Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Picturing a Market

For some time, I've been working on establishing an information market where people can trade on claims about science. I won't go in to all the details now; you can read more at the Simon Market website. For present purposes, only two things about the market bear noting: 1) participants will, by trading in science claims, generate a market price that quantifies the current consensus about any given hypothesis; and 2) I'm re-branding the project by calling it the "Simon Exchange" and creating a new icon for it.

That's where you come in. I've worked up several alternative icons and am having trouble choosing between them. Want to cast a fresh pair of eyes on the problem? I'll offer you some of my favorite versions, and you can opinionate in the comments or drop me an email. I welcome you to go with your gut. If you want to hear more about the thinking behind these designs, though, just read on.

These two icons offer the simplest approach to the problem:

simple icons

These two add a dot (or period) in the middle; one tries adding red:

simple icons

These last two substitute exclamation points for the dots, above:

simple icons

Though I of course want an attractive icon, I also want one that at least hints at what the Simon Exchange does. All of the marks thus use contrasting blue and orange colors and intersecting lines. Those represent the "yes/no" choice embodied in each "buy/sell" transaction on the market. Where an icon's colors and lines meet, they stand for the market price of a science claim—the point at which trading parties agree on the value of a claim.

At a more subtle level, the icons use manifold exclamation point-like elements to show how each market price reflects the opinions of many different traders. Happily, to my symbol-obsessed mind, those elements also look something like little cartoon heads spouting voice-bubbles. The disparate opinions crash together at each icon's center, meeting at the market price. In some icons, I put a punctuation mark at that point, representing that a statement of fact comes out of that exchange of views.

I used to study both philosophy and illustration as an undergrad. You might now understand why I dropped out of the latter. I often kid that "I went for the big bucks!" In truth, though, I got frustrated with my inability to capture in pictures the complex ideas in philosophy's language. A picture may be worth 1,000 words, but they're mostly nouns and adjectives about concrete things. I still love to play around with graphics. But, as before, I often find that I get tangled up trying to cram too much meaning into a few spare lines.


Ronald said...

The first icon is by far the most aesthetcally appealing in my view. It immediately evokes coordination and integration of individuals, which is a central theme in markets.

Micha Ghertner said...

If you want to figure out which graphic people like best, perhaps you should...set up a market and have people put their money where their mouths are!

Personally, here's my zero-cents: I agree with Andrew. The first icon is the best, and I immediately think of market coordination with supply and demand curves meeting. The other graphics only distract from this. On the other hand, non-economists unfamiliar with market structure graphs might not have the same experience...

Chris Hibbert said...

I like the feel of "weaving viewpoints together" in the first two. The second is weakened by blending the lines together. The sense of weaving together is lost in the others because the overlapping lines segment is overlaid with the white field. In the images on the right in the last two groups, the heavy black circle with a red mark in a white field gives the whole thing a southwestern (native american) feel, which distracts from the message you are trying to convey. The black circle in a white field in the middle left image reminds me of a Japanese flag. I don't mind the bottom left image.

My favorites are the top left and bottom left images.

Caliban said...

Top left (the first one) is the best to my eye. Simple is good.

Thomas said...

Yes, the one at top left, for all the reasons given in previous comments.

Glen Whitman said...

I agree with the others: the top left one is best. However, I'm not a fan of the color scheme (common to all the designs). Also, have you considered a braided version?

Tom W. Bell said...

Thanks, everybody, for your comments! Keep 'em coming!

Glen asked about the color and the possibility of weaving the threads. Regarding the former, although I'm always open to suggestions, the need to use contrasting colors puts some constraints on the options. Red and green are out, clearly. Purple and yellow don't work so well because they have such widely varying tints (purple being dark and yellow being light). Granted, I don't have to use colors directly opposite each other on the color wheel, but I do think I need a warm color and a cool color. Yellow is out--too light. Red with purple? Um. No. With blue? Too political. Orange with green or purple? Yuck. So we're back to orange and blue.

As regards the weaving, I tried it and found it just didn't look good--too busy, too, uh, folksy.

Anonymous said...

I like the top left best by far. The exclamation points give me the knee jerk reaction that I've picked up spyware or something. Might try a few colors closer on the wheel, how about a warm green and a cool blue? Also, is that the background color you intend to use? The orange/blue seems too loud even with the muted background, I imagine it'll look neon on a white background.



Anonymous said...


I guess the first and the bottom left one with the exclamation mark is good. Logos should be very simple without losing meaning. But I think orange and blue color combo would be ok if the blue isn't as bright. It should be along the lines of the blue on the bottom two. Softer orange and blue works okay because if you go to a lot of travel sites, they use that softer blue, orange, green color scheme and it works.
The glaring circles around the punctuation and the dot looks a little too bold, disruptive and unharmonious looking to me.
I'd go with the lighter color of the bottom left (but a slighty lighter blue), and maybe the design of the first. But I don't love that first design. I feel like i have to work too hard to look at it. I actually like the third left (it looks clean) if it wasn't an exclamation mark but something else. Can you maybe put the name of the organization in the middle using an appealing 'type' or maybe just the acronym? This one looks clean. Reminiscent of some of the software company's logo designs.


Anonymous said...

well, maybe not the name of the organization in the middle, but maybe another icon? When i see exclamation mark, i just think hazard. so maybe a person/people icon, or just whatever icon that works in that space.


Anonymous said...

sorry for posting so much. but now that i look at it, the first one does look simple and harmonious to the eye. Maybe if the colors were a little lighter as not to make it clash too much.


Glen said...

The first icon is the best, but I do worry that all of these are too complex and wouldn't scale well. I think /five/ paths each way is too many. It would still convey the message of many, multiple views coming together if you reduced each direction to four lines, or possibly even three.

One design aid for making icons and icon-like things is to squint or look at the design from a good distance. Is it still recognizable, or do the various elements blur together?

Anonymous said...

Tom, may I suggest something completely different...

The icon should reflect the most important equity of the Simon Market while being clever, memorable, easy to understand, and engaging. In my opinion, the main equity of Simon Markets is not the fact that they utilize exchanges to achieve their goals. Exchanges are merely a means to a greater end. The beauty of Simon Markets is that they can integrate the collective knowledge of many individuals into a combined, efficient information set, and as such are capable of making unbiased judgements beyond the capabilities of the individuals comprising the collective.

Since your market is science related, the chosen icon should reflect the Simon Market's primary equity (collective judgement) while evoking an unmistakably scientific image.

My suggestion is DNA. Specifically, the icon could be the classical double-helix illustration with people icons substituting for the familiar helix linking building blocks. The icon would represent a joining of individuals and knowledge in a way that's unmistakably scientific and appropriately symbolic of the power of harnessing collective group intelligence.

Please post your reaction to this, even if negative - I'm curiously engaged on the topic and believe in Simon Markets. Thanks.


Anonymous said...

Simon Markets is an interesting idea. I was wondering. Is the goal just to gamble on science? Or could it be used for other things like helping companies that depends on new discoveries to leverage their dependence on technology or science discoveries?

Also how will it be determined that a new scientific goal has been reached? In science there is a lot of ambiguity as to how significant a discovery is. The researchers that made a discovery often tend to exagerate. For example , I know a researcher who has published papers about signals that travel faster than the speed of light. (Google for Alain Haché) when in fact his experiment only works with a specific definition and measurment of the transmission speed. No information actually travels faster than light.

I find Simon Markets a very exiting concept anyhow. So when can I start gambling? (I like middle left BTW)


Anonymous said...

Oh and I was thinking that maybe the logos would look better by replacing the white parts by transparency.


Tom W. Bell said...

All: I welcome each comment. My replies here go to those of you who directed questions at me.

Jimm: More muted colors might work, I grant, but I want high-visibility *and* web-safe colors. I *did* mean to use a white background. I just forgot to fill the background frames, so they remained transparent.

SK: I think putting the name in there would prove too complex. The icon will often be pretty small, you know, relative to the surrounding text.

Glen: Point well-taken. I worry that the much-favored upper-left icon suffers the drawback you note. I'm thus going to come back with it and a better version of the upper-right one.

Z: Thanks for the suggestion. When I picture what you describe, though, it seems really complex. Icons cannot be complex. They have to be easily recognizable when small and when reproduced in a variety of contexts. They work more like signatures than portraits.

Ben: The Simon Exchange would serve both the ends you mention, as well as many others. It would *not* constitute gambling, however. So, at least, my legal analysis demonstrates. See my "Gambling for the Good" paper, available at both www.simonmarket.org/Legal.html and www.tomwbell.com/Writings.html.

David said...

Ok so the discussion may be over but since desktop publishing is a hobby of mine, I couldn't resist.

I'm in the general agreement that the first one is the best but the one you use depends on how big the icon is. Smaller icons favor the the first of the simple ones; larger ones favor the second (because if you have a complex icon that's disproportionately large, it'll look busya nd be an eyesore).

The color choice needs work...esp if you're putting them against a white background. Keep in mind that contrasting colors don't mean opposite ones. Shades of one color actually looks very nice against a white background (because the white will enhance the contrast).

Try sticking with the same color or less bold versions of the ones you have. Turquoise instead of blue, dull-golden-yellow instead of orange. Personally, I'm a fan of greens and purples.

Blar said...

Top left is best, and they get progressively worse as you go down and to the right. The exclamation points are alarming and the one with the red dot looks like a target. I like that you can see the lines crossing in the top left one. The image loses something when the lines don't interact but just form a kind of border.

Anonymous said...

Tom, yes, DNA is complex, but a stylized DNA icon will work. Picture a vertically oriented helix that shows just one 360 degree rotation, which would depict one full and two half link nodes. The icon would have stylized people figures similar to the apostorphe inspired ones in your current concepts. Go to Yahoo, click on the images tab, and search on "DNA" to see how simple it could be. Trust me.