“Presenting data and information” by Edward Tufte

I attended one day course by Edward Tufte. The course included four and a half hours of lecture and four books by E.T. I found the topic of the class very important and information useful. I did not find the presentation itself to be something very special. It was well done, but not as good as it could have been. After I actually read the books I will be able to comment if the class was adding anything to the books, because most of the class we were looking at some pages of the books. I will leave the discussion of what I think about the “class teaching method” to a later post. In this post, I will highlight some of the content of the class, mostly as a memo to myself. Word presentation is used as a loose term that can refer to a a plot, picture or actual presentation slide.

  • It does not matter how a presentation is done, or what methods are used, as long as the presentation is clear. Do not limit yourself by pre specifying the method of the presentation.
  • Annotate linking lines, because linking lines indicate causality. One needs to differentiate and specify these causalities in order to add meaning to the linking lines.
  • Boxes around text are always only add clutter. This is part of a general rule: if it does not add to the presentation, get rid of it.
  • Format should be invisible, content should be prominent.
  • Simple graphics use a small part of our visual processing capacity. Be aware of it.
  • Clutter and confusion are a failure of the design, and it is not failure of data or viewers.
  • Maps are examples of a very good design (no boxes around street names).
  • Your audience is more like you are than any other group of people (other than your family). This means they are as intelligent as you are.
  • A better way to do presentation (E.T. claims it saves 1/3 of time): provide super-graphics (high resolution data) before presentation to allow viewers to use their time to think about it, then follow up with a discussion.
  • Use smallest visual ques to indicate importance. This means that if making a word bold is enough, do not make it a bigger font as well.
  • Any symbol or mark must convey information. Be aware that an empty space can also be activated (negative space). This is another reason why boxes around text hurt the presentation. They create clutter and activate negative space, while not providing any useful information (text position itself indicates where it is).
  • Try to present all the data at once. Do not make people flip back and forth between the data plots if it is at all possible.
  • Order by substance not alphabetically.
  • Find a good design and copy it.
  • Provide evidence that testifies to your credibility. Viewers are looking for it, it will make them believe your presentation.
  • Bring real objects to your presentation. As an example E.T. brought first printed editions of books by Euclid (400 years old) and Galileo (also 400 years old).
  • No matter how beautiful an interface is, it could be better with less of it.
  • Show up early for your presentations.
  • Finish your presentation early.

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