the purpose of the meeting. Our presentation (PowerPoint file, with speaker's notes) is here. Both, plus a handout, are linked from this web page (scroll down a ways until you see a little yellow "New" flag and "May 7".) Next steps are to convene working groups for two more meetings and to submit a report of the group's recommendations.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Art & science

In Dick's color class Tuesday we were exploring colored light, and talking about the difference in colors between sunset and sunrise. Kit Gentry proposed a theory about more color at sunset due to more moisture and particulates in the air. I confirmed this later in The Nature of Light and Colour in the Open Air, by Marcel Minnaert. I was reminded again of the common drives shared by artists and scientists, curiosity and exploration, and their common disciplines of observation and experimentation.

I love this quote from Edward Tufte, because it helps me make sense of my parallel interests:

"Science and art have in common intense seeing, the wide-eyed observing that generates empirical information."
(from Beautiful Evidence, 2006, p. 9)

Artists and scientists used to be the same person - daVinci, Goethe - the modern gulf between them is artificial and detrimental. This is one of the ideas of Dan Pink's A Whole New Mind: We need to unite these world views. Dick's class does. It teaches artists to see more carefully and scientifically, and shows how this rational approach can enhance their creativity.

This is why I'm so excited about visual thinking and visual communication - it is consistent with more of who we are.

(Photo by Kit Gentry)

Saturday, February 23, 2008

VizThink wiki page

Today I created a new page on the VizThink wiki, in order to share my summaries on each session. I'll be blogging about each session individually, but for now, at least a jpg of my mind map summary of each session's highlights is available.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


Color class, Feb. 19

Tuesday was the seventh week (of ten) in Dick Nelson's Interactions of Color class. I'm way behind in blogging about it! He starts each session with an exercise to introduce the day's topic. The students spend some time working in pairs. Here, they've talked through how they would create an illusion of a veil on a given composition (covered in the last two weeks), and are starting to cut and paste to create the illusion of a spotlight, the new topic.

They were given a composition something like this, and told to choose colors (from a set given) which would create the illusion of a veil (such as a piece of tracing paper, or thin fabric) over the elliptical area outlined.

Illusion of a veil

Then they were asked how they would create the illusion of a spotlight on the same composition, and given swatches of color to cut and paste into position. The resulting compositions looked like this:

Illusion of a spotlight

There followed a discussion of the differences between creating the two illusions. A veil lightens, or tints, all colors behind or underneath it. A spotlight causes all areas outside it to appear darker, or shaded (like a film, an earlier subject). What they have in common is their unifying effect on a composition, and they can also create focus, mood, or mystery.

What do these illusions have to do with art? An artist who wants to create a particular mood, or render a particular scene or effect, can use this knowledge to create the effect they want. A misty atmosphere or fog can be thought of as a series of veils. Trees and other objects farther away are lighter, with less contrast to their surroundings. A scene with some brightly lit areas will have other areas of deep shadow. Scenes rendered without this awareness will look flat and false, no matter how realistically drawn.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Visual summaries

I've been reviewing my notes and summarizing my learning from the VizThink conference. I find mind maps useful for this, and for referring to later, though they lack the hand-drawn images that my composition book notes contain. This image contains summaries of all 8 sessions I attended in the two days (two general and two breakout sessions each day), which is actually readable when printed on two pages. I've also put each session in a mind map of its own.

A couple of other VizThink attendees have also done interesting summaries. My husband did his in a nice one-page visual format

and posted it on his blog, VisualThinkScape.

And graphic facilitator Brandy Agerbeck took her visual notes on index cards, and posted them to the conference wiki. Here's her photo of her cards and markers

and here's her wiki page, with her cards from each session.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Trying new things

One of the first events in the VizThink conference was a very quick "learn to draw" session with Dave Gray, CEO of Xplane. He had us draw some very basic shapes, then taught us to "take the stick figure to the next level". People instinctively start with the head, but he recommends drawing the head last.

  1. Start with the body, which communicates the action
  2. Draw the legs next
  3. Then the arms
  4. Finally, the head
Dave sees this kind of drawing not as art, but as a means to communicate, and encourages everyone to try it. His argument runs:
Every 5 year-old can draw
You were once a 5 year-old
Therefore, you can draw.
It doesn't have to look just like the real thing for someone else to understand it, so you don't have to be an artist to use drawing to communicate.

Here is his popular 2005 blog post on how to draw a stick figure. In this one, he starts with the body, as above, but draws the head second. And here is his 2007 post on how to draw a stick dog. This uses the body first, head last process. I think his thinking on the best order has evolved over the past couple years.

I drew this picture on my laptop, using the touchpad and a new program I tried at the conference, Alias SketchBook Pro (now Autodesk SketchBook Pro). It was designed to be used with a tablet PC and works well for artists who use a Wacom interactive display or tablet. It has a number of drawing tools like pencil, ballpoint pen, marker, chisel tip, brush, and airbrush, and a unique semi-circular menu that sits in the lower left or lower right corner of your screen. I've only begun to explore it, but it looks fun and powerful!

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Bob Horn at VizThink '08

Nancy Duarte and Cliff Atkinson interviewed Bob Horn about his work during the first general session of the conference.

Nancy described his book, Visual Language: Global Communication for the 21st Century as "an encyclopedia of visual language and visual thinking" and said it was a big influence on her. (See my earlier blog post on the recent republication of this book.) Bob claims that visual language is a new language being born, an international auxiliary language. He defines it as the "tight integration of words and visual elements". He uses a familiar and simple example of this tight integration, the "one way" sign:

Neither the words alone, nor the arrow alone, convey the meaning. You need both.

Much of his work lately has been in the form of large murals, which can convey both an overview, or big picture view, and details. He says these can help us "think bigger thoughts" about the complex problems we face, because they provide a way of "keeping the entire strategic context in front of us". He thinks that "large murals should invite people to make their own patterns, associations, and objections." Ideally, they provide information which allows us to form thoughtful opinions, and make reasoned decisions, considering the multitude of factors and perspectives involved.

Here is the leftmost one-quarter of a large timeline mural on management of nuclear waste in England:

Bob pointed out that murals can convey emotion as well as information.

I attended Bob's breakout session. Here is the session description. My mind map notes from the breakout session are at

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

VizThink08 conference

I just got home from the VizThink conference in San Francisco. It was an inspirational and educational 4 days: 2 days in a pre-conference infographics workshop with former Newsweek graphics director Karl Gude, and 2 days of conference sessions with other greats in the world of visual thinking and visual communication. I'll be posting more pictures and notes from it soon.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Visual deception 2: 3 colors appear as 2

The second color deception exercise in the Albers/Nelson curriculum is to make 3 colors appear as 2. In this case, there are two ground colors, and the figure color is chosen such that on each ground, it appears to be the same color as the opposite ground. That's pretty abstract - here's what it looks like:

And here's the proof that the two figure colors are the same, and different from the two grounds:

Again, the grays were taken from my array in this post.

For this deception to work, the ground colors need to be closely related, and the figure color must be right in between them.

Monday, January 21, 2008

What's wrong with these arrays?

In week 2 of color class, Dick gave each student a set of color chips and asked them to sort them into an array, discarding any that were not part of the "family". In the two arrays above, there is one imposter in each family. Can you spot them?

Answer: In the top row, the leftmost rectangle is not part of the family. If you think in terms of the pigment primaries (cyan, magenta, and yellow), it has yellow in it, which none of the others in that row do. In the bottom row, the imposter is the second from the left. It leans toward magenta more than any of the others.

Here are the arrays with the imposters removed:

Once you have an array of related hues, you'll notice the fluting I pointed out in a previous post. If you look at an edge of one of the child colors, you'll notice it seems to glow with the color of the rectangle on the opposite side of it. This is a strong indication that you've identified family members.

Something interesting happens with certain color choices for parents. Would you have predicted that this gray was the child of these pink and green parents?

How about in these contexts?

Look for the magenta and green glows along the edges of the children.

What's happening here? Magenta and green are opposites on the color wheel, or complements. When you mix complements, you get gray.

Here is another complementary mix. The child seems to favor the yellow parent a little, rather than being neutral gray, indicating that I didn't quite choose complements for parents. But the glowing effect along the edges, called "halation", is quite nice.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Visual deception 1: 3 colors appear as 4

This is the first of the "visual deceptions" we are studying in Dick Nelson's "Interaction of color" class. Many of the principles are easiest to recognize and learn from in shades of gray (values), before trying them in color.

I chose my values from the array I created for the last post.

Here is a proof that they are the same:

This one is quite interesting. If you look at the horizontal bar, doesn't it look as if it changes color right at the boundary between light and dark?

But Dick says, "If you can push it, why not SHOVE it?" Meaning, really emphasize the effect. To do that, you have to recognize what causes the illusion, and what variables you can manipulate to heighten it. In this case, making the ground values as different as possible from each other is what does the trick. This is what he terms "exploitation".

Here, if asked to order these values from lightest to darkest, I would say white, the right gray strip, the left gray strip, then black. But in reality, both gray strips are the same middle gray.

What are the principles involved in this illusion? The figure color must be related to both ground colors, in other words, it is a child of the two parents. The ground colors should differ from each other in both hue and value. (Here, they differ only in value. I will explore this illusion in hue, or color, in a later post.)

So what's the point? The point is, a color looks different depending on its background. So don't use one color on two different backgrounds and expect the viewer to "read" it as the same - they won't.

Eye training: discriminating value

Dick Nelson has started a new round of his 10-week color class, "Interaction of Color", based on his training with Josef Albers. The students are Maui artists in a variety of media. I volunteered to be his assistant, so I "drive" the computer during demonstrations, and he has me review and comment on his assignment handouts to make sure they're as clear as possible.

In the first class, one of the "discovery" exercises was to sort a set of black, white, and gray strips into an array of equal steps. (See this post on arrays.) The idea is for the value change between pairs to be even, as the distance between stair steps is even.

We are using Adobe Illustrator for this class. It has a function called "blend" which will create intermediate colors between two objects. This can be a smooth gradient blend, or discrete steps, which is what we are using. Illustrator appears to use a linear interpolation to create its blends. We don't perceive the resulting steps as being visually equal. (We'll go into the technical explanation of that later in the course.) He wanted to make a point of this, so we will learn to trust our own eyes, and make our own judgments, not just trust the computer results "blindly".

The arrays at the top of this post illustrate the difference. The top array was produced by the blend function in Illustrator. I built the values in the second one by repeatedly finding the middle value between two extremes. The differences are most pronounced at either end. Looking at the top row, at the light end, the jump from white to the first gray produced by Illustrator is too great. We can imagine a large number of intermediate grays. Then the difference from the second to third does not "feel" as large as from the first to the second. Similarly, at the dark end of the Illustrator row, the final gray is almost black, so that feels like a small step, while the step leading up to it feels larger. In my array, on the bottom, the steps from one value to the next seem more even, so if you were walking up them, you wouldn't stumble.

If you click on the image to see the large version, you may notice an interesting phenomenon when you look at individual gray strips. They appear to have a fluted appearance, as if each rectangle had a gradient, from left to right, of darker to lighter gray. But each is a single, solid shade of gray, which you can prove to yourself if you block off its neighbors. This phenomenon has to do with how we perceive. What we see depends on the context.

The whole point of the class is to increase our awareness of, and sensitivity to, the facts of our visual perception, so we can use that knowledge to create the effects we want.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

The meeting game

What game are we playing? Maybe we need some ground rules.

This evening, I was reflecting on a meeting I participated in recently. It was reasonably productive, as meetings go, but I perceived a lack of focus, and thought we could have accomplished more if we'd had some ground rules. I started thinking about ground rules, and how to introduce them. Why does that notion seem so foreign? It's as if we assume that just because we all speak English, we assume we know how to hold a meeting and get something done. Individually, we each know how to get something done. But our instinctive or habitual approach may not work for everyone in our group.

What if we all decided to play our favorite game at the same time? That's how I felt at this meeting:

One person mentions a topic or raises a question: A basketball is in play. Someone answers, kicking the ball. Oops, are we playing soccer? Someone else lobs in a football. Next, a tennis ball. Another, a baseball. Now - what's that - it's a whiffleball! Oh, now there's a shuttlecock in the air! Wait, a bocci ball! A bowling ball! Juggling pins! Oranges! Apples! Knives! Flaming batons! Wow, this is exciting! Oh - were we supposed to be having a meeting?!?!? Hmmm....