by Jesse Thomas
Edward Tufte: Presenting Data and Information
Synopsis via SIGNAL vs NOISE:
So, 37signals took a field trip to see Edward Tufte’s Presenting Data and Information workshop. . Here are someone else’s detailed notes.
At his worst, Tufte is a passionate presenter with a clear cause (although slightly out of touch when it comes to talking web design). At his very best, Tufte has some real knowledge and insight to share about data density, the resolution of paper, clarity, simplicity, sparklines, and a near religious fanaticism targeted at the reduction of ornament in favor of making the content shine. He clearly believes that content is king. And, oh yeah, he likes to show off his original, first print/edition copies of Euclid’s The Elements of Geometry and Galileo’s The Starry Messenger.
He mentioned one thing that I never really thought about in this way before: When most of us think about bad design metaphors, we think of horrible screen interfaces that look like books, or look like desks, or look like television sets. But, the most common metaphor that leads to bad design is mimicking org charts or corporate structure. A design that follows corporate structure “just because” is just as bad as an interface that mimics a book or a work desk or a television set. But, since the org chart or corporate structure is hidden in the design (unlike a book-like UI where you can see the physical representation of a book), we often don’t think of this type of design as design based on a metaphor.
Some other key takeaways:
* Don’t use bulletpoints
* 1+1=3… Two elements in close proximity can create a third “ghost image” from the negative space between the two elements
* Put your name on things — it shows that you care about the content and take responsibility for its validity
* “It’s better to be approximately right than exactly wrong”
* The resolution of good old paper is higher than the most advanced computer monitors
* Never harm the content — the design should be based on the content, not the other way around
* There’s hidden power and credibility in small multiples
* If a chart or table or object needs a label, label it inline — don’t use legends/keys that require “back-and-forths”
* Don’t use footnotes, use sidenotes — they’ll be closer to the content you’re referencing
* When presenting, show up early and finish early
* The interface is the software (which we talk about extensively in our Building of Basecamp Workshop)
* The way you reduce clutter is to clarify the design and then add information
* The power of the Smallest Effective Difference — make all visual distinctions as subtle as possible, but still clear and effective
* Frame your presentations: What’s the problem; who cares; and what’s your solution
* Good design is clear thinking made visible, bad design is stupidity made visible