Edward Tufte notes

I just got back from an Edward Tufte one day seminar yesterday. Below is just a transcription of my notebook. In the following weeks, I’ll highlight a few points. In the mean time, I suggest you attend a course if you can. It comes with four of his books. Otherwise, read them, they’re full of insightful thoughts.

  • The long-term goal is to zero out the interface. It’s all about the content or subject matter.
  • A good diagram should be read carefully as you would with a paragraph of words.
  • Don’t pre-specify a method (e.g., don’t go in to a problem saying you’ll visualize it).
  • Study maps, it uses lines, colors, words, and layers. No more putting boxes around words. It creates optical clutter.
  • Supergraphics, or figures that contain many dimensions of data, allows the audience time to work with their own cognitive styles.
  • Presentations should start with a high resolution data dump, a supergraphic.
  • Use your own time for the audience to read your material. Don’t expect them to read it on their own time.
  • Create a technical brief, rather than slides. It should be a Word document, or your preferred document editor. Hand this out ahead of time and give the audience time to read it. The presenter is then cross-examined.
  • Create complete integration of information.
  • Use sparklines. They can be inserted anywhere, particularly in text. Stop labeling everything figure, title, and caption. It’s just clutter.
  • Don’t design to the lowest common denominator. Expect the best, not the worse, in your audience.
  • Reports, graphs, and charts can have the level of complexity of the sports section in the newspaper.
  • Find good examples and copy them.
  • For non-fiction reports, mimic the tables in the sports section or the market data presented in newspapers. They’re proven.
  • The job of the customer is not to design the product.
  • Show mastery of detail. If you want clarity, add detail. It sound contrary but works.
  • The point of an information display is to promote thinking.

Published by Daniel Hoang

Daniel Hoang is a visual leader, storyteller, and creative thinker. As an experienced management consultant, he believes in a big picture approach that includes strong project leadership, creative methods, change management, and strategic visioning. He uses a range of visual tools to communicate business challenges, solutions, and goals. His change strategy is to build "tribes" of supporters and evangelists to drive change in culture and organization. Daniel is an avid technologist and futurist and early adopter.

2 thoughts on “Edward Tufte notes

  1. It's nice to get someone else's review on Tufte's seminar. One of my coworkers who went works as a Ad Operations Analyst and didn't appreciate the Tufte seminar. We also just implemented sparklines in our company SEO software which I think is great for our end users.

    1. Not everyone appreciates Tufte. He doesn't teach you how to do anything. It's not a step 1, step 2, step 3 how-to guide. Instead, he shows great design principles. There's also a split between the cartoony infographics and the data intensive dense Tufte design. I personally prefer the latter.

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