red tulips | copyright Jill J. Jensen

 

 

Edward Tufte

an erudite one-man information-design campaign to make charts, graphs, and PowerPoint more meaningful and accurate

 

Edward Tufte has a thing for Microsoft's ubiquitous PowerPoint — and that's not good. If you and/or the organizations where you work and play rely on this "slideware" computer program to convey serious information about your practices, operations, expectations, or culture, click over — don't hesitate — to Tufte's essay on PowerPoint Does Rocket Science (an explanation for why NASA engineers didn't think the piece of foam that hit the Space Shuttle Columbia during take-off was a major problem — as represented by evidence in the PowerPoint reports they saw) or take a look at the table of contents for his book Beautiful Evidence. You'll find a clue or two about why the hierarchical structure of PPT often obscures more than it informs and why taking its bullet-pointed format at 'executive summary' value can be catastrophic.

Not everyone has the tolerance for the detail and analysis Tufte brings to the work of clarifying the visual representation of data. But all who consider themselves 'communicators' should have at least a passing familiarity with the issues, especially in these days of colorful USAToday charts and flashing TV network graphics that morph into multiple perspectives and purport to tell us quickly what the 'true' story is.

Tufte knows his serious premise may be a hard sell, so he livens up his writing and his presentations with a wry dash of humor. Witness a lengthy chapter title from Beautiful Evidence: "Corruption in Evidence Presentations: A Consumer's Guide to Effects Without Causes, Cherry Picking, Overreaching, Chartjunk, and the Rage to Conclude."

As folks in the media literacy movement will attest, we must be both good producers of information and good consumers of it; we must know when we are being bamboozled by pretty pictures and whiz-bang graphics, and we must dig for the critical information underneath.

Tufte's website is a testament to his passion for clarity in presentation and information design. The simple-looking layout offers a wealth of information and easy access to it. In addition to the catalog of works for sale by Tufte and his mother, Virginia, author of Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style, the Ask E.T. Forum offers the master's essays and commentary on everything from landscape sculpture, project management graphics (the ubiquitous Gantt charts), the visual display of medical data, sports graphics, dog camouflage, executive decision-support systems, and how to make presentations.

 

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