Backlog: Viz workshop last Friday

| communication, visual

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

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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