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 strategy part 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.