Simplify & Educate

I love that we live in an information age.  Easy access to so much information is a wonderful gift.  In my pocket I carry a mobile phone that is a small computer connecting me to the entire world.  Anything that I want to know can be quickly and easily accessed.  This comes in really handy when answering my 5 year old son’s never-ending stream of questions: “How far away is the moon?”, “How heavy is a whale?”, “What is the temperature in space?”, “Where do Mermaid live?”, “Why didn’t you remember to buy ice cream?” and so on.

As much as I appreciate access to this all this information, sometimes it can be too much of a good thing. To compound the complication of too much information is the fact that we live in a world of abundant diversity.  For example, look up “Mushrooms” on Google.  There are 67,900,000 results for more than 38,000 types of mushrooms.  If you spent 5 minutes on each of those nearly 68 million webpages, for 8 hours a day, 7 days a week, it would take you more than 1900 years to see them all.  Even a single minute on each webpage would take 388 years.  An impossible amount of information to approach head on.

Our task is no longer trying to find information, but instead our task is to design methods to extract and synthesize information suitable for our needs.  If we continue to take mushrooms as an example, it’s estimated that 4% of all mushrooms are edible and delectable.  The estimated 38,000 types of mushrooms in existence can be reduced by our culinary desires to a large, but less unwieldy number closer to 1500 types of mushrooms.  To further reduce that number we can focus on a geographic area of native mushrooms, such as Ohio.  The state of Ohio is home to 2000 different varieties of mushrooms.  If 4% of the mushrooms in Ohio are edible and delectable then we can hone in on just 80 different types of mushrooms.  It’s still a lot of different types of mushrooms, but not an impossible number to use and apply.

Simplify & Educate.  That is what I am attempting to do with the infographics.  Begin by approaching a topic that contains an enormous amount of information. Sift through the information to extract useful information.  Find patterns making the relationships between the different parts within the topic meaningful.  Present the findings in a simple and educational manner.

Coming soon: Red Wine, Mushrooms, and Berries.

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Guided by Ignorance and Curiosity

After many false starts, several trips down meandering rabbit trails, and making things unnecessarily over complicated the White Wine infographic is finally complete!  I wasn’t sure this infographic was going to come together.  I do not come to the infographic-making-table with prior expertise about what I create.  Generally I come to the table because I know so little about a subject and want to learn more.  The joy of these infographic projects is that I am truly guided by my ignorance and curiosity.

My process is this: I look around at the world and find things that I’d like to learn more about that seem complicated or obtuse.  Then I go out and study that subject until I find a pattern of information that appears to be useful and simplify what appeared to be complicated or obtuse.  Then I try to find a way to visually present that information in a manner that I hope will be useful to other people.

There is so much information available about wine that the challenge is not finding information to study, but extracting pertinent information to study.  The fields of Viticulture and Enology are incredibly rich and full, but when it comes down to helping regular people finding a nice bottle of wine for dinner they aren’t much help.  Viticulture and Enology are wonderful for answering questions about soils, climate, wine making processes, grapes, sugars, and fermentation, but they are an unwieldy tool when answering “What is a spicy dry white wine that isn’t too acidic?” (Answer: Try Gruner Veltliner).

By no means is the White Wine infographic a definitive work.  There are many wines that I did not explore and flavors that appeared less frequently, such as Quince, so they didn’t make it onto the flavor wheel.  My apologies to Vanilla.  I probably should have included Vanilla, but it came down to Butterscotch versus Vanilla.  On the particular day I had to choose, Butterscotch won. I hope that you find the White Wine infographic, 20 White Wines in 20 Flavors, to be a helpful tool for your enjoyment of wine.

Cheers!

Sean

The Place of Infographics in Today’s Information Society

The web traffic surrounding the release of the 18 Flavors of Whisky Infographic has settled down. I want to thank Popular Science magazine for publishing the 18 Flavors of Whiskey. Their support alone was responsible for nearly 12,000 website views, hundreds of twitter posts, and tens of publication reprints! The website, as a whole, has now received over 20,000 views.

I am so grateful for the support of my family, friends, and customers for helping to make this little venture turn into a very real business. One of the unexpected joys of creating Sean Seidell Art + Science is the people I meet as a result of creating these infographics. They bring wonderful insight and ideas about what could be done better or differently. With all of the excellent ideas pouring in I could be very busy for years creating infographics… which I fully intend.

With four infographics released on the subject of food, I am finding that these infographics are being warmly received as an information resource to help guide people in a world filled with a multitude of choices. My art teacher Donna Graver taught me that for artwork to be successful it must communicate to people’s commonly shared experience. Without realizing it, I stumbled on a what might be our most commonly shared experience, food. I think Chef James Beard said it most eloquently when he said, “Food is our common ground, a universal experience.”

Today, in our information age coupled with abundant international trade, a trip to the supermarket can be an overwhelming ordeal of choices. I often find myself hesitating while shopping for food. I am unsure which apple to buy. Apples. This should be simple. Apples are apples right? Just pick up a bag of apples and move on. However my local supermarket, depending on the time of year, sometimes carries more than 5 different varieties of apples including: red delicious, golden delicious, gala, fuji, pink lady, granny smith, macintosh, jonagold, gravenstein, winesap, and so on. Each type of apple has it’s own unique set of textures and flavors. They all share some apple-like commonality, but side by side they are so much more different than they are similar. If you’d like to see how different apples can be try tasting a fuji next to a granny smith. (Note: Apples are on the list of infographics to be created in the near future).

Currently I am working on creating the next infographic. Just as it was with Whiskey, there’s a ton of information to compile, sort and process. It’s going to be an excellent challenge. The next infographic is going to be about Chocolate. I just wish that I’d thought of doing this in time for Valentine’s Day.

Right now I’m trying to differentiate flavor profiles of Forastero, Criollo, and Trinitario cacao beans from 20 degrees north and south of the Equator. It’s really amazing how much scientific research has been devoted to Chocolate. Milk chocolate Hersey bars are only the beginning. People have spent their entire lives studying chocolate, and continue to find new aspects of chocolate to explore. If all goes well the next infographic should be ready for release in the next couple of weeks!

Popular Science

For as long as I can remember making art has been a part of my life and Popular Science magazine has been in my life. My father subscribed to Popular Science and I grew up with it. As a child of the 70s and the 80s (major influences include but are not limited to Star Wars [IV], E.T., Karate Kid, and Goonies), it was instrumental in my understanding of the state of technology. Modern developments such as the Apple IIe, VCRs, telephone answering machines, walkman, solar and wind power were all covered by Popular Science. I would intently study the “infographics” in the articles, which were called illustrations or graphics at the time, to better understand what they were talking about. A cut away illustration demonstrating the inner workings of a hydro-electric dam (Popular Science circa 1984?) made a deep impression on me and helped me to understand how water power turned the turbines to generate electricity. To this day I still mentally refer to that graphic to understand how electricity is generated.

Now 29 years later, there is an article in Popular Science that discusses my abilities as a researching graphic designer. I know this isn’t officially an award, such as an Oscar or a Cub Scout Wolf Merit Badge, but if I ever send out a resume again, I’m including this. I’m humbled and honored. Hell, I didn’t even know that I was considered a graphic designer until Popular Science pointed it out. I thought I was just making pictures to explain how things worked when too many words seemed to get in the way. My tech-savvy friend Matt Hilla pointed out that I was making something called an “infographic” and suggested that I put my graphics on a website called Visual.ly. So I did. A few views and a few comments later, the life span of that infographic might peter out within a few days (see the infographic: A Points Per Inch Comparison). I don’t know why but I kept with it. I just wanted to. Getting 100 views from people I didn’t know was exciting (that particular infographic is up to 106!) and I wanted to see where it might go.

A couple of weeks ago I was in Whole Foods and encountered some cheese. Wensleydale with Blueberries to be specific. It was $17 per pound and I had no idea what I might be buying into, so I didn’t, but it got me thinking. I realized that I didn’t know anything about cheese! Sure I know about Cheddar (Sharp, Mild, Medium), Mozzarella, Swiss, Gouda, Provolone, Munster, but there’s a whole universe of cheese that I know nothing about. Monty Python even mocks how many cheeses there are, most of which I’ve never heard of (Note: Venezuelan Beaver Cheese is fictitious). I sought out some information about cheese and realized that there are literally mountains of information about cheese. I decided I didn’t need to know about how cheese was made or the chemistry of cheese. To become a better cheese consumer I needed to better define the end user experience to help create an understanding of how to select cheese based on the flavors of cheese. Enter the excellent work of Drs. Delores & Edgar Chambers and Dr. Martin Talavera-Bianchi at Kansas State University. They broke cheese down to 16 high-identifying flavors, from salty to pineapple. It was brilliant. It was smart. It was simple. I turned it into an infographic. Then something happened. Popular Science found it on Visual.ly.

Suddenly the 100 views on Visual.ly that I’d been so proud of had been dwarfed by cheese. 4000+ views later, an article in Popular Science, and tens of branch-off posts on other websites, something shifted. It went viral. Huffington Post picked it up. Culture Magazine picked it up. Fine Dining Lovers picked it up. My hobby was no longer just a thing that I was playing with in my free time, it had the potential to become a thing that I did as a real job. The best type of job. The kind that you do when you don’t know that you are already doing it because you are doing it for enjoyment anyway.

Two days ago I tested a theory. Was Cheese a fluke or was this skillset really something that had legs. I released the 18 Flavors of Whisky Infographic. I sent a copy to Popular Science and waited. A few hours passed and they replied! They said they’d put it on their homepage on Friday. One thing led to another and it went viral again. In fact, I received so many requests for prints for that infographic, and the others, that I set up an online store on Shopify.

I’m in awe. I’m humbled. I’m so grateful. I want to express my thanks. Thank you for helping me make an art/research project that I enjoyed doing into a profitable activity that has the makings of becoming a full-blown career.

With all if this in mind, I guess I can now say, Welcome to Sean Seidell Art + Science. I’m a graphic designer and we’re open for business. 🙂

What’s up with Whiskey?

I am up to my neck in whiskey right now.  Books, articles, apps, and pdfs all talking about whiskey.  In the past week of research I’ve learned one thing – it is very challenging to learn about whiskey (aka whisky, usquebaugh, uisge beatha, or “the water of life”).  To call whiskey obtuse would be mild.  There’s tons of tradition and information surrounding whisky but very little information about how to find a whiskey you might enjoy.

I can tell you that there are more than 30 different types of whiskey.  I can tell you where they are from.  I can tell you how they are made.  I can cite peer-reviewed research articles breaking down the chemistry of the aroma of whiskey through employ of a mass spectrometer, or my favorite (and seemingly most arcane), the “Whisky aroma profile based on headspace solid phase microextraction using different fibre coatings”.

However when it comes to the flavor of whiskey, there is very little written by way of comparisons or similarities.  Reviewers treat each whiskey like a snowflake – no two are identical.  I do recognize that each whiskey is different, but how they make each particular type of whiskey should share some common characteristics.  Just as Coors and Budweiser are different, they are more similar to each other than they are to a Double Simcoe Hop IPA.  Just as when it comes to Rye Malt Whiskey versus Irish Whiskey, there are going to be more similarities among the Rye Malts than to the Irish Whiskey.  In short what I’m going to try to put together here doesn’t yet exist as far as I can tell.  Nothing in the scientific journals, on Google, or in periodicals that I’ve researched.  Lots of one off reviews, but nothing comprehensive.

What I am going to attempt to do is classify the High Identifying Trait flavors of 16 different types of whiskey, from Scottish Speyside Single Malt  to Moonshine.  Take that information and visually map it out for ease of use and comprehension.  Then I thought it would be interesting to create a place mat or tray liner that could be used for whiskey tastings to compare how those 16 different whiskeys compare to one another.