Ethics in visual presentations

So I was reading through my google reader feeds, and came across this gem over at Functioning Form.

The post came out of the recent conference VizThink which has this example.

US Map Red vs. Blue US Map Percentages

I think that this example is very compelling as both represent some kind of fact, or statistic (reminds me of Mark Twain’s quote on stats) but it is presented visually in such a way that it totally changes the way the viewer perceives those facts.  On the right we tend to see polarization & division, while on the left we see a more balanced representation of facts.

Just as computer systems embed values, so do User Interfaces and anything visual.  This isn’t exactly groundbreaking news, but I thought it would be worth sharing.

The kinds of values we embed into systems as designers should be carefully chosen, and not haphazardly done.  The metaphors chosen in any given interaction will open up certain spaces for action and tend to close others.

I think that often in games the iconography chosen is very engineering  and object oriented.  What I’m saying is that so much about the interface is just about doing, without giving any idea about what that kind of action will bring.  The example that springs to mind is cursor usage in WoW.  When you mouse over an item to be picked up or used, whatever it may be from a chest, to a chair, to picking up sunken artifacts in a marsh, a gear appears. You can “do” something with it.  This gear conveys nothing about the consequences of your action.  Perhaps in some cases that is a good thing.  What are the other ways we can re-imagine a game interface?  What are the values in them?


  1. seanconnolly

    no answers to the post but enjoyed the visual (and the link) and wanted to thank you for posting an interesting questoin

  2. jeffreybardzell

    Aaron–please don’t just pose the question. Start to put together an answer to it. You don’t have to be right, but start figuring out what the right answer might look like. You have the knowledge, experience, and readings behind you to do this. Do it!

  3. houssian

    WoW is a game, and an incredibly complex one at that. I do not hesitate to say that thousands of hours of work have gone into building that world, and hundreds millions more hours have been spent by players using the interface.
    The interface of WoW is point and click and the cursor changes depending on what action is available for object being moused over. An enemy produces a sword, a vendor this stomach looking thing (which I guess is a money bag) and recently the UI now shows a hammer for vendors that can repair your equipment.
    I am not saying this is a bad thing, but it seems so uninteresting.
    One of the most powerful aspects of MUVEs is that they are immersive, and it is very clear that people can become immersed in WoW, but I wonder if a different paradigm couldn’t be brought to interaction in games.
    An example that springs to mind is Wik and The Fable of Souls ( where the way you use your mouse totally changes, but I believe we could move even past this.
    The WoW interface is all about making your avatar DO something, it could be interesting to have an interface that was about being. A mouse click sets a state of bring, and being a certain way will change how your avatar reacts to a situation in world.
    Perhaps the stances that a warrior uses and the forms the druid transforms are kind of like this. What would WoW look like if you told it that you were in an killing mood, and that correspondingly would like to use x, y, and z abilities as they become available to you. Instead of constantly clicking on things, it becomes part of a repertoire of moods or stances.
    Of course some people already have some macros that can do some of these kinds of things, but it’s not exactly the same kind of thing. And if all you had to do was set your way of being and then walk around perhaps it would become less interesting, or challenging.
    Any way you do it I would like to experiment with the idea of BEING instead of DOING in a game and see what the result would be.

  4. jeffreybardzell

    Very thoughtful. I like the idea of thinking of interactions as comprising different states of being. I love to see you turn it up and confront one of these hard questions that you ask! 🙂


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