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Wonders of design

The Visual Display of Quantitative Information

The Visual Display of Quantitative Information

Edward R. Tufte

Wonders of design

Visual elements on the user interface are, as Churchill described military strategy, 'All things ... always on the move simultaneously." At the heart of design is the endlessly contextual and interactive nature of visual elements.

No other book has me both dipping into for pleasure and close reading for further advancement of my own feeble grasp on design.

What a debt we owe the incomparable Edward Tufte for his Visual Display of Quantitative Information and, if I can sneak this in, the equally beautiful and informative partner, Visual & Statistical Thinking: Displays of Evidence for Decision Making (ASIN: 0961392134).

Part I covers Graphical Excellence, Graphical Integrity, and Sources of Graphical Integrity and Sophistication.

Part II gets down to business: Theory of Data Graphics: Data-ink and graphical redesign; Chartjunk: vibrations, grids and ducks; Data-in maximization and graphical design; Multifunctioning graphical elements; Data density and small multiples; and Aesthetics and technique in data graphical design.

We live in a world of lies, damn'd lies and stats increasingly cunningly presented by the reptile media and we owe it ourselves to understand a little of what's going on there.

I suppose the best-known of Professor Tufte's exposés is his clear analysis of that disastrously opaque chart that appeared to plot Challenger's routine flight but totally failed to highlight the one crucial element of performance to temperature.

I have an endearing memory of an attendance at a Tufte lecture that I recount as a reflection on my capacity for toadying than the good Professor's deserved pride:

Thanks entirely to Tufte, I was made aware of the classic charting by Charles Joseph Minard showing the fate of Napoleon's army in Russia and generally acknowledged as "seeming to defy the pen of the historian by its brutal eloquence."

Tufte himself holds that, "it may well be the best statistical graph ever drawn."

To me, the Minard chart was virtually synonymous with Tufte a point perhaps not lost on the good professor whose lecture included a handsome frameable reproduction so as we queued for him to inscribe his book, I had both book and poster ready for his signature.

When it came my turn, I spoke my thoughts: "Professor Tufte, for many of us, you're synonymous with the Minard. Would you mind also signing the free poster?"

From behind me came a hiss of derision at such blatant brown-nosing, but across Tufte's features beamed an almost beatific smile of satisfaction and he signed with a flourish followed by a firm handshake. It hangs framed in pride of place in my study and I have it on good advice that it would fetch a pretty sum even now on e-bay and, come Tufte's demise, will quadruple on the instant.

Just referring back for this review has sidetracked me in an hour's pleasant discovery of yet new gems of advice and ideas.

This is the joy of a site like this: it sets you thinking and prioritizing and indulging in that even greater thrill than the original discovery and reading - the sharing.

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