Latest Reviews

June 23, 2011

Gamestorming - A Review by Gary Smith

If you are currently practicing design and are tired of using the same three or four techniques for the extraction, organization and presentation of material pertaining to your projects this book is worth having on your shelf. I know of one in our midst who has successfully used several of these techniques on a recent project. If you are looking for a higher-level approach to your design conundrum you won’t likely find it here.

A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers
by: Dave Gray, Sunni Brown, James Macanufo

Paperback: 288 pages… READ MORE »

Latest News

September 29, 2015

Bounded Irrationality - Supporting Users and Creating Communities

Call for Speakers!

CHIFOO’s 2016 Speaker Series, Bounded Irrationality - Supporting Users and Creating Communities, invites conversations with researchers, designers, and developers with stories of projects and challenges where a rational, user-centered approach yields results that seem less-than-rational.


Design is about solving problems. Makers are often told those we design for—the users—seek easy answers. These answers are arrived at “rationally.” Users are bound by predictable, limited amounts of time, knowledge and interest. They are bound and are understood by “bounded rationality.”  The influence of psychologist and economists trained us to frame solutions with this precept. Bounded rationality belies the experiences of delight and frustration in users. Perhaps gives designers a little too much credit for knowing the user.

Designers and developers create would-be solutions with the best of intentions.  To help us be productive, connect, and improve. To secure what is most important to us. Google and Amazon don’t always deliver the best results. Our Fitbits haven’t exactly helped us become Olympic-hopefuls. Governments try to provide high-tech security for more citizens. Often, those same citizens unwittingly… READ MORE »

Latest Commentary

November 9, 2009

Data Visualization With Circles, Spirals, and Other Round Things

In this post, I’ll be writing about using circles and spirals in data visualization. There are some interesting things you can do when you arrange your data circularly – benefits you don’t get from more traditional layouts. Of course, I’ll also discuss the drawbacks, too. None of these techniques are categorically superior to the alternatives.

This is certainly not an exhaustive review of the topic. There are many kinds of visualizations I won’t be able to explore in a blog post. The common thread here is simply “things I’ve found while researching another project I’m working on for my information visualization class.”

Nightengale’s Coxcomb

One of the earliest examples is Nightengale’s Coxcomb. This graph was created by Florence Nightengale during the Crimean War to advocate for better sanitation. It shows that the number of deaths due to preventable causes (blue wedges) exceeds the number of deaths due to wounds (red) and other causes (gray). It also shows the success of sanitation efforts – the decrease in preventable deaths in April 1855 corresponds to sanitation cleanup efforts in Turkey.

Figure 1: Nightengale’s Coxcomb

The major advantage of the circular layout of the coxcomb is the way months have a consistent placement around the axis. This makes it easier to do year-on-year comparisons. (This will be a recurring theme.)

Nightengale was careful to map data values to the area of wedges, not the radius. This solved one problem, but introduced another. Nightengale was avoiding the problem where area increases as the square of radius. Had she mapped her data values to the radius, this would have exaggerated the values, since a doubling of the radius would show a quadrupling of the area (Rehmeyr, 2009). But by avoiding that lie factor, Nightengale made it somewhat harder to compare months. You can somewhat easily tell that the radius for January 1855 is about twice as long as the radius of November 1854. But what of the area? People aren’t that good at estimating area, especially of odd shapes like wedges (or even rectangles with differing aspect ratios).

Teoria Generale Della Statistica

Figure 2 avoids the area/radius confusion of Nightengale’s coxcomb, by plotting the data as spokes on a wheel. It is also much less visually striking than the coxcomb. It’s okay, sometimes, to sacrifice some utility (but not honesty) to increase impact.

Figure 2: An early circular plot (Gabaglio, 1888)

The graph comes from Teoria...