Visualising complexity

By Gordon Rugg

Note: This article is a slightly edited and updated reblog of one originally posted on the Search Visualizer blog in 2012.

How can you visualise complexity?

It’s a simple-looking question. It invites the response: “That all depends on what you mean by ‘complexity’ and how you measure it”.

This article is about some things that you might mean by “complexity” and about how you can measure them and visualise them. It’s one of those posts that ended up being longer than expected… The core concepts are simple, but unpacking them into their component parts requires a fair number of diagrams. We’ll be exploring the theme of complexity again in later articles, as well as the theme of practical issues affecting visualizations.

This article focuses mainly on board games, to demonstrate the underlying principles. It then looks at real world activities, and some of the issues involved there.

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Instrumental and expressive behaviour

By Gordon Rugg

There are a lot of very useful concepts which are nowhere near as widely known as they should be.

One of these is the concept of instrumental versus expressive behaviour. It makes sense of a broad range of human behaviour which would otherwise look baffling. It explains a lot of the things that politicians do, and a lot of the ways that people act in stressful situations, for instance.

This article gives a short overview of the traditional version of the concept, and describes how a richer form of knowledge representation can make the concept even more useful.

Humans being expressive and instrumental

bannerv1Sources for original images are given at the end of this article

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The 28 versions of the Golden Age

By Gordon Rugg

The idea of a Golden Age has been around for a while, in one form or another.

How many forms? There’s a good argument for there being 28 forms.

Why 28? That’s what this article is about. I’ll look not only at the idea of the Golden Age, but also at some of the related issues which ripple out from it, including archetypal plots in fiction, history and politics.

Gold, silver and bronze from the Classical Age

bannerv1Details of the image sources are given at the end of this article

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Signage, literacy and wayfinding, part 2: Indoor signage and wayfinding

By Gordon Rugg

The words were at first indistinguishable, and then–with a tremendous start–I recognized something about them which filled me with icy fear…

From The Shunned House, by H.P. Lovecraft

In a previous article, I looked at nonverbal signage and wayfinding outdoors. Today’s article looks at the same topic, but focusing on indoors wayfinding.

I’ll begin this article with a discussion of a signage issue that’s a significant problem in most hospitals. I’ll then move on to look at different wayfinding strategies that people use, and at some ways of working with those strategies in indoors wayfinding and signage.

A classic problem, and some solutions

A standard feature of hospital signage is the Wall of Doubt. Here’s how it works. The visitor (the red oval marked “V” in the diagram below) has entered the hospital via the main entrance, en route to an appointment in the Wilson Ward, and is walking along the corridor in the direction indicated by the red arrow. So far, so good.

corridor1

Now the visitor meets a T junction, and sees something that for many visitors looks something like this: the dreaded Wall of Doubt. Which of these signs, if any, might be the one for Wilson Ward?

unfixed wall of doubt At this point, things start to go steadily but unnecessarily downhill. Why? That’s the topic of this article.

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Signage, literacy and wayfinding, part 1

By Gordon Rugg

Here’s what a typical piece of signage looks like to about 10% of the people visiting a public place such as a hospital or a school.

blackletter signage

About 10% of the population have significant reading difficulties. They might be able to figure out what a sign says, given enough time. They might not.

Here’s what a typical piece of signage looks like to another significant proportion of visitors.

grainy sign3

A lot of people have visual problems; this is particularly likely to be an issue in places like hospitals, which people with visual problems attend for treatment. Signage can also look like this to people with good eyesight if the lighting is poor or the weather is bad.

So what can you do about this problem? There are some simple, cheap solutions which aren’t as widely known as they should be. That’s the topic of this article.

banner Some classic types of landmark: Images from Wikimedia Commons

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Guest Post: Representing lesson structure graphically

By Gavin Taylor

Lesson structure can be seen as a core aspect of teaching; the method in which lessons are planned can influence the whole learning process. Most teachers plan the structure of their lessons using a few well established techniques. One is a three level approach commonly known as a traffic light sequence, as shown below.

figure1 v4

This traffic light system can be used for assessing pupil progress and for differentiation of tasks, as well as clearly showing the lesson structure. This system however has various limitations. For example, this system implies that unless a pupil “moves” from one colour to another, progress has not been made, even though the pupil’s understanding may have been deepened. The criteria for progress also have to be correct; a pupil could, for example, achieve the red objective in the figure above without completing the amber, as these may not be progressive objectives.

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Trees, nets and teaching

By Gordon Rugg

Much of the debate on education uses diagrams to illustrate points being discussed.

Many of those diagrams are based on informal semantics.

The result is often chaos.

In this article, I’ll use the knowledge pyramid as an example of how informal semantics can produce confusion rather than clarity.

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