Backlog: Viz workshop last Friday

I went to David W. Gray's workshop last Friday to learn more about visualizations because of my research interest in tracking, visualizing, and supporting technology adoption in large companies. I expected a Tufte-esque critique of the ways data are presented in graphical form, with practical advice on presenting complex information easily. Instead, the workshop turned out to be one on visual thinking and brainstorming. Not quite what I expected, but still good.

My key take-aways from that were:

  • When communicating with people, think of attention, retention, and transfer. I particularly like how he emphasized that this spells "art."
  • Always carry a pocket-sized digital camera. Always. You never know when you're going to see something you can use for your presentation. Hmm, my current camera is just a little too large for this, although if I always carry a zipcase with my essentials (wallet, cellphone, Moleskine, camera, business cards) then I can take it no matter which bag I bring.
  • Tom Wujec demoed a *totally* awesome sketching / electronic-index-card tool that makes me wish I had a tablet PC. I might not even mind going on Microsoft Windows for it. It totally rocks.

A number of other participants thought that one of the most powerful points was the idea of writing thoughts on Post-it notes or other easily-rearrangeable media, one thought per note. I was familiar with the idea because of my interest in tools for thinking (mind-mapping, brainstorming, etc.), productivity, and communications, and that kind of thinking comes naturally to me now. I do my speeches, thoughts, and even my school papers on, well, paper form before I get them into the computer, although sometimes I'll start with a blog rant.

Hmmm. I think what I really wanted from the workshop were more examples of how to support communication by presenting complex information beautifully, like the way his company presents business processes. There were a few examples very quickly glossed over as part of his corporate bio, and I really wish there were more. Another powerful addition could be an exercise where we'd take data and figure out how to present it, perhaps working in groups and presenting it to the class. That would have been tons of fun, and it would have made the most of Dave's presentation consulting experience with Xplane.

Oh, and it would've been nice to see more of Dave's sketches. =) He's a fun visual artist, and the sketches would've really punched things up. Granted, it's a lot of work to do that with the Lessig method of one gazillion little slides, but an occasional gapingvoid-style thing would be terrific.

I gave him some feedback on the workshop and on his presentation style. He's trying to get the hang of the Lessig method—fast-paced, lots of slides. This takes a fair bit of work to pull off, but it's great when you can speak ahead of the slides instead of reading off them - there's such a difference between using slides as cues and as punchlines! I haven't given a mind-blowing Lessig-style presentation myself, although I remember my operating systems students' feedback that my lectures felt a lot like ads (in a good way!) when I was teaching them about OS history. I remember listening to a Lessig presentation and noting how his speech was slightly ahead of the slides, and I also remember being impressed with Michael Geist's presentation. They are teh c00l.

Dave seems more interested in doing instructional design and packaging this as a workshop that other people can give, so he didn't want to bring too much of himself into it - which is a pity, really, as he's an interesting character and infusing more of the workshop with his personality would liven it up. =) I think he'll do well in instructional design. He's particularly interested in video. Might be cool.

The main value of the event came from the conversations that it sparked, I think. I met a lot of people there whom I'd like to keep in touch with, including Dave Gray.

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