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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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  • by EnsilZah (575600) <.moc.liamG. .ta. .haZlisnE.> on Monday August 21, 2006 @06:16PM (#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.
  • by rjamestaylor (117847) <rjamestaylor@gmail.com> on Monday August 21, 2006 @06:24PM (#15952241) 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.

  • majority? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by User 956 (568564) on Monday August 21, 2006 @06:26PM (#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?
  • Bad Design (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Simonetta (207550) on Monday August 21, 2006 @06:37PM (#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.
  • Hmm.... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by commodoresloat (172735) * on Monday August 21, 2006 @06:44PM (#15952338)
    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 because you presented those ideas using powerpoint-style presentation software.
  • by Rakishi (759894) on Monday August 21, 2006 @07:02PM (#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.
  • Re:HTML Design? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Rakishi (759894) on Monday August 21, 2006 @07:09PM (#15952462)
    Even without that the site looks confusing and intimdiating at first look.
  • Re:Bad Design (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 21, 2006 @07:40PM (#15952612)
    Perhaps you'll care to explain to us... iPod. Biro. Excel. Lotus 123. Apache. Eclipse. Napster. American Express.

    All names of products that have achieved public or profesionnal recognition while having a name that in no way describe what they might be or do.

    Having a "pro", "serious" sounding or descriptive name has never helped a product succeed. Stupid ones tend to sound, err, not stupid at all once the product becomes accepted.

    And, for god's sake, the *last* thing *anyone* needs in yet another product name containing "edit".
  • by AlpineR (32307) <wagnerr@umich.edu> on Monday August 21, 2006 @07:53PM (#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.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 21, 2006 @08:07PM (#15952733)
    "Put up only pictures, graphs, and charts. Usually, if one has something good to show, it'll come our well regardless.

    This line demonstrates that you haven't read Mr Tufte's books. Data in and of itself is not necessarily information, including a graph, and a picture can easily lie. If you haven't sculpted the presentation for the audience, your data could simply be yet another chaotic Excel graph that doesn't bring out the meaning you are trying to portray. In the worst case scenario, you create a graph that you are not aware is distorting the perception of the data against your own intentions.

    Much of Tufte's work tries to fight chartjunk, which is the practice of thinking that if you put data into a graph, especially with more colors and flashy symbolic icons, your job is done. Wrong. He teaches how to arrange and present the same data to most effectively and clearly represent the data set, and minimize data distortion. (Of course, you can also use his principles to present and distort the data set in such a way that advances your agenda on those who are not aware of the principles.)
  • Re:Bad Design (Score:5, Insightful)

    by waveclaw (43274) on Monday August 21, 2006 @08:30PM (#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.
  • Re:Bad Design (Score:3, Insightful)

    by kabz (770151) on Monday August 21, 2006 @08:59PM (#15952967) Homepage Journal
    Yeah, I think the Brian Briggs quote comes to mind:
    "If Microsoft made a toilet paper, it would be called 'Butt Wiper'."

    I think, on the whole, I prefer a less desciptive name.
  • by senahj (461846) on Tuesday August 22, 2006 @01:01AM (#15953745)

    You breathe the sacred names "Strunk" and "White"
    in the same sentence as the flabby cliche
    "rolling in their graves"?

    Feh.

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