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Are you doing this simple thing to help think “Big Picture”?

Posted by Plish on May 12, 2016

We’ve all done it. We forward reams of information to people in preparation for a meeting.  It’s convenient and it saves trees.  But there’s a problem.  We may be unwittingly influencing how the reader thinks about the information.

Researchers have found that how we consume information  determines how we think.  In short, when we view information in a digital format, we tend to hone in on details and think more concretely.

On the other hand, when we consume the same information in an analog fashion (on paper), we have a tendency to think much more abstractly and ‘big picture ‘.

Now, when CEOs were asked what the most important leadership quality is, the majority cited  creativity.  The second quality -integrity, and third, global thinking.  Those are all pretty abstract concepts. Yet, we are consuming so much of our information digitally and accidentally narrowing our thought processes.

So what’s the one thing we should do to make sure we look at the big picture?

Think about why we’re reading what we’re reading.

In other words, ask yourself if what you’re reading needs laser focused thinking or big picture, abstract thinking.

If you need to think ‘big picture’, then print out your email/presentation/document/etc.  If you are totally committed to not using tree-derived paper, then you can start using tree-free papers made from alternate materials.   If you don’t want to print stuff out at all, then gather information that helps establish the context of what you’re reading.  Deeply understand the context before starting to read.  This will help you deal with the information in a more broad-minded way.

If you’re prepping for a brainstorm, or in a brainstorm, pass things around in paper format.  Make copies and circulate them around.  Make it easy for people to make notations, mark things up, to encounter ideas without the borders of a screen.

If you’d like to be laser focused, if you need to understand the facts, then just read digitally.

Remember, reflect on your purpose for reading information. It’ll make you a better thinker and a better do-er.





Posted in Brain Stimulation Tools, brainstorming, cognitive studies, Conveying Information, Creative Thinking Techniques, creativity, culture of innovation, Information Visualization, innovation, problem solving | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Designing and Curating Perceptions of Vodou (Part Deux)

Posted by Plish on November 8, 2014

At the end of my last post on the Vodou Exhibition at Chicago’s Field Museum, (you might want to click the link and give it a read if you want to come up to speed,) I mentioned that I’d visit the exhibition again  and see if my thoughts changed.

I did.

They didn’t.

Friday night was an event in which Chicago’s Haitian community welcomed the new exhibit with delicious verve (See Figure 1 below).  It was a great opportunity to speak with artists and others about the exhibit, to get their opinions.

Many of theirs were similar to mine.

However, I did do something different this time. I spent more time looking up at the banners, and I spent more time on the artifacts that didn’t appear to be from secret societies.  (I didn’t just look, I studied, read, worked at really trying to understand.) In the end, this lightened the experience considerably, but did it dispel the overall dark vibe of the exhibit?


What will help?

My suggestions for event would be the following.

  1. Change the banners that are used for publicity.  They contain Secret Society Lwa.  Do something lighter.
  2. Tell a story with the exhibition.  Start with the misconceptions you want to dispel, the points you want to get across. Then start dispelling and telling the story of Haiti and Vodou. Explain the day to day in Haiti and where Vodou fits.  Show how it interacts with other religions – perhaps even how families often practice Catholicism and Vodou simultaneously.
  3. Build an elevated area that is behind a red curtain (or make the curtain look like a forest covered mountainside. )  Entitle that section: “Inside Vodou’s Secret Societies”.  Maybe put a small disclaimer at the beginning saying small children might be disturbed by what’s inside.  Put those Secret Society artifacts (an example of which is in Figure 2 below), behind the curtain and out of the main stream of the exhibit.  Make sure it’s not somewhere in the middle of the exhibit.  The Secret Societies are not mainstream and mixing these artifacts in with the everyday artifacts mischaracterizes what many people experience in everday Vodou.  However, Secret Societies need to be referenced in the everyday exhibits- after all, they did indeed impact Haitian life. I also believe that ‘hiding’ the Secret Society artifacts will do another thing: people will slow down.  When people are in fearful situations, they tend to move more quickly. If you want people to move slowly and observe – hide the dark stuff.
  4. Children are noticeably absent from many of the videos and explanations.  Of the Haitians I spoke with, all of them had non-intimidating memories of Vodou as a child.  They remember the brightness, the music, the activity on Holidays.  If a child can feel it, adults will too.
  5. Move explanations closer to artifacts and make them readable without having to bend neck or body.  Bring banners closer to eye level.  Create exhibits that allow the most visitors to stand straight and tall.  Haitians wanted this (and still do!) and Vodou helped them.
  6. Include more ways for people to interact and touch.  Granted, the artifacts at the exhibition are were used in Vodou and as such, are not open to touching.  But, there are other ways to help people to hear, taste, feel, smell, touch.  Drumming is key to Vodou.  Let people make virtual drums (or real ones!) Get innovative!
  7. Provide more of the beauty of Haiti! More green, more color, breezes, salt water aroma, music, you get the idea.  Vodou is about the interconnectedness of all things, life, death, sky, earth, plants, water, etc.  Set more of the context, not just socio-politically (which incidentally, this exhibition did a better job of doing.)
  8. End the exhibition showing how Haiti is growing (albeit slowly and painfully at times) and what challenges lie ahead.  Reiterate how Vodou has been a misunderstood part of the process, that Vodou comes from the heart of the Haitian culture and it’s been responsible for establishing a spirit of  (and physical!) freedom in a nation.  Show bright artwork that comes from Haitian artists, even those works from those mounted by spirits.

With the above changes, I believe the exhibit would better accomplish its goal of dispelling misconceptions of Vodou.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and what you’d do!

Consul General of Haiti, Lesly Conde

Figure 1. Consul General of Haiti, Lesly Conde

Secret Society Lwa

Figure 2. Secret Society Lwa

Yes, I even spent more time looking at the mirrots

Figure 3  Yes, I even spent more time looking at the mirrors.  This was one of the more mellow looking mirrors

Posted in Arts, Authenticity, Conveying Information, creativity, curation, Design, Education, Experience, Information Visualization, Politics, prayer, Religion, Spirituality, The Human Person | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

How Curation and Design Didn’t Dispel the Darkness of Vodou (Which is NOT Voodoo)

Posted by Plish on November 3, 2014

I had an opportunity to go to a Member’s Only night at Chicago’s Field Museum.  The event was in honor of the opening of a new exhibition entitled: Vodou – Sacred Powers of Haiti.

One of the highlights of the night was a discussion led by Field Museum Exhibit Project Manager, Janet Hong. On the panel were Dr. Serge Pierre Louis and Kira Tippenhauer.  Both people are Haitian born, and brought unique perspectives on Vodou (which is considered different from Voodoo, which is identified with New Orleans)

From Left to Right: Dr. Serge Pierre Louis, Kira Kira Tippenhauer, and Janet Hong.

Figure 1  From Left to Right: Dr. Serge Pierre Louis, Kira Tippenhauer, and Janet Hong.

To start the discussion, Ms. Hong asked for Dr. Serge’s and Kira’s impressions of the exhibit.  Their answers were not, judging from the reaction of Ms. Hong, what she expected.

Kira’s first word was “dark”, and she spoke the word with a hint of disappointment in her voice.  Clearly she did not want to say those words.  She struggled for more words…  Dr. Serge chimed in and agreed, and used the word “ferocious”, to which Kira agreed it was the word she’d been searching for.


Those are the types of words you’d expect to hear from people who are unfamiliar with Vodou.  Those words describe my impression of the exhibit and the impressions of others I spoke to as well. Unfortunately, those were the impressions that the exhibition team was trying to dispel: “…the exhibition team made a concerted effort to eschew the image of vodou as a “scary” or “spooky” subject…seemingly-macabre motifs like skulls, bones, skeletons and weaponry are represented in a reverent light, similar to the role of decorated and candy skulls as part of Dia de los Muertos in Mexican culture. Images of Vodou as dark and death-centric stem from misrepresentations the exhibition aims to dispel.”

So, where did the exhibition go wrong?  How does something that’s supposed to dispel perceptions of darkness, perpetuate it? How does darkness permeate when Haitians live in perpetual summer, lush greenery, flowers and nature, and live life filled with joyous dance, song, and savory foods?

It’s not like the exhibit was designed in an asympathetic manner.  The exhibit was co-designed by Rachel Beauvoir-Dominique, who is a PhD anthropologist and practicing Vodou priestess.  Yet, design and curation did not harmoniously weave an experience that dispelled misrepresentations of Vodou, and instead, darkness prevailed over experiential light.

Why did this happen?

The exhibition is not brightly lit. (The pictures I took below give the impression lighting was quite bright. This is a side-effect of the camera settings used because flash is not allowed)

While not necessary per se, there is scant multimedia and no interactive technology  at all.  Again, Vodou seems to be very tactile and sensory based.  Not having ways to interact in some way was a negative.

The layout was not easy to take in.  There is a wall explaining the history of Haiti’s struggles and victories and it runs into a wall at the end.  When you finish reading you are right next to the entrance to the exhibit. (This is visible in Figure 4. below.  The ending is behind the lwa in the corner by the drapes.) You literally have to start the exhibit over again, and you’re put into the flow of those entering.

Then there’s the  upper and lower displays.  Even though everything is on one floor, it is actually split into two halves, either by accident or by design.  Sculptural works are on ground level, and beautifully decorated, brightly colored ceremonial banners, as well as many artifacts, are hung high above.  As a result, artifact descriptions are not correlated directly to their artifacts in an intuitive manner, hence there’s confusion about what description belongs with what.   The descriptions are also written with uncomfortably small letters.   It forces people to bow their heads and/or hunch their shoulders and/or bend ever so slightly to read.  This posture is uncomfortable and is also one of vulnerability, and people don’t like to be vulnerable in front of something that they don’t know, especially if it looks scary!

Forcing people to look down also had an unfortunate side effect.  Beautiful, sparkling banners that radiate light,   Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Arts, Case Studies, Conveying Information, curation, Design, Experience, Information Visualization, Politics, Religion, Society, Spirituality, The Human Person | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Systems Thinking Tools for Understanding, Visualization and Communication!

Posted by Plish on February 16, 2014

Innovations often have multiple repercussions both intended and unintended.  Systems modelling is a powerful means to  understand interactions and their consequences.  It can give insights into what types of solutions work and what types of variables create impacts and which don’t.  Not only should it be required teaching for design, engineering and business professionals, there should be a mandatory course in systems thinking held on Capitol Hill.

Personally, I’ve been extremely busy with a project lately modelling a physiological system as a prerequisite to optimizing a medical product design.  I’ve been using Insight Maker, which I blogged about before.  Check out the SystemsWiki, very cool and full of tons of info.  Insight Maker is simple to understand, very powerful, and since it’s web-based, it’s a great tool for collaborative system analysis, modelling and design.

There are two other modelling tools that are both free and have newer releases recently:

1. TRUE  It stands for  Temporal Reasoning Universal Elaboration  This package is amazing!  I haven’t used it extensively but it actually enables modeling of physical systems  and how they move(think articulated robots and multi-body interactions!)  I want to learn the interface as this looks extremely powerful.

2.Sphinx SD Another free tool that is also somewhat simpler to get a hang of than TRUE.  It’s still not at version 1.0, but seems to be going in the right direction.  Documentation doesn’t seem extensive, but it’s still work checking out.

Finally, there is a new tool called Kumu. It’s also free if you make your work public.  In some ways it’s a hybrid between a concept map  (I love  Cmap and VUE, both of which keep getting better and better!)and a mind map.  (A great list of Mind Mapping and Concept Mapping software is here.)  If you want to easily build representations of systems, Kumu is for you. Some great informational tutorials there as well.

I’m sure there are other tools out there, but the above are key to my work and they don’t cost a thing.  Would love to hear what you use! If you’re not using any system modelling tools, check out this video that highlights how a seemingly innocuous change can make a huge difference in an ecosystem.



Posted in Conveying Information, Design, Information Visualization, innovation, Innovation Tools, Open Source, problem solving | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Insights Into the Future of Healthcare From RSNA 2013

Posted by Plish on December 10, 2013

Last week I spent some time at the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) meeting, networking, speaking with medical Thought Leaders, scouting new technologies. In particular I enjoyed the posters – it’s an opportunity to see what’s cutting edge in the world of radiology and interventional radiology.  (You can check out abstracts for papers, posters, etc. here.  I will be blogging in the future on their Radiology Cares pledge drive)

Radiology is an unsung hero in the world of healthcare.  Not only are these the people that make diagnoses based upon X-Ray, Ultrasound, MRI, CT and other visualization technologies, they also help heal people – doing certain types of ‘surgeries’ – through minimally invasive techniques that use access holes often much smaller than pencil.

Because these procedures are being done in a minimally invasive manner while viewing the inside of a person’s body on a LED/LCD screen, radiologists of all types find themselves on the cusp of some of the newest imaging and interaction technologies.  It’s no surprise then to see iPads, tablets, display screens and controllers of various types being mentioned in presentations, posters, and being exhibited.

If someone were to ask me what technologies I think will impact future healthcare, based upon what I saw at the conference, I’d mention two: Mobile and Interaction Technologies.

Mobile Tech

Mobile technologies go beyond iPads.  They represent a whole new network of interconnectedness – they enable collaboration and eliminate barriers of time and space.  What is key in this realm is fidelity: the x-ray/ultrasound/MRI/etc. needs to look the same on a handheld screen in Africa as it does on a 26″ or larger screen in Chicago.  While the newer iPads are being used for their high-resolution screens, the general rule is that the smaller the screen/image, the greater the chance of misinterpretation.  For the future, any company that creates a lighter, larger, higher resolution screen (folding perhaps?) will be the mobile device of choice.

Interaction Tech

While Apple may have paved the way for the acceptance of touch sensitive screens (though it is still being used as an interactive e-book platform for educational purposes), the world of medicine is moving beyond the limitations of touch on a 2D surface and diving into the 3D world.  In procedural suites a small screen is not only limiting, but a doctor or nurse that needs to maintain sterility can not easily interact with 2D touch surfaces.  Even when dealing with 3D data sets (CT/MRI/etc. scans), manipulating the data and being able to look in-depth at areas of interest is much easier and intuitive when using game controllers like Microsoft Kinect, Leap Motion and the like. I recorded a video of one such control system: the teistler imager DIAG system.  I played with it and found it extremely simple to use – even in its ‘rough’, prototypical state.

Are these the only technologies that will be impacting the future?  Hardly.  Technologies enabling us to look more accurately into the body without breaking the skin are growing in leaps and bounds.  (In fact, one problem is that certain imaging modalities like MRI can now detect miniscule, suspicious looking lesions. So, what’s the problem?   The lesion is so small, it can’t be found by any other imaging method, so it also can’t really be tested in order to make a definitive diagnosis.)  In addition, newer techniques are extracting more information from diagnostic images so that, in some cases, a diagnosis can be made without even having to take a biopsy. (There are even newer technologies being developed that enable diagnoses with only a small sample of blood.)

With technologies getting better, the world is getting smaller and the world of ‘ the small and unseen’ is becoming more accessible every day.  These are exciting times in the world of healthcare, and coupled with a patient centered approach, Radiology, both on its own and as support for other medical disciplines, will only help people live longer and healthier lives.



Posted in Conveying Information, Design, Healthcare, innovation, Medical Devices, The Future, Trends | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Here’s One Thing You Need to See, Analyzing Words Upon a Tree

Posted by Plish on August 20, 2013

Great innovations occur when we can see things in ways that others haven’t.

To that end, we study people, their behaviors, what they say, and what they do.

When looking through the research, sometimes it’s difficult to tease out anything new.  We get stuck in the superficial meanings of what people think.  To get deeper, we need to change our perspectives, we need to create ways of seeing the data anew.

One common tool is the ‘Word Cloud’. It does a great job of enabling us to graphically understand the frequency of certain words in a body of textual data.  The bigger the word, the more frequently it appears in a text.

For example, here is a word cloud of the Gettysburg Address.


We can see that the words “nation”, and, “dedicated” are very predominate in the speech.  What we can’t understand though, are the contexts of these words.

Enter the Word Tree.

Word Trees enable us to see the context, understand where words are going and where they came from.

For a while, finding a free Word Tree analysis tool was pretty difficult.   However, developers have been busy and there is a new player on the block.  Jason Davies has shared his wonderful Word Tree tool here. Feel free to plug in your own text or play with the many examples that are there. (You can also enter a hyperlink to analyze web pages or Twitter feeds!)

Let’s use the tool on the Gettysburg Address and look at the word “nation”. (You can play with the Address I uploaded, here.)  What I like about Jason Davies’ tool is that you can configure the tool to show the context of what comes after the word of choice, or what comes before. Here’s an example:



There are other Word Tree tools out there, Many Eyes, and Revelation Global.  The latter incorporates a limited word cloud into the page which is somewhat helpful, but the page is cluttered and it’s hard to move around.  Plus, there’s no way of saving the output.  Both Many Eyes and Revelation Global require registration.

I encourage you to give Jason Davies’ Word Tree a whirl. Let me know what you think.  But be warned, playing with Word Trees can be extremely engaging.  Make sure there are no deadlines looming – unless of course, those deadlines deal with understanding textual data.

Posted in Conveying Information, Design, Innovation Tools, Research | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

New Directions in Innovation and Design – Insights from IIT’s Design Strategy Conference

Posted by Plish on May 18, 2013

I was at the IIT Institute of Design’s Design Strategy Conference this week.

This is, no doubt, one of the best, little known, innovation and design conferences.  Every year I get to meet people, learn, think, dream and be empowered to do and be more.


Carl Bass gave wonderful insights into software for crafting, and some interesting business challenges that the proliferation of apps has created. ( Hint- He gets more letters from people complaining about a $3 app than a $5000 software package)

Kim Erwin emphasized that innovation is about more than making things reality.  Her book, Communicating the New, promises to provide vital insights into an often neglected and yet vital aspect of the innovation process: Communication.

Mark Tebbe provided insights into how tech will impact business.  Ultra-personal, social, local, mobile, sensors, wearable, 3D printing, brain extending, photo and video capturing, nano-generators, flexible displays, voice control, robotics, virtual education…an empowering and amazing world is being co-created as you read this…

Stepan Pachikov – the founder of Evernote.  Time machines, virtual and real. It’ll happen. He said so.

Amory Lovins, of the Rocky Mountain Institute shared a feasible way of creating a new energy era without impacting the economy in a negative way. It’s possible…

Laura Hartman and Connie Duckworth emphasized that humans living in poverty or challenging conditions, are indeed, capable market partners. ‘For Profit’ and ‘Not for Profit’ companies can work together and do amazing things to educate children and adults and build economies to the benefit of all.  The key messages? Walk in other’s shoes. Think like an insider and outsider. Play to strengths. Create impact then scale and  larger scale will create additional impact.

CC= Catherine Casserly=Creative Commons. #tryopen  Dream of what we can do together. Share.

Brian Love (and a team of students) and sharing the craft of crops.  Yes, growing and developing crops is a craft. What was especially powerful were the tools that enabled communication and mutual education.  Check out betterat/ – a platform for mentoring and personal growth.

A wonderful reflective talk by Vijay Kumar. His new book, 101 Design Methods, is a must have in any innovation library.

Confused and depressed by too many choices?  Barry Schwartz shed light on the Paradox of Choice (great vid-check it out!).  More choices is not necessarily a good thing.

Then there’s the story of Detroit, Gary Wozniak, and the vision driven people who are innovatively re-designing the once bustling, dynamic locus of the automotive industry; converting empty space to food and providing employment for those that aren’t easily employable.  I encourage you to read the story of Recovery Park.  Support it if your heart leads you to.

Creating harmony between the urban and the rural.  Professor Lou Yongqi shared an ongoing evolving experiment, that is doing exactly that – and doing it in an economically beneficial and sustainable way. I especially loved the metaphor of acupuncture in this project: one stimulated point can create harmony in the system…

And finally, I leave you with a slide from Bruce Nussbaum’s presentation – a summary of what it means to move from Design to Creativity.  Some wonderful perspectives to ponder…

Click to see full size

Click to see full size

I hope to see you there next year!

* – Apologies to any missed presenters/presentations

Posted in Arts, Authenticity, Books, Co-Creation, Conveying Information, creativity, culture of innovation, Design, design thinking, Education, Entrepreneurship 2.0, Experience, Human Rights, innovation, Nature of Creativity, problem solving, Social Innovation, Social Networking, Social Responsibility, Stories, Sustainability, The Future | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

An Amazing, Innovative Way to Collaboratively Manipulate 3D Objects and Data – The (T)ether from MIT

Posted by Plish on June 20, 2012

I’ll let this video of the (T)ether from the MIT Media Lab speak for itself

From their website:

T(ether) is a novel spatially aware display that supports intuitive interaction with volumetric data. The display acts as a window affording users a perspective view of three- dimensional data through tracking of head position and orientation. T(ether) creates a 1:1 mapping between real and virtual coordinate space allowing immersive exploration of the joint domain. Our system creates a shared workspace in which co-located or remote users can collaborate in both the real and virtual worlds. The system allows input through capacitive touch on the display and a motion-tracked glove. When placed behind the display, the user’s hand extends into the virtual world, enabling the user to interact with objects directly.

Posted in Conveying Information, Information Visualization, innovation, Innovation Tools, User Interface | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Infographics Need to be More than Illustrated Fact Sheets

Posted by Plish on June 2, 2012

For those who are championing innovations, inspiring dreams, or just trying to educate, a well put together infographic can be indispensable to generating an emotional, engaging and memorable response.  This is because, at their root, good infographics tell stories.  The pictures in them are worth a thousand, or more, words.

Unfortunately, the ‘graphic’ aspect of infographics, often lack depth.   Illustrations on many infographics don’t add anything and in fact, often create confusion.

What do I mean?

Two out of three people reading this will agree with me

What does the graphic above add to the text?  Nothing.  Take a gander at infographics over at Daily Infographic  and you’ll see the equivalent of the above graphic all too frequently.  Most infographics are illustrated sheets of factoids. Sure there is information being conveyed and yes, there are graphics present, but a cohesive elegance is lacking.

Here’s another example where the graphics confuse and really don’t add much to the story being told:

How can you tell if a graphic is unnecessary? The rule is simple: Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Conveying Information, Design, Information Visualization, innovation, Innovation Tools, Stories, Web 2.0 | Tagged: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Want to Share Data and Interact With it on the Web?

Posted by Plish on March 1, 2012

Well presented data tells a story.    When viewers can interact with the data, it goes beyond storytelling and encourages discussion and a search for insight into why x happened to y but not to z.

Enter Tableau Public.

This free tool (yes, free!) enables you to take data and share it on the web in visually attractive ways.  Once published, others can interact with, and ultimately, discuss it.

I’ve often struggled with elegant ways of depicting data so that others can interact with it.  I’ve tried using various Excel add-ins and websites. However, after going through the Tableau site and playing with some data depictions, this seems to fill a need that up to now has been woefully underserved.

If you’re more interested in deploying this tool in your company,  you can get that here.  It’s no longer free, but also does not appear unreasonably priced.

I have already downloaded Tableau and am looking forward to trying it out.  If you have tried it, or after you’ve tried it, I’d love to see the fruit of your labors.

In the meantime, feel free to play around with this graphic on the perils of eating undercooked food.

Posted in Conveying Information, Information Visualization, innovation, Innovation Tools, Social Innovation, Web 2.0 | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

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