Edward Tufte: Beautiful Evidence

I had seen the striking cover of this book many times since its 2006 release—at bookstores, in small ads in magazines (Harper’s, possibly), on a few websites I visit regularly (Kottke, surely). I only just now read it.

It’s terrific: smart, opinionated, focused, handsome. As noted in this NPR interview, Tufte has been called “The Leonardo da Vinci of Data.” Those of us focused on the content strategypart of online publishing and communications certainly have a major figure on our side; Tufte asserts his commitment to content—authentic information from individual human beings—on nearly every page. Here are a few of my favorite passages from the book: 

If your display looks like a knock-off from a corporate annual report or a PowerPoint pitch, start over. Designs for analyitcal diagrams should be clear, efficient, undecorated, maplike; the content should be intense, explanatory, evidential, maplike. The metaphor is the map, not stupidity.

Following an insightful analysis of this data-map created by Charles Joseph Minard in 1869:

This suggests that the most effective way to improve a presentation is to get better content. It also suggests that design devices and gimmicks cannot salvage failed content…. The content principle points to priorities in analytical design work: this is a content-driven craft, to be evaluated by its success in assisting thinking about the substance.

A fine chapter title:

“Corruption in Evidence Presentations: Effects Without Causes, Cherry-Picking, Chartjunk, and the Rage to Conclude”

From the chapter "The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint: Pitching Out Corrupts Within":

And, in presenting words, impoverished space encourages imprecise statements, slogans, abrupt and thinly-argued claims…. Many true statements are too long to fit on a PP slide, but this does not mean we should abbreviate the truth to make the words fit. It means we should find a better tool to make presentations.

And this gem:

Making a presentation is a moral act as well as an intellectual activity.

Beautiful Evidence is available on Amazon, and I’d bet it’s in stock at your nearest independent, design-friendly bookstore.