Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Edward Tufte

Edward Tufte is the author of Beautiful Evidence and three other books.

His four books have collectively been called a Strunk and White for design. Tufte works by showing both outstanding and horrid graphics he’s found, improving upon the latter, and his principles take on the meditative quality of Zen koans: To clarify, add detail. And: Clutter is a failure of design, not an attribute of information.

That's from this profile by New York Magazine's Christopher Bonanos. Here's another profile by Stanford Magazine's Fran Smith. Tufte's website is here.

Both articles give several examples (1, 2, 3) of good ways of presenting information graphically. Especially moving is this graphic; here's what Bonanos says about it:

It’s a diagrammatic map showing Napoleon’s march to and from Moscow in the winter of 1812–1813. The map displays the facts—the army left Poland with 422,000 men, and came back with 10,000—and conveys the awful toll on several scales: the sinking temperature, the loss of nearly half the army during one frigid river crossing. Drafted by one Charles Minard in 1869, it “may be the best statistical graphic ever drawn,” and he sells prints through his Website. It is also, he’s said, about far more than data: “He did this because he hated war. It took me twenty years to notice it, but nowhere on this does he mention Napoleon. It doesn’t celebrate the surviving celebrity.” I’ve been in no fewer than three apartments lately where those prints are on the walls.

Smith, on the other hand, has a pithy quote from Tufte about this wonderful graphic:

This is War and Peace, as told by a visual Tolstoy.