I have just fallen victim to the Hype. Out of the “What You See Is What You Get” editors that look to replace flash Tumult’s Hype is the first official contender that is out of beta. While I am looking to see what competition like Radi (available as a free beta) or Animatable will bring to the table the bar for ease of use has been set high with Hype. For iWork users the transition is very smooth because the interface models that of Keynote. It sports a slide view and a canvas on which to write text and place objects. Those can then be manipulated using the inspector.
The app is available in the app store for an introductory price of 30$ but let’s be honest about it: Compared to fully featured authoring tools from Adobe the app is a steal because you are effectively a beta tester. Granted, you can already use it to output convincing design but both in the interface and in the resulting web pages there are some quirks and unresolved bugs. The feature set also is missing a few more options like grid overlay or vector graphics compatibility that would elevate the program into the realm of the redirkulous (go Mavs!).
Then again I suspect Hype will deliver in due time. A user community is starting to populate their forums where the team responds to requests reasonably fast. It has already churned out the first update within just two weeks of launch, no less. So if you are thinking of creating interactive web pages or apps without knowing how to code perhaps now is the time to buy.
A few more random thoughts: Accessibility is still an issue with the code that is created. Better than flash, but far from perfect. Case in point: Links are opaque. Integration into hosting platforms is also lacking. Iframes supposably work but I could not get an embedded version to work on tumblr and thus linked to the file in my public dropbox folder instead. The dropbox integration is a nice touch, by the way. Hopefully tumblr will take a hint and lead the way in creating an “interactive” option where they host the necessary files for you like videos. My example is about 5MB worth. Rendering on an iPad1 was sluggish and I never felt like using a native app. I know that even modern browsers render webpages differently, so some transitions are not available to all but on Safari it rocks. The iWorks experience cannot compare.
Anyway, look for yourself. And please tell me what you think.
HTML5 is all the rage now to replace flash as the tool of trade to deliver rich media content on the web. Not surprisingly this is a pressing issue for users of iOS devices. While new authoring tools for non coders, libraries for coders and even the web standards themselves are only just starting to evolve the direction of the Mac community is clear. Alternatives are needed fast.
Many people have made use of Keynote as a wireframing tool and I use it extensively for animation, so when Apple themselves started their own little project of having Keynote output to HTML5 via iWorks.com(beta) I was ready to seize the opportunity and develop a proof of concept that point and click browser games are possible to bring to the iPad via Apple’s own platform. All you need is basic animation and multisequential hyperlinks. The slideshow view of iWorks.com would do the rest.
What I did not account for was the fact that iWork.com is still in beta for a reason. An annoying bug renders active areas for hyperlinks differently (and offset of the objects they are associated with) on iOS and MacOS and breaks them completely in certain slide resolutions. So I spent much time tweaking and cursing. Also the snappiness and sharpness of the interactive slideshow is just plain odd. Sometimes the slides look crisp and beautiful, at other times the same slide is blurry. Moreover the automatic transitions sometimes still need a tap to advance, so you can’t design reliable action triggers.
With all the workload that is involved in creating decision trees for the hyperlinks I would say that for truly interactive rich media content iWork.com is not quite there yet, let alone that it only works in Safari browsers. You could still use it to display your mockup for an app live on your device, bearing in mind the glitches. Or you can add a dash of interactivity to your animations.
Luckily, a small crowd of HTML5 authoring tools has just been introduced to the world of MacOS. It looks promising already. I’ll see if I can use the same workflow as with this example and create better results more efficiently soon.
Still, I think exploring the concept was worth it, so please check the adventure mockup out, if you have a minute (and if you have Safari):
Recently I came across several articles that have prompted me to ponder persuasion. What you are reading now is a tentative attempt to sketch a theoretic framework out of that jigsaw puzzle. Please bear with me.
The key feature of persuasion is the change of beliefstates. Communicative input alters the things a person considers true about his or her mental representation of the world. There are two diametrically opposed forces affecting these belief states, however, and science provides some conclusive evidence that our convictions are much less coherent than what we make ourselves believe:
Conservation of Belief
A force of conservation of belief is constantly reinforcing beliefs we have previously acquired. Think of it as something like path dependancy. Once you are on a train of thought it is hard to shift your mindset to consider alternative viewpoints as valid.
This conservative force is evident in what philosophers call a world view which is a very potent filter for information. To make sense of the world and create a sense of structure, of right and wrong and ultimately a narrative of cause and effect of human actions we put all we perceive about the world through this prism of our set of trusted belief states.
In doing so we treat information selectively. Truth becomes very much a social construct rather than a statement of fact. Psychological phenomena like the confirmation bias are well established descriptions of this behavior. The extent to which a world view shapes our notion of truth is nicely laid bare in this excellent article: The Science of Why We Don’t Believe in Science
Suspension of Disbelief
A force of suspension of disbelief is constantly destabilising our beliefs to provide some leeway in coming to terms with new information.
For us to function as social agents we need to embed our decisions in the very narrative we created, where coherent motivations guide human decision making and peoples’ actions make sense even if we disagree with them. The reasons for terrible actions can be rationalized away by some people being bad guys in our stories, for example. Simplifications like these add to the narrative being helpful to sort our world, rather than having it turn into a convoluted mess of irrational behavior.
Yet whenever information is introduced to the narrative our mind makes of the world, the context in which we acquire this information shapes our perception. Context is extremely important. If we did not adapt to it, even to the point where we set aside our strongest convictions for a brief moment, we could not hope to ever cope with new and sometimes extremely challenging situations. Any port is good in a storm. Thus a subconscious element of flexibility is introduced to that seemingly stable set of belief states.
Again, the extent to which we let our perception, our thoughts even, be governed by context is astounding: Take the Danziger and Ward study that shows how bilingual speakers of Hebrew and Arabic judge actions of Jews differently, depending on the language in which you ask their opinion. (Found via the wonderful debate “Does Language Shape How We Think” at economist.com)
While these examples of the tricks our minds play on us might lead you to think that nothing is as it seems people tend to share some common ground we can fall back on. Let us assume for the sake of the argument that there is a pragmatic limit to delusions of reality we can universally agree upon.
In fact there is a linguistic phenomenon that bridges the gap between peoples’ belief states and the world. Deixis in its essence aligns peoples’ perceptions to a shared frame of reference so they can understand each other well enough to communicate. It connects extralinguistic and linguistic domains and activates shared centers of attention in the brains of people who partake in a conversation. Sufficient success in activating these shared centers of attention may serve as the limit to which our narratives can deviate from those of other people (or reality, if you will).
Through deixis a sentence like ”We will meet her here tomorrow” becomes intelligible to people who are present when it is uttered. They can contextualize their surroundings and create the propositional content in their heads that fills in the gaps of “we” and "her,” of "here” and "tomorrow.”
For communication to be successfull people need to make sure they are talking about the same thing. This is where contextualization helps them get on the same page. To contextualize relevant information for communicative purposes frames serve as a semantic guiding beacon. They connect world knowledge to the semantic knowledge that is stored in our mental lexicons. When activated, frames narrow down the range of possible interpretations of an uttering to a state in which a common understanding about what is being said can be reached without much effort. Deixis is pointing to these frames and the world knowledge associated with them, so that speakers can contextualize relevant information in unison. Thus contextualization establishes coherence between utterances and their worldly surroundings.
The common ground is where things get tricky, because the filter of sociocultural frames is far from universal. Take the example of apologies: When you step on someones’ foot the frame for appropriate behavior in a social mishap is triggered. An apology might be in order. However this frame can very much differ between cultures. In fact, uttering an apology might be interpreted as you stepping on that foot on purpose in Japan, where social conventions would have you keep quiet about the incident instead.
Deixis is also referred to as indexicality in some circles. If the concept of aligning the meaning of signs with their contexts is alien to you Wikipedia is a good starting point: Deixis.
Framing the Issue
We are slowly homing in on a theory of persuading people. Remember that we want to alter peoples’ belief states and that we need to figure out how to communicate with them to achieve this. Out of the two forces of belief we want to pander to the one that makes a person open to new beliefs rather than trigger a response of falling back to an established world view.
Frames are at the core of “managing” peoples beliefs. Depending on which frame is active when people consume information their perception of that information is filtered differently. Spin doctors are exploiting this when they fine tune messages so that the public perception of issues is favorable. I’ve written about frames in the past, how “the mosque at Ground Zero” activates a frame of proximity that does not stand up to scrutiny, but permeates public perception. Wikipedia: Frames is also a decent starting point.
Aside from choosing one word over the other to trigger certain frames and not trigger others what is the application of frames to a grander theory of communication? How could we apply this systematically to visuals for example?
The answer lies in the way our minds make up meaning when confronted with new information. Our minds are pattern recognition machines; to some extent they are so fixated on discerning meaning in information that we cannot help but find familiar patterns everywhere. We even see faces and shapes when staring at the clouds. One particular mechanism of communication is famous for utilising this human trait: The metaphor. George Lakoff would even go so far to say that it reflects the very cognitive process by which meaning is generated.
I could program an algorithm to randomly combine nouns and there would not be a single artificial metaphor you would not decipher as meaningful. Sure, some metaphors work better than others and some are prone to be interpreted differently by different people, but I bet you already have an image forming in your head when reading the words unicorn spinach. The mind will create meaning, even where there is no semantic intention on my part.
The true power of metaphors lies in their ability to introduce new frames to familiar information. We see things differently with the help of metaphors. Or, as one definition puts it, we see likeness in difference. That is a surefire shortcut to the suspension of disbelief we are looking for when communicating to persuade. Just as with contextualization only certain information is perceived as relevant in our active center of attention. In fact, metaphors can completely change our attitudes. A recent study showed that people would address the issue of crime quite differently depending on whether they were confronted with the metaphor that “crime is a virus” or that “crime is a wild beast:” stanforddaily.com
Familiarity Is Key
Likeness in difference works because meaning is composed out of the juxtaposition of two elements which the mind cannot help but put in a meaningful relation. We “find” common traits in both concepts and modify them in our working memory to align our world knowledge with this newly discovered information from the realm of our semantic knowledge. That alone need not be persuasive. We are quite likely to dismiss some allusions to likeness as nonsensical, especially when we suspect the sender of a message to try manipulating us.
But we are drawn to that which we perceive as familiar and fall back on past experience when dealing with new information. This is why stories are such a powerful tool of persuasion. They evoke feelings of familiarity by putting information in a pattern that is culturally salient. You know what to expect, things fall into place and just make sense on a level of narrative causality. You feel at home in the way the information is structured. Rightly so, because story patterns get reinforced over and over. Communicators like Nancy Duarte are always looking for the patterns in messages and embracing the power of stories.
Interface designers and psychologists are probably familiar with similar concepts to these salient patterns which they call schema and mental model. The same mechanisms of recognition hold true for gestalt theory that is gaining renewed prominence recently in psychology as well as visual design circles. Yet, it’s important to note that everything is connected in our brains. There is conclusive evidence that information from one domain, like language, activates information from other domains, like motor functions, as well.
This is why we need to think beyond metaphors as a linguistic device. Every meaning bearing unit, be it a shape, a word, a scent or whatever container may transport information can be used in creating patterns and in activating frames. The concept I hope to introduce to all those who want to persuade people is that of compositionality. The artful juxtaposition of the familiar to leave the mind of the recipient create the unfamiliar is where belief states are most likely to be altered.
So here’s my proposition: Persuasion is the change of belief states through a communicative act and the likelihood of success increases when a familiar concept is evoked, pointing to alternative belief states by means of composing an unfamiliar frame. Thus the attention of a recipient of a message can be manipulated to introduce new information into a stable set of belief states which are in turn modified to align with the world that is contextualized in this act of communication.
Phew. If you’re still reading, thanks for sticking with me. I apologize for all the jargon (and for lack of precision in using it) but I’ll be glad to pick up some of the lose ends in the comments, so fire away.
“Optimality is artfully managed imperfection.”—Me while shaving. At least one thing I have in common with Albert Einstein, I get ideas while lathering up: I have a new one brewing about providing a framework to create simple browser games that iPad users can access. Sorry if that keeps me from posting more frequently.
This is not new, but it is almost mandatory reading to get acquainted with the idea that popular opinion (and pop psychology!) is chock full of silly myths when it comes to communication. Also it might help you reevaluate your own biases which are the fuel for many of those myths.
This is my contribution to the ongoing quest to save people from bullet point hell. The style of The Fight for Better Presentations is heavily influenced by the title sequences of Saul Bass and the spy movies of the sixties. I also cannot deny the inspiration of two notable anime series. Let’s see if you can spot the reference.
More importantly, I hope that this animation itself may serve as an inspiration to create better presentations and as a showcase of what you can do with presentation software. Special thanks go out to two people who have been role models in the quest for better presentations for a long time and were very supportive of this project: Nancy Duarte and Garr Reynolds.
The animated short was created entirely in Keynote. I merely edited the timing to fit with the music and create a more uptempo feel in iMovie. The effects and the workflow should be familiar to people following my tutorial series.
You may share and distribute the video freely if you enjoyed it. For all of you who like to tinker and figure things out on their own I am also releasing the source file of the animation. I only ask that you attribute my work if you use or repurpose any of the slides for your own presentations, videos or whatever you make out of them.
Update: New Download Link
I used to host the source file for this project on the now discontinued iWork.com service. I have since updated my web presence to keep notable projects and download links in one place. Please head over to the presentation section of my lab and get the file from there. Perhaps you may come across some other goodies there as I’ll be adding to the collection over time.
Visualization is often defined as a representation of data that amplifies cognition. The pattern recognition device that is the human mind can interpret those representations much more easily than it could hunt down the patterns in raw data itself, at least when the representation does fulfil the requirement of amplifying cognition. In other words; only when a visualization helps us get things can we call it a visualization.
So how to help us design better visualizations? It should not come as a surprise that any profession that is concerned with the pattern recognition device we carry around in our skulls can provide some insight into weaving patterns that we find both appealing and easy to spot. One of those professions is that of storytellers by the way, stories being among the most salient patterns we encounter in our daily lives.
Philip Man makes some interesting observations about the art of game design and data visualization in his post. Perhaps it will help you connect the dots?
I’ve been meaning to write about different aspects of communication to provide somewhat of a common ground for my readers when I discuss specific constraints or theories. Turns out I need to vent a bit before I can address this in a cool headed manner. You might have experienced a similar feeling of frustration as I did when a link in my twitter timeline promised me a deeper understanding of how to connect with people. Or rather three secrets to it. Boy, oh boy do I hate “social media” sometimes. And time and time again I fall for the ruse.
One thing that really irks me about communication is that it gets usurped by a group of people who have an extremely narrow perspective of it. Marketing people. I gladly grant them that they excel at their area of expertise. In fact, their proficiency in convincing people is at the root of the problem, they themselves being the first victim of their own devices. They have managed to make a brand out of the field of communication. Their brand.
Enter the age of social media. Experts suddenly abound. Ever growing networks of social media gurus harness the power of computation to measure impact scores of people and messages. Yet all the metrics about scores, the talk about influencers and the blatantly tautological ex-post rationalisations about impact serve no advancement of understanding communication. It is a cargo cult of success stories where the only metric for success is distribution.
The phenomenon of massive number crunching standing in the way of searching for profound answers is not a feature confined to the social media scene. In fact, the excellent Vaughan Bell has recently unearthed a few articles that point to the same problem in psychology, where human behavior can now be described and even predicted to some extent by advanced statistical models. But explanation of human behavior in a data driven research framework is absent. For all the sophistication of our models they tell us nothing about why they even work.
Putting an instrument like this in the hands of marketers however has helped them create an echo chamber that is virtually watertight. Ever longing for faster results marketers in social media have all but shunned the search of why. Experts are passing out the Kool-Aid to their peers in networks that turn into a giant meme machine of self perpetuation. Social media marketers tell social media marketers how to be more successful as social media marketers. Only that they believe to be experts on communication rather than experts on how to game the pyramid scheme of social media marketing they all have fallen victim to.
The understanding of communication as “selling” ideas or messages is a reductionist view at best. At worst it has created a positive feedback loop that reinforces this reductionist perspective and drowns out alternative views. To put it bluntly: In spite of all the claims that you need to “write good shit” content matters not in the incessant stream of “how-to-get-followers” schemes. Not to the number crunching, not to the impact scores, not to success. Content is a McGuffin in the social media scene. Three Secrets to Writing Lists just for the Sake of Having a List of Three In Your Headlines.
The problem is that this echo chamber full of cool aid is very successful at posing as the place where you learn about how to communicate effectively. Sure enough, it is a place where professionals do what they do best in a competitive environment. Marketing themselves.
But if you want to understand how communication works, if the why is of interest to you so you can hypothesise, create theories, innovate and come up with new angles you better look for inspiration elsewhere from time to time. Don’t drink the Kool-Aid.