back to article Ken's magnificent seven diagram

“The holy grail is to spend less time making the picture than it takes people to look at it,” according to artist William Dobell. Achieving that goal takes some time, but the world of visualisation is exploding nevertheless. According to Ralph Lengler and Professor Martin Eppler of the University of Lugano, the latest …


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Informational diagrams … should take more time to look at than to create?

This could be argued to be true for works of art, … but surely not for diagrams used as information transmission tools! I think the opposite is the goal in this context (modulo time cost of diagram-maker(s) vs time cost of diagram-viewers).

Diagrams like this are a Drawn Once* Viewed Many medium, and as such every extra (single) minute spent improving the quality of the diagram leads to a reduction in the time spent by _each_ recipient. And each piece of information clearly expressed there reduces by [the number of people who need it] the amount of dialogue required before clarity and “same sheet” understanding is reached.

[* OK, they may well be revised and so on, but most often number of makers << number of viewers]

Not complaining about the article here, just about the appropriateness of the quote (unless meant ironically!), and <rant>the mentality of an increasing number of people, who seem to spew “information” without ever taking in, acting on, or reacting to, any data or questions that are sent to them.</rant>

Glad I got that off my chest.

p.s. I'm not locked to the “take a long time to make it so it's trivial to understand” view, but in general those in a position to be making the diagrams /should/ have the capability to make good ones that may be understood by more junior people (or those from a different field), and so not to do that smacks of laziness or arrogance (or, being generous, a genuine failure to realise the level of expression required to achieve understanding by the target audience).


The art of it

Thanks for your comment. I agree with you and subscribe to the view that it takes as long as it takes. My motivation for using the quote was really to do with the fact that it is my impression that most people don't use diagramming tools because it takes them to long to learn and to use - which is a pity. The tools must get easier to use and the users must get more encouragement perhaps...but art/design will always be something of a preserve of those in the know because to produce the best work requires a degree of dedication to learning the tool. So the quote - by an expert in his field - is to promote a discussion of ease of use vs functionality. It's definitely an issue. (The author).

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I Once Worked In...

...an enterprise where the largest cost of a video was the 5000 Management hours consumed viewing it.

HR would budget as much money for testing new programs as they alloted the creative and technical.

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I remember when...

A stencil was a bit of plastic with holes in it to guide your penmanship.

And if you didn't put it it he right place, you'd have to throw away the paper and start again rather than clicking on "undo".

Perhaps computers have made our lives easier.

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Eraser guard

I remember also having "eraser guards" which were like your plastic stencils, but razor thin metal to allow you to rub-out right upto the edge of a line, or into a corner without affecting the rest of the diagram.

You should've got one to save on paper and redrawing :)


ISOTYPE - (International System of TYpographic Picture Education)

Slightly related but interesting none-the-less...

There is an excellent exhibition at the V&A in London just now on ISOTYPE (International System of TYpographic Picture Education) a method of showing social, technological, biological and historical connections in pictorial form.

This method allows for diagrams to be produced very quickly and are also very quick and easy to understand, with the principle being that greater quantities are not displayed with larger pictograms but by greater number of the same-sized pictograms. This led to them being used in children's books and as educational material in the developing world.

Anyway, if you are near the V&A it is well worth popping in to see this exhibition.




Of course...

Of course, the diagram rarely stands alone, and context aids or hinders comprehension.

So if a series of diagrams are presented after their descriptions, and then one appears *before* its description, this can lead to a great deal of confusion. See also "mindmaps" and "floorplans". ;-)



Fair point. We need to standardise that, thanks.



Prior to MIME and ubiquotious email attachments, all my network diagrams (often for improved e-mail gateways and Internet access) for customers were drawn by hand in pen and faxed to them.

You learn many lessons about planning a diagram before starting, the need for white space, the benefit of rulers/straight lines and clarity of fonts through this process. If it hadn't run out of paper, the receiving fax quality could be highly variable and it paid to avoid the risk of lines being too thin, words being too small or icons being too crowded.

The advent of Visio was quite a revelation, but I still find myself using techniques I honed with pen and paper. I've just got to get my head around having colours to work with.



I wonder what Edward Tufte would have to say about that "Enterprise Service Design" monstrosity?

Is there a category for diagrams that make one less knowledgeable after they are viewed?

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