Make room(s) for the speaker

As if giving an oral presentation was not challenging enough, speakers must face one additional obstacle: suboptimal rooms. Whether recent or older, in conference centers or on campuses, rooms are seldom designed or set up in a way that encourages effective speaking. Read more

Wrong research, conducted in the wrong way

A short article from The Economist claims that “making something hard to read means it is more likely to be remembered”. Being someone who goes to great lengths to make every piece of text easy to read, I had reasons to be distressed. Alas, the only bad news to me was how the article exemplifies yet again all that is wrong with empirical research into learning and communication. Read more

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”? Read more

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. Read more

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. Read more

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. Read more

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. Read more

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? Read more

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. Read more

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. Read more
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