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Insightful Presentation – Eli Pariser on “Filter Bubbles”

19 May 2011 No Comment

Now and then I’ll feature an insightful presentation on this blog with commentary about what makes it so great. I will focus on the delivery and presentation slides, but may speak about the topic itself. In this first edition, I want to showcase Eli Pariser’s presentation on the “Filter Bubble”, which is also covered in his new book, The Filter Bubble.

This post is purely commentary on Eli Pariser’s presentation. I do not own the rights to his presentation, nor do I know the designer of his slides. UPDATE! Mr. Pariser let me know the designer of his great slides was Justin Kemerling. Well done, Justin, on the slide design; and well done, Eli, on the content and presentation.

Much deserved props — Check out Justin’s other great design work on his portfolio site: www.justinkemerling.com

Here’s the video:

If the embedded video fails: www.youtube.com/watch?v=B8ofWFx525s

He begins with a striking quote from Mr. Facebook, that describes why the “news feed” approach is so appealing:

A squirrel dying in front of your house may be more relevant to your interests right now than people dying in Africa." - Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook

What seems like a simple slide is actually very elegant. The slide has the tried-and-true Helvetica Neue, but the text isn’t displayed haphazardly. The tracking and leading are both tight and proportional. Hanging punctuation on the left looks nice and creates a clean line. Plenty of white space around the quote allows it to breathe and call attention to itself. The rag is also nice.

That previous paragraph included several design terms. I will create a page of my “designer terminology” definitions on this site, but in the mean time, please scroll to the end of this post to learn the jargon and speak like a designer.

Pariser goes on to talk about the greatness and potential of the internet’s original intention. A diverse set of free ideas for everyone to explore freely. An ideal that was true for the past 10-15 years. Then he talks about the growth of aggregators and the “news feed”. To show this, he used a Facebook screenshot of his news feed:

Examples of Facebook posts from both sides of the political spectrum.

But, upon further review, it’s not a real screenshot. The designer, Justin Kemerling, took the time to recreate a news feed to drive home his point. Here we see several things at work. The thumbnails don’t have photos, because they would be distracting. Instead, a simple illustration (using Facebook’s own “no thumbnail” portraits) keeps the visual clean and by using different colors (blue and red) also relates to another point. He’s showing U.S.’s political spectrum’s two slides, liberal and conservative, which sets up the overall point of the presentation:

Facebook’s news feed (and news aggregators, like Yahoo! News and Huffington Post) are narrowing our window to the world via the internet (the opposite of its original intention).

Keeping with the Facebook screenshot, he uses a simple black box wipe animation and a slide transition to redact the conservative view points in the feed, which then get replaced by an all-liberal feed.

Facebook news feed shown in mid-animation redacting the conservative viewpoints.

Throughout my blog, I mention how animation should only be used for limited purposes (for emotion, to instruct, and to chunk information). In this case, animation is the perfect effect to show how Facebook’s news feed algorithm had ostensibly deleted half of Pariser’s (political) world.

In the next subject, Kemerling designs a compelling slide. In the script, Pariser talks about an interview with a software engineer who describes how many different ways Google is watching studying you, your behaviors, who you are, and what you own. In this slide, there’s no bullets, no template, no grid, incomplete sentences, but it’s damn-near perfect.

Three of the 57 signals Google is studying your online usage.

He keeps with the original quote’s color scheme, font, and dark background. He simplified the “fifty-seven signals” to the number and “Wi-Fi” signal icon. This creates a goofy looking “sentence” (especially with the ‘s after the icon),  but it’s memorable and saves much-needed space. The space is filled with three such “signals” that Google is looking at. Using a simple illustration of a guy at a computer (created with Adobe Illustrator or purchased at iStockphoto.com) and changing the color to the presentation’s blue color, you’ve got a custom illustration made in minutes for less than $50.

For example, this image could’ve easily have been used:

Example illustration from iStockPhoto

You can find it on iStock. Using Adobe Illustrator, you can modify the vector file to remove all the extra information to focus on the woman at the computer kiosk. Then, using the same RGB colors from your presentation’s template, you can make the image feel like it’s family. To move the image from Illustrator to PPT, save the file as an EMF. For Illustrator to Keynote, save the illustration as a PDF and place it with Keynote.

Back to the presentation — Pariser goes on to say when we use Google, we all see a different internet. During the Egypt upheaval (of early 2011), he asked two friends to Google the word “Egypt” and to send him the screenshots:

Two screenshots of an "Egypt" Google search

Sure, the screenshots aren’t the same, but the content is also very different:

Summary of Google results from the two test subjects

Using the same basic tools (color, background, large margins), Pariser summarizes the complicated screenshots to three bullet points that show off the major differences of the Google search. Recreating the Google logo (as it’s seen at the bottom of Google’s search results) and search text box was a nice touch. Also, check out the spacing between the baseline of the Google logo and the search box compared to the spacing between the search box and the top of the photos. Well-designed documents include these subtle, organized elements that add to the Gestalt of the slide.

He then gets to the Filter Bubble slides, which show off the true beauty of simplified infographics. Just looking at this set of screenshots, you can see the story Pariser is describing.

The Filter Bubble

Notice the explosion of the color representing the diversity of ideas that is the internet. But the internet gatekeepers separate us from fancy colors leading us to see a world created with our own color/ideas/limited view.

Filter Bubble full of our color

The final bubble of only your limited view

Notice the blue again? The use of this color also matched the color of his shirt, though that could’ve been pure coincidence … but how cool would it be if he planned that? These TED presentations take weeks of planning and practice, and a coincidence like this shouldn’t go unnoticed.

There are several more slides throughout Pariser’s deck that help tell the story. Many continue to include the theme of blue/black, illustration, and simple 1-idea slides.

Internet junk food

His recommendation to the code writers, Facebook/Google designers, news aggregators and others:

We need a call for transparency, a civic responsibility to spread ideas alternate to those we “LIKE” so the “You” in the circle has the control to see the internet for the freedom of new ideas/perspectives/cultures that it should be.

The ideal internet view

Again, a wonderful presentation and a perfect use of design in the presentation world. – MF

My Recommendations:

  • Visit www.TED.com weekly, and learn something new each time.







Definitions for non-designers:

  • Tracking is the overall character spacing in a line — notice how tight all the letters seem to each other. A well designed font with nice kerning (spacing/optical look between two letters) will also track very well. Helvetica is the go-to font because it does this well, and it has a large font family (thin, bold, italic, etc.) and clean look. 
  • Leading is the line spacing — notice how close the words “right” and “Africa” are to each other. The right leading depends on your content, the display, the audience, the size of type, mood of the piece, and more.
  • Hanging punctuation is where the end punctuation sits “outside” the aligned body of text. Notice how the first quotes appear to the left of the subsequent lines of text to create a cleaner/more organized look. 
  • White space isn’t necessarily white. In this case it’s blank, and it’s the negative/empty space of a slide or design. White space allows the audience’s eyes to relax and focus.
  • The “Rag” is the non-justified edge of text — in this case, the right is on the right. A bad rag will create uncomfortable buckets of white space or random short words seemingly left all alone (in comparison to other lines of text). A bad rag will also create “widows” and “orphans”, or short words that appear alone on their own line. Proper spacing, column width and soft returns (Shift+Enter) will help create nice-looking blocks of type.
  • Baseline refers to the imaginary line that’s created by the flat bottoms of the majority of the letters of a sentence. Serifs (little legs added to the a font character’s letterform) help create the line, which improves readability in most instances.
  • The “Gestalt” is a theory/mind set (and a cool German word) that means the individual parts create a whole. It basically means (strictly for a designer): Most people only see the pleasing “whole” (or sum of the parts) and don’t understand that all the parts working together is the only reason that the whole looks so pretty. It’s the great mystery of design. A well-designed piece just “feels” right. Deconstructing its parts help you see why graphic design is truly an art form.

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