BookReview: Envisioning Information
by Edward R. Tufte, Graphics Press, May 1990, 978-0961392116

Edward Tufte covers graphics like no other. This book as amazing breadth and depth. I read every word, because his prose is so beautiful along with the great examples. He takes a low fat approach to providing us with information. Despite the book's beauty, it is flawed in that if you read The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, you probably learned most of what you need to know to apply Tufte's ideas. Keep it simple, eliminate fluff, and above all keep the information the central focus of visual displays.

[p34] Worse is contempt for our audience, designing as if readers were obtuse and uncaring. In fact, consumers of graphics are often more intelligent about the information at hand than those who fabricate the data decoration. And, no matter what, the operating moral premise of information design should be that our readers are alert and caring; they may be busy, eager to get on with it, but they are not stupid. Clarity and simplicity are completely opposite simple-mindedness. Disrespect for the audience will leak through, damaging communication.

[p50] High-density designs also allow viewers to select, to narrate, to recast and personalize data for their own uses. Thus control of information is given over to viewers, not to editors, designers, or decorators. Data-thin, forgetful displays move viewers toward ignorance and passivity, and at the same time diminish the credibility of the source. Thin data rightly prompts suspicions: "What are they leaving out? Is that really everything they know? What are they hiding? Is that all they did?" Now and then it is claimed that vacant space is "friendly" (anthropomorphizing an inherently murky idea) but it is not how much empty space there is, but rather how it is used. It is not how much information there is, but rather how effectively it is arranged.

Showing complexity is hard work. Detailed micro/macro designs are difficult to produce, imposing substantial costs for data collection, illustration, custom computing, image processing, production, and fme printing-expenses similar to that of first-class cartography (which, in the main, can be fmanced only by governments). The conventional economies of declining costs for each additional data bit will usually be offset by a proliferation of elaborate complexities provoked by the interacting graphical elements. Still, a single high-density page can replace twenty scattered posterizations, with a possible savings when total expenses are assessed (data collection and analysis, design, paper, production, printing, binding, warehousing, and shipping). And our readers might keep that one really informative piece of paper, although they will surely discard those twenty posterizations.

[p53] CONFUSION and clutter are failures of design, not attributes of information. And so the point is to find design strategies that reveal detail and complexity--rather than to fault the data for an excess of complication. Or, worse, to fault viewers for a lack of understanding. Among the most powerful devices for reducing noise and enriching the content of displays is the technique of layering and separation, visually stratifying various aspects of the data.

Via Rob 8/25/2007