The power of dedicated time… and spreadsheets

This is an old post but I’m leaving it here for the hell of it. Failed links have been updated (where possible) or removed.

One of the great things about attending a workshop is that you give yourself time to focus on one thing for a while.

And in the case of a Webstock workshop, there’s also the comfort that comes with realising that other people have spreadsheets of ideas kicking around on their laptops. Not little scraps of notes, or post-it notes on a whiteboard, but spreadsheets organised into columns and rows and sections with shading and emphasis. Phew. Not just me, then.

I was in a workshop today with David McCandless, the London-based data journalist behind Information is Beautiful, who’s here to speak at the Webstock conference in Wellington this week (Feb 14-18 2011).

Early on he showed us a spreadsheet he’d used while working up ideas for his book Information is Beautiful – a process that worked through eliminations, to defining simple questions to answer, and on to answering them and presenting the information visually in a way that informed rather than baffled.

He talked about the power of boredom, ignorance, bewilderment and frustration (perhaps with a news story) as spurs to find out more, make it interesting, make it relevant and compelling.

He talked about the need for:

Integrity = truth, consistency, honesty, accuracy
Function = easienss, usefulness, usbility, fit
Form = beauty, structure, appearance
Interestingness = relevant, meaningul, new

We got into small groups to come up with 10 concepts we’d like to understand more about. What a relief to sit for an hour and hash out ideas  – and actually get past the fleeting-idea-while-doing-something-else stage. Was impressed by the kinds of concepts and breadth of them.  Got to love the way people think.

Later we sketched out ways for visualising the ideas – more challenging than it sounds. My biggest problem was narrowing down the focus of what I was trying to communicate. Nothing new under the sun, eh.

Taking away quite a bit to think about. So, thanks David.

I’m going to be taking a few notes this week  and will be posting them here (it’s a TiddlyWiki, which is still my preferred notepad for conferences since it allows me to update as I go and organise navigation as I go). They’re very rough notes, but you’re welcome to have a look if you’re interested.