Edward Tufte: An Appreciation

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012 by Lisa S.

What you business types have always secretly suspected about writers and designers is true: We sit around in cafés all day, peering into our laptops and muttering to ourselves. Sometimes we take breaks to play Words With Friends, or to drink coffee and mutter to each other.

All that muttering? Sometimes it’s about the joys of playing “qi” in two directions on a triple-letter score. Just as often, though, it’s about your PowerPoint deck, or that shiny new graphic in your white paper. How to make it not only more attractive, but actually meaningful. How to use visual tools to convey complex information elegantly, honestly, without distortion, and with impact.

Enter Edward Tufte. Political scientist, writer, sculptor. Genius, curmudgeon, man of high standards, patron saint of clear thinking and good design. Tufte’s 1982 book The Visual Display of Quantitative Information laid out the elements of good information design, and the distortions, confusions, and “chartjunk” that stand in its way. It was followed by Envisioning Information (1990), Visual Explanations (1997), and Beautiful Evidence (2006)—all, like Visual Display, beautifully designed books that pull no punches and refuse to talk down to readers.

Four books by Edward Tufte

The New York Times called him “The Leonardo da Vinci of data.” Anyone who works with data should read these books, and anyone who regularly presents business data to an audience should consider taking Tufte’s one-day course on presenting data and information—or at least reading his essay on the reductive evils of PowerPoint and how to design better presentations.


Images courtesy edwardtufte.com.

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