Envisioning Information by Edward Tufte

Summary

  1. 6 core principles are described in how to best display data visualizations 

Key Takeaways

  1. Escaping Flatland
    1. Visual displays of information encourage a diversity of individual viewer styles and rates of editing, personalizing, reasoning, and understanding. Unlike speech, visual displays are simultaneously a wideband and perceiver-controllable channel
    2. If the numbers are boring, you’ve got the wrong numbers. Credibility vanishes in clouds of chartjunk; who would trust a chart that looks like a video game? 
    3. Worse is contempt for our audience, designing as if readers were obtuse and uncaring. Clarity and simplicity are completely opposite simple-mindedness
  2. Micro/Macro Readings
    1. A most unconventional design strategy is revealed: to clarify, add detail. Clutter and confusion are failures of design, not attributes of information. What we seek is not necessarily simplicity, but an understanding of complexity revealed with an economy of means
      1. Note: Shows some high level maps which become clearer as details such as trees, street names, and more are added
    2. John Tukey – if we are going to make a mark, it may as well be a meaningful one. The simplest – and most meaningful mark is a digit
    3. Visual displays rich with data are not only an appropriate and proper complement to human capabilities, but also such designs are frequently optimal. Micro/Macro designs enforce both local and global comparisons and, at the same time, avoid the disruption of context switching. All told, exactly what is needed is for reasoning about information
    4. It is not how much information there is, but rather how effectively is it arranged. Showing complexity often demands hard, thoughtful work. Detailed micro/macro designs have substantial costs for data collection, design, custom computing, image processing, and production – expenses simlar to that of first-class cartography.
  3. Layering and Separation
    1. Tables without vertical rules look better; thin rules are better than thick ones
  4. Small Multiples
    1. At the heart of quantitative reasoning is a single question: compared to what? Small multiple designs, multivariate and data bountiful answer directly by visually enforcing comparisons of changes, of the differences among objects, of the scope of alternatives. For a wide range of problems in data presentation, small multiples are the best design solution. 
    2. Comparisons must be enforced within the scope of the eyespan, a fundamental point occasionally forgotten in practice
  5. Color and Information
    1. While the eyes are extremely sensitive to color variations, anything more than 20 or 30 colors frequently produce not diminishing but negative returns. Above all, do no harm
  6. Narratives of Space and Time
    1. Many information displays report on the world’s workaday reality of three-space and time. Painting four-variable narrations of space-time onto flatland combines two familiar designs, the map and the time-series. Our strategy for understanding these narrative graphics is to hold constant the underlying information and then to watch how various designs and designers cope with the common data. Examined first are accounts of the motion of Jupiter’s satellites, beginning with Galileo’s notebooks. Other case studies in our space-time tour are itinerary designs (schedules and route maps) and, finally, various notational systems for describing and preserving dance movements. 

What I got out of it

  1. Some of the more technical reasons for what makes a great diagram/visual