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Schrödinger’s cat or: how observation causing nature to collapse is good information design

13 October, 2011

I just watched this video by Henry Reich from MinutePhysics* and:

  1. Discovered why I’ve struggled to write my all encompassing seminal infodesigngraphatainment post I’ve wanted to write ever since I started this blog
  2. Feel like Neo saying “I know kung fu” only I’d say “I know quantum physics” (and then I’d quickly qualify before someone said “show me” by following up with, “by which I mean I just get it better than I ever have before…or maybe I’m a me that gets it, and the me that doesn’t get it in a multiverse and by reading this sentence You, as observer, are forcing nature to collapse to one option or the other [insert sound of one-hand clapping]…”
  3. Realise what matters to me most about information being communicated visually and in a designed way is, harmonising clear purpose through a focus on content first and foremost, and representation last.


After I watched the video this was my thought process:

    • Do I want to share this video as vehicle of information?
    • You betcha!

  • Nope.

  • Why not? Is it because of how you’re feeling in response to observing the video?
  • I think it is! In fact, I think it’s because the content, the representation and the presentation helped me, relatively quickly, understand and learn something that’s making think about my relationship to the world!!

  • Humph, sounds kind of lofty and esoteric… [and the conversation goes on..but back to the post!]


This is what I got from the video:

  1. It starts with the content: Explaining what the Schrödinger’s cat thought experiment is about.
  2. It simplifies complexity as a concept: pictures represent the cat, the bunker, the gunpowder, these are your visual cues. These players are introduced before the relative complexity of the quantum mechanics aspect is provided.
  3. It deploys a number of design devices because its purpose is to transfer information (awareness of facts) in such a way that the user can turn it into knowledge (understanding/cognition of information):
    • It built up learning through layering
    • It chunked messages and was subtly repetitious
    • It used both visual and verbal cues, that were clean and concise
    • It used humour (which is a bonus, not a pre-requisite – but it does serve to humanise the information)

There is real skill and practice in preparing information so that I, as user, can assess meaning and direction from the information presented (visually and verbally in this case).

The reason this resonated with me because it held up a mirror to all the ‘cool’ ‘cute’ ‘attractive’ imagery parading as ‘information design’ that just feels like noise. Pretty, ‘would-love-that-as-a-poster’ decoration. But not actually adding much to the world. So much of information design or the abundance of what parades as it, is form over function – feeling exactly like this image by Alberto Antoniazzi:

While I can concede a video may be stretching the boundaries of the traditional ‘graphical’ information design – so what. The power of great information design is its ability and intent to convey complex information quickly and in the most accessible way (not the most aesthetically pleasing way). Because humans design information for other humans to use, a human response like delight in understanding, or desire to share with other humans is perfectly appropriate; good information design gives people the opportunity to understand and ultimately, maybe, help people choose to make a difference in the world. I think i can has cheezburger now.

*Thanks to Vicky Teinaki for tweeting the original link to the video, and Stephanie Pride for tweeting the Alberto Antoniazzi image.

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