You Could Learn a Lot From a Dummy

</span> The IIHS Ratings Viewer, one of the projects I’ve been tinkering with at the office for a while now, went live this week. It’s a handy Flash app for browsing through the extensive crash test data put out by the fine folks at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Even if you don’t know them by name, you’ve probably seen crash test footage from this non-profit in more than one TV news report. (They’re regulars on Dateline.) It’s their job to gauge the safety of the vehicles we ride around in day-in, day-out, and help make sure auto makers follow through when problems are found.

All that smashing and crashing generates a whopping pile of (sometimes quite thorny) data. The challenge was to come up with a visual metaphor that conveyed all that information clearly, and in a fairly compact column space. So pretty early on I figured that using an actual color-coded crash test dummy was the way to go. From there it was off to the races with ActionScript and Photoshop. (Though I can’t take credit for the 3D rendering—that goes to one of our Maya techs and a handy stock library of prebuilt 3D objects.) Back-end coding was handled by newly-minted BusinessWeek cohort Mike O’Malley, who is without a doubt one of the most talented coders I’ve ever met.

Make sure to check out the videos. They’re stunning, sobering affairs—particularly the newer side impact tests. You can see where work from the Institute has clearly had an effect (Ford F-150, I’m looking at you).

All in all, a fun, meaningful project. Though I was occasionally taken with the urge to pop on the iPod and crank up Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm. (Hey, I don’t care what anybody says, I liked that band!)