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Edward Tufte Talks information Design 193

Posted by samzenpus
from the good-design dept.
BoredStiff writes "The Weekend Edition of NPR ran a story on Edward Tufte — the outspoken critic of PowerPoint presentations — he has been described by The New York Times as "The Leonardo da Vinci of Data." Since 1993, thousands have attended his day-long seminars on Information Design. Tufte's most recent book is filled with hundreds of illustrations that demonstrate one concept: good design is timeless, while bad design can be a matter of life and death."
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Edward Tufte Talks information Design

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  • Read his books! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by BWJones (18351) * on Monday August 21, 2006 @07:11PM (#15952175) Homepage Journal
    Tufte is absolutely one of the world experts on presentation of design. We have absolutely strived to adopt his principles of data design and presentation in almost all of our work and its paid off in terms of data interpretability. My dissertation work was presented for two years in a row at our big vision meeting getting no attention until I used some of Tufte's principles in presentation of data and the third year I had several hundred of the worlds scientists in vision research gasping, oooohing and aaaahing. It was awesome. Of course Keynote [apple.com] and a cool animation [utah.edu] of a degenerating retina helped, but still......

    His books are required reading in our lab and I encourage everyone who is involved in presentation of data of any kind to spend some time with his books.

    • Hmm.... (Score:2, Insightful)

      getting no attention until I used some of Tufte's principles in presentation of data and the third year I had several hundred of the worlds scientists in vision research gasping, oooohing and aaaahing. It was awesome. Of course Keynote and a cool animation of a degenerating retina helped, but still......

      So let me get this straight... Your dissertation got no attention until you included the principles of design explained by the world's foremost critic of powerpoint-style presentation software, but only bec

      • The thing with PowerPoint style presentation software is that people are so damn FAMILIAR with it. Even if another design doesn't look as familiar, there's a fine line that one has to draw between interesting the viewers and shutting away their attention because they're unfamiliar with the design.

        However, methinks that the GPP was more benefited by the crazy animations, anyway.
      • Re:Hmm.... (Score:5, Informative)

        by Otter (3800) on Monday August 21, 2006 @08:51PM (#15952655) Journal
        Tufte's reputation is usually boiled down here to "the world's foremost critic of PowerPoint" but that's hardly what he's about. He's a wizard at explaining how to present data more effectively, not just an unusually articulate "M$ teh sux!!!" nitwit.
      • by AlpineR (32307) <wagnerr@umich.edu> on Monday August 21, 2006 @08:53PM (#15952664) Homepage
        I believe that Tufte's biggest gripe with Powerpoint is that it encourages low information density. If you use the default templates you will have just a few bullet points on each slide and lots of space lost to border embellishments. But if you know what you're doing, then you can put much higher information content into a presentation (especially when it's projected from a laptop, allowing animation). Even Tufte himself used transparencies and videos when I saw his seminar.
        • I aways thought of a powerpoint as a sort of lecturer's summary or an outline that had enough open space on the slide for the audience to actually wrtite notes about the presentation without marking up the real paper which would have the high data/information density.
        • Interesting. My criticism is the exact opposite. Most PowerPoint presentations I have seen have a far too high information density; if I read the slide before the next one appears then I miss most of what the speaker is saying, and if I wanted to just read something then I would rather read the paper, printed in front of me, than some slides projected on a screen on the other side of the room.

          When I give a presentation, I put a maximum of five points on the slide (and often an explanatory picture). Thes

          • by retrosteve (77918)
            And that's precisely why you need to read Tufte's ideas about how to load information onto a slide without packing it into the text.

            Smart slide design doesn't mean cramming more tiny text onto the slide. (If that's all it was, why would you need an expert?)

            Information can be packed many ways.
        • I believe that Tufte's biggest gripe with Powerpoint is that it encourages low information density.

          Yes.

          If you use the default templates you will have just a few bullet points on each slide and lots of space lost to border embellishments.

          That's not the full story. Even without the wasted space in the "Auto-content" templates, Tufte argues that there still isn't enough space/resolution on a PowerPoint screen. I tend to agree with him when I compare the 3x3' office projection screen with the 10' tall, 6'

      • Re:Hmm.... (Score:5, Informative)

        by BWJones (18351) * on Monday August 21, 2006 @09:11PM (#15952754) Homepage Journal
        Yes, I *am* saying that I used a presentation software package, yet in using that package, I kept the "chartjunk" to a minimum, used graphics effectively where appropriate and used simple data and clear presentation to deliver the message.

        This can be done with Powerpoint, Keynote and a variety of other packages. However, the problem with them is that people often use things like 3D graphs where inappropriate, fill up screens with lots of little text whereupon they say "don't read this, I just wanted to show......". Also the distracting use of transitions that flip and pop and such and cute little sounds that do nothing for the message except cloud it are common things that folks like Tufte and interestingly enough David Byrne have also commented on.

        • The real trick is to find the right balance between distracting and supporting. For instance, doing flipping, popping, and sounds may be distracting. But, say, lose the sound and have a very quick, simple animation of the text expanding from some point, and you have a very good visual cue that there is something new here -- and it doesn't last long enough to distract from the main point.

          Kind of like how we all scoffed at drop shadows, but they really do serve a useful purpose -- they make it absolutly, 10
          • by penix1 (722987)
            There are 2 things that go into making a "good" presentation.

            1.) The topic at hand.

            If your topic is financial, you aren't going to get away from charts and graphs. That doesn't mean you should stick with the default style but you should also not distort the data trying to make it fancy. If your topic requires audio, video, or some other "special" media, then use it. If it doesn't, then don't as it is just a distraction.

            2.) The audience it is intended for.

            I have seen some hideous presentations simply because
          • Even mixing transitions can be effective. I tend to use three in Keynote:
            1. Cube Rotate - This shows that I am moving to a completely new section in the talk.
            2. 3D Flip - This shows that I am going on to explain something in more detail; the animation showing that we are now looking at the back of the slide reinforces this.
            3. No Effect (or a very quick fade) - This shows that I am still on the same topic.

            I've found this combination to be quite effective, and takes up less time/space than 'I am now going on to

        • by MrWa (144753)
          That's my biggest complaint with the whole "powerpoint is evil" mantra that Tufte goes off on all the time - Powerpoint is a TOOL that can be used to present information. You don't have to use the included templates or forms - you can put in video, spreadsheets, pictures, text, sounds, etc. etc. if that is what you NEED to deliver the intended message. A poor presentation design is not the fault of Powerpoint, it's the fault of the author. (the /. crowd should know better than blame the tool...P2P, anyon
          • by Knuckles (8964)
            I can see where you come from, but Tufte's gripe with PPT is that it makes the wrong things easy - and he's dead-on with it.

            A tool that is aimed at the masses and provides drawing tools (ever seen the default formatting after inserting a new chart?), slide layouts (bulleted list anyone?), and design templates ("Balance"? "Clouds"? wtf?) that when used lead to hideous presentations has failed.

            They should instead aim for tools and a UI that when used mindlessly at least leads to presentations that don't make
      • by codegen (103601)

        Tufte's gripes against powerpoint is the inappropriate use of such software. If you read his work he has several main points:

        1. In some circumstances it is not the best medium. In the NASA case he analyzes they used powerpoint over regular reports. In the Grand Parent Post case he is presenting a sypnosis of a report.
        2. The use of bullets and sub-bullets and sub-sub bullets are often used to hide the major points. In the NASA case the title and major bullets were optimistic while the sub-sub points contained
    • by lelitsch (31136)
      Is there a Tufte equivalent for academic prose?
    • by hey! (33014)
      I also endorse his very expensive and beautifully produced books. Everybody who needs to present quantitative information as part of their academic or professional work should buy "The Visual Display of Quantitative Information".

      However ...

      After buying several of them I'd add the caveat that the marginal value of each book drops rapidly below the purchase price, at least to my eyes.

      Tufte appears to be one of those scholars who have a truly splendid insight, then dine out on it for the rest of their careers
  • by EnsilZah (575600) <.EnsilZah. .at. .Gmail.com.> on Monday August 21, 2006 @07:16PM (#15952193)
    Wouldn't that describe pretty much every person who came across powerpoint and is not a manager?
    I did about 5 months of powerpoint stuff in the army (after which i was released for mental health reasons.. =\), and from my experience powerpoint has no use other than make managers and commanders feel important.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by joe 155 (937621)
      whilst I was a first year at uni all my lecturers put together power points and they were available online, it was brialliant compared to what we got last year; word documents. Word makes presentations to a standard so low you'd be shocked and bored more than you ever thought possible.

      Compaired to Word, power point is a feast for the eyes!
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by generic-man (33649)
      If used well (i.e. minimally) PowerPoint is a useful tool for putting simple, otherwise-unadorned information up on a screen. Watch a Steve Jobs keynote and see how he uses presentation software (in his case, Keynote) to present only a few words or a graph per slide.

      If used poorly, PowerPoint is a tool for combining cue cards, sound effects, clip art, and cheesy animations. Yes, even Keynote's animations are cheesy.
      • by OnanTheBarbarian (245959) on Monday August 21, 2006 @07:51PM (#15952379)
        I think the standard Tufte line on this, is that if a 'few words' are all you're going to get up there, then why not just say the words and leave the screen blank?

        As a side bonus, you'll get eye contact from your audience rather than the disconcerting experience of looking out at a sea of faces who are all looking slightly to one side, peering at:

        - Standard Tufte line

            * high-data essential

        - Good to have eye contact ... or some low-information drivel like that.

        But on the whole I agree that PowerPoint isn't inherently evil if used as a way of doing a nice slide-show of reasonably detailed elements (graphs, pictures, movies). The only problem is that the resolution of projectors is still pretty wretched compared to printed graphs.
        • by Rakishi (759894) on Monday August 21, 2006 @08:02PM (#15952429)
          I think the standard Tufte line on this, is that if a 'few words' are all you're going to get up there, then why not just say the words and leave the screen blank?

          Not everyone pays attention to the speaker all the time, never missing a single word or meaning.

          Also, pretty pictures keep people from deciding their text messages are worth more attention than your presentation or so a professor of mine says.
        • I think the standard Tufte line on this, is that if a 'few words' are all you're going to get up there, then why not just say the words and leave the screen blank?

          2 reasons:
          1) The powerpoint words summarize your point while the detail you speak expands on it and gives examples, etc.
          2) When the presentation is distributed, the summarized line is a helpful cue/mnemonic for those that can't memorize the entire presentation word for word, and those that don't want to wade through an enourmous amount of d
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by BWJones (18351) *
      Ah the DOD culture of the Powerpoint. It's a scary thing. Everyone is gunning for the killer Powerpoint presentation that will get them some time with a flag. Here's a hint for those of you Powerpoint addicts in the DOD: Get a Mac and use Keynote. You will stand out with a polished presentation that is much more cinematic in appearance, yet useful in its ability to present data in a cleaner manner. And since most flags and their juniors in the Pentagon are using Windows, you will not be able to "give"
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by johndierks (784521)
        Also take a look at Gapminder [gapminder.org] for really awesome displays of data.
      • by fossa (212602)

        Could someone explain with concrete examples what it is that makes Keynote superior to PowerPoint? The impression I get from Tufte isn't so much that PowerPoint itself is bad, but that low resolution, temporally separate decks of slides are bad. True, PowerPoint is heavily biased toward the bulleted list, but other than that I cannot see how Keynote can be much different, though I have never used Keynote.

        • Keynote is PowerPoint with fancier animations and graphics. That's it. It won't make you a better presenter, but it will impress your coworkers to the point where they ignore your presentation's content and ask where you got that awesome PowerPoint transition plugin. Then you can get all smug.
        • by BWJones (18351) *
          Sure,

          I found Keynote superior for the following reasons:

          1) Ease of building presentations and embedding of graphics and movies.
          2) Transitions (cross fades) for certain types of data allow for smooth flow of information allowing transparencies and overlays that facilitate interpretation.
          3) Built in alignment guides for text and images so things are not jumping all over the place from slide to slide.
          4) Cleaner interface and ease of exchange of data when building presentations with others.
          5) Integration w
        • I've not used PowerPoint for a few years, but the things I like about Keynote:
          1. The guidelines. Drag an object around a slide and it will 'snap' into place at various points (centre, horizontal and vertical, centre of gaps, etc).
          2. There is no drawing tool. If you want to add a diagram, you draw it in a real diagram tool, like OmniGraffle. The (very poor quality[1]) drawing tools in PowerPoint are resp
          3. Lower default density. Keynote doesn't encourage you to put lots of sub-sub-sub bullets that are unreadab
      • by samkass (174571)
        Here's a hint for those of you Powerpoint addicts in the DOD: Get a Mac and use Keynote.

        Here's a hint for those of you Powerpoint addicts in the DOD: get a workstation and use General Dynamics Viz' Command Post of the Future. A blatant plug, of course, because I work for the group that writes it [gdc4s.com], but the entire concept of a series of static, throw-away slides is so 20th century. If you can't manipulate and dig into information live, and have those viewing the presentation doing the same, then you're real
        • by BlowChunx (168122)
          Dang...hope they can code better software than that link you supplied.

          It just kept Firefox reloading, and nearly sent me into a seizure.
          • Where as on my version of firefox, it works just fine.

            But then, I'm using windows so I should be the one with prob^H^H^H^H

            Well, isn't that unusual?
        • This has its place, certainly, but I think you're absolutely right to say this, even if you didn't mean it:

          you're really not utilizing a tiny fraction of the benefit of having a large group of interested people assembled on the topic.

          That is to say, you are utilizing all but a tiny fraction of the benefit, and thus your software only adds a tiny fraction of benefit.

          It's true that involving your audience can be a good thing, but depending on what you're presenting, it's usually much better to completely d

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by megaditto (982598)
      Well, why not stick to basics and use PowerPoint as one would use a slide projector: no fancy transitions, funky bullets, 'impressive' red-on-blue or purple-on-black colors, or paragraphs of tiny text. No animations of any sort. No 'whoosh' sound

      Put up only pictures, graphs, and charts. Usually, if one has something good to show, it'll come our well regardless.

      That being said, looking at the pictures of the blurry dogs in Tufte's presentation made me want to throw up and gave me a headache.
      • by The Great Pretender (975978) on Monday August 21, 2006 @08:02PM (#15952430)
        As a veteran on massive data presentations (scientific), globally, to very different audiences, I concur with megaditto. Any presentation software is most effective when viewed as a direct replacement for the slide projector. No animations, no sounds. A few rules I live by:

        1) No matter what my company says, they get a white background presentation with a small logo in the bottom left corner of each slide. I refuse to use background templates of "company colors" 2) No crap on the borders. I can't stand the waste of space that borders use up. I would rather make my table 20% bigger than have a pretty pattern of lines off-setting the slide 3) Text titles no bigger than 36 font, text subject matter no smaller than 24 font 4) Preferably 1, if I must then 2 plots to a slide 5) No test describing the plots on the slide, I should be doing that 6) No bar charts! I hate bar charts 7) Bold primary colors, none of this 'earth shades' 8) Plots imported from a graphing package. I use Sigmaplot of Origin. Excel is the armpit of graphing.

        Bottomline is that if you have to use sounds and animations to capture the audiences attention, you're not doing a good job as a presenter, or the audience is just plain not interested in your subject (which happens).

    • I did about 5 months of powerpoint stuff in the army (after which i was released for mental health reasons)
      You do see the connection here, right? I'm surprised it took 5 months....
    • I did about 5 months of powerpoint stuff in the army (after which i was released for mental health reasons.. =\) yeah that'll do it.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 21, 2006 @07:16PM (#15952196)
    Edward Tufte's site [edwardtufte.com].
  • by imaginaryelf (862886) on Monday August 21, 2006 @07:21PM (#15952225)
    Gettysburg address in powerpoint: http://www.norvig.com/Gettysburg/ [norvig.com]
  • by rjamestaylor (117847) <rjamestaylor@gmail.com> on Monday August 21, 2006 @07:24PM (#15952241) Homepage Journal
    "If you're words aren't truthful, the finest optically letter spaced typography won't help," he says. "And if your images aren't on point, making them dance in color in three dimensions won't help."
    This is true, no doubt. However, it is helpful from the position of the viewer of the presentation more so than from the presenter. What I mean is this: many times people have to make presentations that
    1. Don't have anything to say and or
    2. Whose words aren't truthful
    For these people in either or both the above categories, PowerPoint can be a huge g-dsend, allowing them to execute a praise-generating (or, sales-generating) presentation that, had the person followed Tufte's advice, would have (rightfully) bombed.


    PowerPoint: stretching Truth and Content since 1997.

    People ready software, indeed. Lots of people have nothing to say or lie when they say it.

    Example: the Vista project manager giving a status report on features implemented, bugs solved and milestones met (this needs "filler") and projections for hitting delivery dates (this needs "less than truthful"). PowerPoint to the rescue!


    Seriously, though. In Tufte's world, those without something truthful to say simply would say nothing. I like that world. But, I live in the Internet Age and know that world, perfect as it is, does not exist.

    • by bfields (66644)
      Seriously, though. In Tufte's world, those without something truthful to say simply would say nothing. I like that world. But, I live in the Internet Age and know that world, perfect as it is, does not exist.

      A lot of his work is more about how to analyze presentations as it is about how to create them. That's an invaluable skill in the world of bad PowerPoint presentations.

    • by identity0 (77976)
      That reminds me, I wonder what he would think of the "presentation" the U.S. gave to the U.N. before the war in Iraq. I remember a lot of slides or pictures, but I don't remember being impressed by them. It just smelled like a bad power point presentation given by a guy who desperately wants to sell you a bad product...
    • by owlnation (858981)

      "If you're words aren't truthful, the finest optically letter spaced typography won't help," he says. "And if your images aren't on point, making them dance in color in three dimensions won't help."

      I don't entirely agree with this. It depends on the motivation of the presenter. If the objective of the presentation is to manipulate sentiment and/or data then this can indeed be a very successful approach. For proof, take a look at Fox News.

      It won't stand up to closer scrutiny of course, but the whole poi

  • majority? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by User 956 (568564) on Monday August 21, 2006 @07:26PM (#15952251) Homepage
    NPR ran a story on Edward Tufte -- the outspoken critic of PowerPoint presentations

    Why is he described as outspoken when his opinion is in the majority?
    • by sholden (12227)
      Because being outspoken has nothing to do with whether you are in the majority or minority.
      • Because being outspoken has nothing to do with whether you are in the majority or minority.

        All our cows are outstanding in their field

    • by Mateito (746185)
      Why is he described as outspoken when his opinion is in the majority?

      Do as I say, not as I do.

      We all hate Death-by-PowerPoint. We've all spent days stuck being bored shitless by PowerPoint presentations, yet when it comes to presenting, most of us still do it.

      I usually find that powerpoint is mandatory whenever I'm talking to more than about 20 people. However, I use no words unless they are annotating a diagram, hammering home a key point (max 3 per presentation), or are a bookend to the presentation.

  • Wikipedians (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mnemonic_ (164550) <`ude.hcimu' `ta' `cemaj'> on Monday August 21, 2006 @07:29PM (#15952266) Homepage Journal
    Reading his thoughts on borders [edwardtufte.com] (scroll down) reminds one of a flaw of Wikipedia's HTML/CSS design. "Strong frames ... produce content-diminishing effects," says Tufte. I seldom see borders around tables or equations in textbooks, and it does look very clean. On the other hand, Wikipedia's CSS styles place borders and underlines superfluously about everything, from blocks of code, images and underneath headings. It seems the Wikipedia web designers try too much to make "pretty pages" when, to an academic eye they look ugly and cluttered.

    Every page element should signify some meaning; a heading should be underlined to distinguish it, but only if it is not otherwise distinguished by font size, vertical whitespace or some other typesetting. One element variation should suffice, as long as it's a bold change. A table should have borders only if the data are unclear otherwise. It's sad that as useful as Wikipedia can be, it still suffers from so many flaws [slashdot.org]. Wikipedians could learn much from Tufte, or from any study of technical communication.
  • Bad Design (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Simonetta (207550) on Monday August 21, 2006 @07:37PM (#15952305)
    Bad design is giving a program an insufferablely cute name that does absolutely nothing to describe its function. Like "TWiki". At best, the name of the program should be a very short two word description of the program's function and at worst, a metaphor of the program's function. In the above example, "TWiki" should be called "GroupEditor" or at worst, "BullPen".
        But TWike like OggVorbis, is a ridiculous name that actually hurts the program by alienating people from exploring what it does after they see or hear the Program name referred to in some random context. Giving programs stupid names is a deep disfunction of the Linux/Open Source community. Seriously, we need to get over this.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Bad design number two is having a dandy enough site for the software, but giving no clue as to *what it actually does*.

      When I am overlord it will be mandatory to have the first question in a FAQ be "What is it and what does it do?".

      I don't want to have to wade through low-level descriptions of the API just to work out that it doesn't do what I want it to do.
    • by version5 (540999) <altovideo@hotmai l . com> on Monday August 21, 2006 @08:44PM (#15952625)
      "TWiki" should be called "GroupEditor" or at worst, "BullPen"...

      Wiki is a Hawaiian word meaning 'fast' or 'quick', so it does at least partly describe the function of the software. You might complain that not everyone is familiar with Hawaaian words, but then not everyone is familiar with baseball terminology from which you derived "BullPen". Open source software tends to have a very cross-cultural, cross-language audience. Do you suggest that projects rename themselves for each language they target? Projects are named for marketing purposes, to be memorable and appealing. It sounds very much like you just hate the idea of marketing, so I will rename you CrankyBastard, which I think we can all agree is memorable, appealing and accurately describes you!

    • by dbIII (701233)
      Giving programs stupid names
      It is everywhere. My computer is getting electricity from a cord plugged into a powerpoint. We have a web environment with a name that meant wall in ancient greek (ajax) - we get it several times removed becuase it was applied to a hero that was apparently built like a brick wall.
    • Re:Bad Design (Score:5, Insightful)

      by waveclaw (43274) on Monday August 21, 2006 @09:30PM (#15952858) Homepage Journal
      Bad design is giving a program an insufferablely cute name that does absolutely nothing to describe its function.

      Actually, Tuffte talkes about this very phenomina using terms familiar to anyone in design: affordances. Affordances are learned aspects of a particular domain. Affordances, as Tufte has touched upon in his design for information clairty are to be used, not avoided. Everyone had to learn what MP3 meant. Everyone had to learn how to read a chart (or, if they weren't a jock on a fast road to CEO at Daddy's firm, fail High School geometry.)

      For example, I am a big fan of functional naming. Instead of a variable named $CORNED_BEEF I would use $HASH_PIVOT. However, if you are an ESL like 95% of the world, it won't matter what you call your variables becuase the non-native aspect will always stand in the way. You will have to learn what those identifiers mean and then remember that.

      The same holds for software. The 'lingua franca' of Computer Science, hence much programming and software marketing, is English. The language of musical notation is Italian. From study I know what agitato and determinato are. But it does not help me that they are Italian for agitated and determined, respectfully, because I had to learn their definitions in English. If I spoke Italian I could have pulled the names for those musical styles out of thin air just listening to music. However, they are just words attached to those concepts for me, abstract labels and nothing more. However, I do not see any difference between this hundreds of year old phenomina and sotware naming.

      But TWike like OggVorbis, is a ridiculous name that actually hurts the program by alienating people from exploring what it does after they see or hear the Program name referred to in some random context.

      I don't think we'd get a lot of benefit if TWiki had been called VersionGroupwareType003.

      People hunting online for MP3s might dissagree. After all, MP3 just says 'music file' doesn't it? MP3 is a Motion-Picture Experts Group layer 3 file. Yes, I looked that up. I might think that has something to do with the movies, but music? Wiki means HTML TEXTAREA editor with special markup for you web browser. (Really the groupware aspect of Wikis is kinda of a dominating secondary effect.) Ogg Vorbis stands for Vorbis encoded audio inside an Ogg format container.

      This is far from the point thougt. Tufte's expertise is to spot on eliminate distracting garbage in a design. Powerpoint is very good at packing in garbage, hence his critisim of it. Simple, silly names are appripirate when differentiating. When they are clutter, like bullets points that take up 40% of the slide, names won't serve this purpose. For evern search.com there is a competitor not wanting to lose mindshare (or trademark infringement lawsuits) by having a very similar name. But pardon me, I have more google'ing to do before I can flesh out that point.
      • by asuffield (111848)

        Motion-Picture Experts Group layer 3 file. Yes, I looked that up.

        And still got it wrong. mp3 is a nonsense term derived from the common file extension for mpeg-1 audio layer 3 and mpeg-2 audio layer 3 files (yes, it's two related but different formats - go idiots!). The names for mpeg-1 and mpeg-2 are derived from the name of the group that created them, which is an acronym for "motion picture experts group". You can't expand all the acronyms at once - they're a hierarchy, with 'mpeg-1' and 'mpeg-2' being t

    • by Knuckles (8964)
      I think it is often overlooked that in the age of Google a good product name produces practically no hits prior to your first press release. I don't think using a commonly-known word or combination thereof is a good strategy at all. As an example for a much-derided name lately, take "Wii". the day after the news were released you could type "Wii" into google and everything that came up was about the Nintendo Wii. Now try the same with "Revolution."
    • Bad design is giving a program an insufferablely cute name that does absolutely nothing to describe its function. ... Giving programs stupid names is a deep disfunction of the Linux/Open Source community. Seriously, we need to get over this.

      This is not just a problem in the OSS community -- it's endemic in the entire computing community.

      1) Nero. Yes, I get the (bad) joke.

      2) BlackBerry.

      3) Google.

      None of these names describe the function of the product. In each case, the (trademarked) name functions as a

  • Keynote, PowerPoint, or any other tool in the hands of the average human being could be catastrophic.

    ...In other news today GM announced it would include new dashboard functionality to make on the go changes to their new line of trucks. Drivers will now be able to inflate their tires to monster truck level instantaneously, add multiple high beam lights to their roll bars at no extra cost, display gun racks and fishing poles, whistle "dixie" with their horn...

  • by OnanTheBarbarian (245959) on Monday August 21, 2006 @07:39PM (#15952317)
    I imagine that many people will get on and post all sorts of breathless praise about Tufte. This is well deserved. His design sense is first-rate, but what's really impressive to me about him is his emphasis on intellectual honesty and detail.

    What I really would like to see is a new widget set (with lots of data presentation support - obviously most of the widgets should be quantitative displays) and a style written in some already well-supported widget set (Qt, Swing, ...) that lives up to Tufte's ideas about maximizing data ink and minimizing junk. While I really admire the effects that Tufte and some of his acolytes achieve, quite frequently it seems that they achieve these effects by painstaking work in drawing or desktop publishing packages. More than once, I wince at some bit of graphics or interface that I've designed, thinking, "Damn, that's an embarrassing bit of work for someone who has read Tufte, but I just don't have the time or skills to fix it..."

    This makes it a lot harder for schlubs like me who don't really have skills in this area, and don't have time to develop them. Further, it makes it more or less impossible to achieve these sort of fine effects programmatically - I'd like to see interactive displays that are informed by his sort of design sense, not just nice presentations (using hand-outs, of course :-) ), papers and books.

    If anyone is interested in this - or knows of systems that go any decent way in this direction - please post or e-mail me at:

    geoff AT cs DOT usyd DOOOOT edu DoT au

    (sorry about the stylized "dot" silliness, but something tells me that the traditional foo AT bar DOT com is probably already being mined by spammers - or will be soon).
    • While I think that you have a nugget of a good idea, I have my doubts that it's possible to make a software tool that encourages or enforces good design. Software can't legislate good taste, and a lack of good taste is the problem.

      Now for a crass generalization: techies always think that a problem can be solved with software and/or obsession. But sometimes, it takes actual skill to do good work. After all, programmers rarely hesitate to get pissy with some noob who works in Visual Basic, but they somehow think that art and design are skills that can be picked up from a book.

      If it's really important to you to have attractive visuals, then don't be an arrogant asshole, and hire someone to do the work. It doesn't have to be expensive (go to any art school, and you'll find dozens of young, eager artists and graphic designers looking for a break, and willing to work for reasonable rates), and it will go a long way to making you look more professional and polished.
      • by OnanTheBarbarian (245959) on Monday August 21, 2006 @08:32PM (#15952567)
        Alright, you have a good point there, but to some extent you're attacking a straw-man. I don't imagine that a software library can magically make good visuals for me. Also, I never said that we'd get together a bunch of programmers (and only programmers) and make the perfect, beautiful widget set - obviously, designers need to help with individual components (and the overall layout if the overall layout can be determined ahead of time - see ahead).

        However, there are so many cases where there are existing cliches that could be improved. For example, Tufte has a brilliant redesign of a scatterplot that uses pretty much every bit of ink on the screen to convey useful data (for example, the X and Y axes become range bars that show the univariate distribution of data). This could be hacked once and for all into a TufteScatterplot widget. And so on.

        One of the major problems with the 'hire a graphic artist' approach is that frequently, we're dealing with systems that will display unanticipated data. I'm working with a statistical problem at the moment (and building some generalized tools to deal with it) and I have no way of knowing ahead of time whether someone is going to work with a model with 60 factors of which 5 are significant or 10 factors of which 7 are significant. I don't know what sort of names the person will give the factors. I don't know whether the significant factors will be all pretty much the same size (e.g. 1.5%, 2.2%, -1.3%) or hugely different (200%, -50%, 10%). When presenting 'significance' in a system, I can't have the system automatically call the nearest design school to handcraft a nice display. Thus, a system that makes a programmatic attempt at trying to achieve ideals of good design is much better than a system that doesn't even bother.

        Of course, anyone will be able to cobble together a rotten-looking, dishonest and confusing interface out of these kind of components. So what?

        • by Tim (686)
          For the record: I wasn't referring to *you* as an arrogant asshole. Hope that was clear.

          I also have some experience working with elaborate statistical systems, and I'm very familiar with the truth of the "unanticipated result" argument. Frequently, you can't know what your data should look like until you've massaged it enough to have done most of the design. In fact, I think that's true most of the time, when you're doing novel research. There are very few situations where an off-the-shelf plot or grap
      • by KidSock (150684)
        Software can't legislate good taste, and a lack of good taste is the problem.

        Good design is not a matter of taste. It's a matter of correctly modelling the concept of the task the program performs. Don't model the physical world. Don't model procedures. Model programming interfaces after *concepts*. If you get that right the code will be reusable for tasks yet to be conceived. That is what makes a design good.

        Note that software can't model concepts. That's a paradox. If it could you would have AI (in which
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Infonaut (96956)

      What I really would like to see is a new widget set (with lots of data presentation support - obviously most of the widgets should be quantitative displays) and a style written in some already well-supported widget set (Qt, Swing, ...) that lives up to Tufte's ideas about maximizing data ink and minimizing junk.

      Tufte would like that too. One of the central points of Beautiful Evidence is that software tools are all wrong for presenting information. They artificially segregate it into textual, visual, nu

    • There is a php library called SparkLine [sparkline.org] that does only, you guessed it, spark lines [wikipedia.org].

      The FAQ on the Sparkline site helps explain why use that library and not just a shrunken down graph or chart. Though I don't see a great need my self I'm sure there are others who may find it interesting.

      J
  • myspace page?
  • Genesis (Score:2, Funny)

    by drkfdr (785982)
    Have they an updated version of the Genesis chapter ready yet?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 21, 2006 @09:08PM (#15952741)
    Here's a link to a long interview with Tufte.
    http://www.edwardtufte.com/tufte/s15427625tcq1304_ 5.pdf [edwardtufte.com]

    The interviewer asked him about why he self-published:
    "After moving to Yale University, I finished the manuscript in
    1982. A publisher was interested but planned to print only 2,000
    copies and to charge a very high price, contrary to my hopes for
    a wide readership. I also sought to design the book so as to make
    it self-exemplifying--that is, the physical object itself would
    reflect the intellectual principles advanced in the book. Publishers
    seemed appalled at the prospect that an author might
    govern design."

    So, here's a guy writing a book on how to present information and the publisher thinks he knows better. LOL. Naturally, Tufte chose to keep control of the process. In other words, we are to do as he does. (as opposed to do as he says.) This approach reminds me of a lecture our principal used to give. The lecture was on how to lecture. He gave seven different techniques. He delivered each technique by using that technique. This is what Tufte refers to as self-exemplifying. Our library doesn't know it yet but they are buying copies of his books. :-)
    • In the same self-exemplifying lines, a fantastic piece of work is scott mcloud [wikipedia.org]'s understanding comics (the invisible art) [scottmccloud.com].
      He explains why and how comics can be used to convey very rich messages, while using comics as his medium. The book itself proves his point magistrally. There are quite complicated and often abstract and philosophical issues in there, yet he manages to explain them in four frames, with a few words and very insightful yet simple drawings. They both melt into a message that would take a
  • I generally don't do PowerPoint. Once I did, though. My group was presenting a concept of operations for our software as applied to a new project. There were many sections to the presentation, and several of us were assigned portions of it relative to the parts of the system we were most familiar with. I did my section, which I thought was concise and informative, and sent it in to my manager to be placed in order with the rest. The plan was for each of us to actually talk to the section of the presentation

  • Tufte's latest book quotes British typographer Eric Gill: "If you look after truth and goodness, beauty looks after herself." ...that whenever you give a presentation, you're normally out there with an agenda. There are only a few presentations I've heard that I'd consider seeking "truth and goodness", and mostly it's from ideal organizations within a field (and I don't mean lobbying groups, even the non-profit mouthpieces). With a normal Powerpoint presentation, it's a lot harder to realize when you're get

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