Monthly Archives: May 2012

which public’s which?

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The complex system of distribution and aggregation, or as Danah Boyd (2009) would call it, a “world of flow”, cultivated by networked media has profound impacts on the formation and subsequent nature of publics. As the publishing industry reforms to resemble a “stream” (Boyd 2009), a continuous mechanism for information to be lived and breathed, this begs the question: how do we as publics produce, consume and assemble around information in this form?

Shirky (2009) makes the presumption that society don’t need the platforms, we need content – and I have to agree. In the networked mediascape, Twitter, Facebook and the likes are all merely tools to acquire a desired experience. Hence, it prevails that publics are using a far more diverse range of platforms to aggregate content that interests them. Boyd (2009) rightly establishes the catch with this model – “In a networked world, people connect to people like themselves”.This presents obvious complications for media producers – how do you tap into this now highly personalised, and sometimes narrowminded channel? Further still, how do you find the channel that suits your content?

Boyd, D 2009, ‘Streams of Content, Limited Attention: The flow of Information through Social Media’, paper presented at the Web2.0 Expo 2009, viewed 25 May 2012, <http://www.danah.org/papers/talks/Web2Expo.html>

Shirky, C 2009, ‘Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable’, Clay Shirky, weblog post, 13 March, accessed 25 May 2012, <http://www.shirky.com/weblog/2009/03/newspapers-and-thinking-the-unthinkable/>

Making the Invisible, Visible

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Information Graphics or info graphics are visual representations of information, data and knowledge, in such a means that it creates greater understanding.

By simplifying the content into a visualization of symbols, pictograms, boxes, lines and arrows, we generate a simpler convention of language. Visualizations illustrate information that would be hardly conceivable in a convenient manner if it were written text.

Info graphics and visualizations are all around us. You can think of it as ”Visual shorthand for everyday concepts”.  The hexagonal stop sign at an intersection, the dotted line along a map that displays the train route or fire escape plans. They are everywhere, and are something we interpret daily.

“For our visualization we choose to focus on nutrition, more specifically, the calorie content of two popular fast-food chains, Subway and McDonalds, and display in correlation the amount of exercise required to burn off the calories consumed.

As a group we believed there was a misunderstanding amongst general society about the ACTUAL difference – or rather lack of – between the calories in popular McDonalds and Subway meals.  While this information is available in each of the chains nutritional charts, people hardly access this information and compare for themselves unless they have a significant invested interest.  Therefore we decided to make the invisible calories comparison and subsequent exercise required between these two chains, visible.

To do this we simply selected 10 different and popular items from each chain’s nutrition chart, and placed them upwards along a scale according to their calorie content.  We then also, researched the amount of exercise in time and type, and displayed that data against the calories, overall indicating the exercise required to burn off a Big Mac or Meatball sub.  In addition, we conducted a small survey, asking which chain people preferred over the other, and presented the result at toward the bottom as human figures.”

Presentation allows for the eradication of the nuances that pop up when decoding the numerous meanings symbols convey. The complex messages encoded in pictographs can be colloquially detailed using anecdote and rhetorical questions, effectively adding a third dimension to our visualisation, a level of understanding to be brought to future  viewings of the image. By deciphering the content in this manner, the expression becomes clear.

Overall, our info graphic visualizes a nutritional comparison between to fast food chains, and the amount of ensuing exercise required, so the audience can make an informed decision when choosing what to consume – making the invisible, visable.

By placing the two side by side, our visualisation actively intervenes in the public consuming, influencing and making fast food choices – in real time, as our graphics can be shifted as their menus are updated.
We know from our research, that this public generally believe Subway to be the better choice for health. Presentation allows selective facts to be related to the audience, and again add emotive layers to the content presented.
“For example, studies by the Journal of Consumer Research, found that consumers eating at a fast food restaurant perceived as “healthy” (such as Subway), were more likely to underestimate their calorie intake by an average of 151 calories than if the consumers were eating at one perceived as “unhealthy” (such as McDonalds), sound about right?”
The numerical information is readily available, but that does not mean it is easy to retain, especially when making impromptu comparison. So by making their similarities visible we are interrupting the public’s perception and as a result, informing further fast food choices and reassembling the public itself. We may also intervene in nature of publishing itself, calling for a change in the way nutritional information is presented to consumers. Further still, by publishing our findings aurally in front of our peers, the persuasive content of our visualisation has the ability to be compounded as they are captivated by special effects, colour and casual rhetoric. Doing so actively expands the audience for the content we have created, exposing a digestible method of comparing our fast food favourites that they may have not come in contact with if it was merely placed online.
Most importantly, the mode of aural presentation allows for real time feedback, and in turn, the modulation of the content presented. We receive instantaneous facial cues from our audience, and sometimes even verbal critique, that highlight what combinations of content work and don’t work, to achieve the ultimate expression desired.

Chandon P & Wansink B 2007, ‘The Biasing Health Halos of Fast Food Restaurant Health Claims: Lower Calorie Estimates and Higher Side-Dish Consumption Intentions’, Journal of Consumer Research, vol. 34, no. 3, October, pp. 301-314

De Crom M 2010, ‘The Subway fast food diet: A side dish of doom’, FYI Living, weblog, accessed 24 April 2012, <http://www.fyiliving.com/diet/nutrition/restaurants/the-subway-fast-food-diet-a-side-dish-of-doom/>

Nutrition Know Your Food 2012, McDonalds Australia, viewed 22 April 2012, <http://www.subway.com.au/assets/documents/auswebnutrition_11212011.pdf>

Rogers S 2012, ‘Data visualisation DIY: our top tools’, The Guardian, 28 March, accessed 25 April 2012, <http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2012/mar/28/data-visualisation-tools-free>

Shooter A 2011, ‘Invasion of the super-sized sarnies: As Subway overtakes McDonalds as our biggest fast-food chain, the artery clogging truth about its sandwiches’, The Daily Mail, 11 March, viewed 23 April 2012, <http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1365424/Subway-vs-McDonalds-The-artery-clogging-truth-favourite-fast-food-chains.html>

Subway Australia Nutrition Information 2011, Subway Australia, viewed 22 April 2012, <http://www.subway.com.au/assets/documents/auswebnutrition_11212011.pdf>

Thorn B 2011, ‘Consumers rate brands on perceived healthful image’, Nation’s Restaurant News, 15 August, viewed 24 April 2012, <http://nrn.com/article/study-consumers-say-mcd-more-healthful-subway>