The Halo Effect

Statue with haloIf you’ve ever chosen a product based on its packaging, taken an instant liking to a person because he/she was tall & good-looking, or defended the merits of your hometown against all others, you’ve experienced the Halo Effect.

According to Wikipedia, the halo effect (or “halo error”) is “a cognitive bias in which one’s judgments of a person’s character can be influenced by one’s overall impression of him or her.” Some speculate that it grew from our most primitive ancestors: a tall, good-looking person was well-fed, had won (or avoided) battles, and seemed to be a good candidate for fathering one’s children.

Around here, we’ve been looking at our current and future needs and trying to figure out which products will help us achieve what we want. Some of us take an instant dislike to a product because of a  seemingly-trivial factor. It could be color, the salesperson, or almost anything that triggers a negative memory about a previous product. That’s called the “Devil Effect,” by the way: we demonize something because of deep-seated and inexplicable feelings. Imagine the consequences of the devil effect in a jury trial!

If you think about it, the halo effect is just as treacherous. We might overlook a product’s failings because we like the color, the salesperson…you get the idea. The halo effect makes it tough to be impartial.

While we can’t do much about our cognitive wiring, knowing about the halo effect can help us be more aware of the potential for bias. It can even make us more aware of how we present professional writing: even if my message is rock-solid, if I don’t present it cleanly, the reader might not receive it favorably.

That’s why we care about good page or screen design, sometimes even more than the content. There are cognitive reasons to pay attention to alignment, balance, contrast, consistency–what some of us refer to as the CRAP design principles.

Finally, the experts at Nielsen Norman Group applied the halo effect to web usability testing, and the results are interesting to say the least. Take a look at Alertbox: The Halo Effect and see for yourself.

 Photo Credit: bossa67 via Compfight cc

10 great resources for infographics and visuals

Minard infographic 1869Don’t you love a good infographic? According to Wikipedia, infographics are graphic visual representations of information, data or knowledge intended to present complex information quickly and clearly. My favorite part is in that last prepositional phrase: to present complex information quickly and clearly. Yeah!

Infographics aren’t new; they have been around at least since the days of lithography. The famous infographic at top left is Charles Minard’s 1869 chart showing the number of men in Napoleon’s 1812 Russian campaign army, their movements, as well as the temperature they encountered on the return path.

An infographic can be created in almost any software that offers good support for visuals: Adobe InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator, PowerPoint, even Word. Infographics can be poster-sized or notebook-sized. It’s all up to the designer.

Infographics sure are great. But here’s the rub. Not all of us are visual designers–I count myself among the aesthetically challenged.What to do?

Fortunately, there are some great resources for designing infographics and images. Best of all, you might discover that someone else has created the perfect infographic, and with proper attribution, you can borrow it for your own purposes.

In no particular order of favoritism, here are 10 of my go-to sites:

10. Cool Infographics: Randy Krum’s blog highlights some of the best examples of data visualizations and infographics found in magazines, newspapers and on the Internet. This site can inspire you to greater heights in your own visuals.

9. Daily Infographic: According to the founders, “We spend countless hours searching the web for the most interesting, stimulating, mind-blowing infographics. We then curate our findings and choose one infographic to publish every week-day.” It’s true! Much like Cool Infographics, you can gather inspiration or find the perfect infographic for your presentation. Bonus: subscribe to receive a daily infographic in your inbox or feed reader.

8. Not to be confused with Instagram, this site allows you to build infographics and charts from templates. Like most free sites, your options are pretty basic. If you upgrade to pro, you get a few extra perks. But for a quick infographic for school or a business presentation, this site will do the trick.

7. MorgueFile: When you need some free high-resolution stock photographs for your infographic, MorgueFile might be just the ticket. Don’t let the name scare you: in newspaper terminology, a morgue file is a place to keep post production materials for use of reference, an inactive job file. This is one morgue you’ll enjoy visiting!

6. IconsPedia: This site is great for when you need some stick figures, social media icons, or other themed icons for your infographic.

5. Piktochart: A drag-and-drop infographic editor, with several good-looking free templates. One caution: that nice functionality means that the site uses lots of Flash. The paid versions might be worth checking out if you plan to create infographics for your company or school on a regular basis.

4. Wylio: Wylio functions much like a Google image search (it’s not, but you can use your Google login to get up and running quickly). The free version of Wylio allows you to download 5 free images a month. Wylio is a “bootstrapping startup”, so you never know what you’ll find.

3. Mashable Infographics: Need to convince your company to launch a social media campaign? Mashable’s infographics cover every aspect of technology and social media. You’re sure to find something interesting here.

2. CompFight: CompFight searches Flickr Creative Commons images and produces some great hi-res images. You can filter by license, and best of all, they provide the HTML that will allow you to credit your source.

1. Lots of cool infographics to pin, embed, or favorite. also bills itself as the marketplace for infographic designers and customers; you can find each other here.

Bonus:, another do-it-yourself infographic builder, is one I just discovered. It allows you to apply a theme (timeline, maps, etc.) and add objects. Seems like a really user-friendly site!

There you go! Get working on your awesome infographic. And add your favorites in the comments!



Infographics on my mind

Data journalist David McCandless believes that information design is about solving information problems. Visualizing information can help us solve these problems in a beautiful and clear way. In his TED presentation, McCandless visualized topics ranging from CO2 emissions to nutritional supplements (McCandless, 2010).

Because infographics share characteristics of business reports, they can also add a valuable visual component to the basic proposal or empirical report. Because they can be scanned quickly, they also can substitute for a traditional PowerPoint.

For example, the infographic below offers a summary of a simple Team Viewer human resources telephone survey that asked employees about their work-related technology use during vacation. Even though the graphics and colors are simple, this infographic communicates a message that surprises none of us: increasingly, we take our work with us. We can’t imagine being out of contact even for a week.

2013 Work/Life Balance of Americans

Of course, to really get at the heart of this data, it would help to have a break-down of age, gender, industry, and other demographics. We’d need to know more about the intentions behind this survey, and perhaps more about Team Viewer’s motivation and ethos (their product is used for remote desktop sessions). But if we just need a quick bit of data to help us understand this workforce issue on a basic level, the infographic might do the trick. The data are clear and usable.

Finally, it’s hard to talk about data visualization without marveling at the work of Hans Rosling, whose television documentary The Joy of Stats, used augmented reality animation to dynamically present data. In this video, he compares life expectancy and income across “200 countries over 200 years using 120,000 numbers – in just four minutes” (Rosling, 2010). The movement and size of the data dances up and down as the timeline is punctuated by wars, plagues, and economic dips.

Like David McCandless, Rosling believes that having the data is not enough. It must be visually communicated. Rosling’s animation tells the story of the world in all of its triumphs and trials. It’s heartbreaking to watch so-called Third World countries languish near the bottom for the entire 200 years. But it’s also reassuring to see that over the past 60 years, many countries caught up with the prosperity and health of Western countries. Hopeful news, brought to you by the power of stats.

Flippin (2013). 2013 Work/life balance of Americans.

McCandless, David (2010). The beauty of data visualization. TED Talks.

Rosling, Hans (2010). Hans Rosling’s 200 countries, 200 years, 4 minutes – Joy of Stats. BBC.

Web Designers: Don’t Ignore Seniors!

With any luck, one day all of us will be seniors: the demographic that includes people aged 65 or older. Even if you are far from reaching this milestone yourself, there are good reasons to consider this demographic when designing web content.

Full disclosure: this topic is a pet research interest of mine. About ten years ago, I researched this subject thoroughly and published Curb Cuts on the Information Highway in Technical Communication Quarterly. In short, I argued for more resources and better attention to this age group, offering some examples of sites that were “getting it right.”

In technology terms, my article is ancient; my interests have turned now toward using the iPad as a bridge for adults with age-related disabilities. But according to Jakob Nielsen, a renowned usability expert, one thing hasn’t changed: websites are still not “senior-friendly,” and designers are missing out on a growing (and often wealthy) group of customers. (Read Jakob Nielsen’s article Usability for Senior Citizens.)

It’s not that hard to make your site more usable. If you code to standards (particularly WCAG 2.0), most of the work is pretty basic: avoid tiny fonts; use white space around clickable links, etc. Some of it is pure common sense: keep text to a minimum, write simply, make it easy to recover from mistakes. Shouldn’t you already be doing that?

And if you’re not already designing for mobile, here’s another reason to get started: who do you think is buying all those iPhones? According to another Nielsen, the one that tracks marketing and spending, Baby Boomers are “marketing’s most valuable generation.” They spend close to 50 percent of all CPG dollars yet less than 5 percent of advertising is geared toward them.

The oldest Boomers are now past 65; maybe it’s time to get ready for this amazing opportunity for your online marketing.

What do you think? Is your site ready for the Boomers?