You must use the table microphone

Pictures can have literal, metaphorical, or conventional meaning. This picture, taken in a light-rail station in Seattle, exemplifies some of the issues with a picture’s “literalness” (or lack thereof). Must I interpret it as meaning “you must use the table microphone”?

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Warning: watch for warning signs ahead

Santiago de Chile’s Metro gets a little more crowded every year, not just with the many travelers converging on it as a result of the Transantiago grand plan, but also with warning messages. Are warning signs necessary? If so, are they reaching their purpose? Too often, I feel the warnings are not there to protect the users from physical harm but to protect the companies from litigation.

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Eye-popping bubbles

Representing quantitative information meaningfully raises two fundamental questions: how are the data encoded visually, and how is this encoding perceived—quantitatively, that is—by the audience? As a rule, encoding a quantitative variable by the size of a circle is ineffective, for at least two reasons.

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We have met the enemy, or have we?

Several participants of past workshops on oral presentations pointed me to an April 26 article from the New York Times, boldly titled “We have met the enemy and he is PowerPoint.” The article does trigger two observations in my mind.

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Lies, damned lies, and visual lies

In Hemispheres, the in-flight magazine of United Airlines, I recently spotted yet another perfect example of a visual lie, in an ad for United’s Economy Plus. The illustration represents as 45% an actual difference of 15% only—a threefold exaggeration.

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Don’t guess; ask

Don’t you hate it when software applications pretend to read your mind and to know what it is that you want to do next—especially when they get it wrong?

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A little space goes a long way

Space is the essence of page layout—at all levels of the page, from the overall appearance all the way down to a single mark. I notice a typical issue of insufficient space with bulleted lists on presentation slides and with hyperlinks displayed on the same line on Web pages.

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Use the subject as the subject

A reader asks about my feelings toward phrases such as “This paper will discuss” or “The
purpose of this document is to”. In a nutshell, I find nothing wrong with them (on the contrary)… at least, if they have the right focus, use the right verb form, and appear in the right place.

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Tying your Tuareg turban blindfolded

During a recent camel trek deep into the heart of the Sahara, I was eager to visualize the animal that had visited our bivouac at night and that our Tuareg guide had identified by its tracks as a fennec, so I turned to my Lonely Planet printouts for help. Alas, no pictures: text, text, and more text—even for how to tie your Tuareg turban!

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That’s not the way it is done

While resistance to change is an intrinsic facet of human nature, it never ceases to amaze me when it is exhibited by individuals whose lofty purpose in life is precisely to be imaginative—able to think for themselves, challenge false beliefs, and come up with inventive, original, groundbreaking concepts or solutions. I am referring to engineers, scientists, and other researchers.

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