I had intended to comment on this sooner, but it caught me in the midst of a pretty insane election campaign and I found myself without a spare minute up until this week.
In one of those “hey, someone does read this thing” moments, I ran into a post over at Standard Gamble about his exploration and attempted application of lesson’s learned from Tufte’s work and he was kind enough to reference my previous post on Tufte’s The Cognitive Style of Powerpoint.
There’s a good exploration here in trying to tackle a difficult visualization of conflict, with a Snyder-Diesing conflict graph populated by recent hurricane data as his test subject. If you made it past that sentence and finding yourself excited to learn more:
- Seek professional help
- Head on over to Standard Gamble to see his exploration
I hate to comment on his work without some proper time to ruminate, but my initial impression is that the data display may be aided by integration with a geographical element such as an overhead map of the areas affected with data overlaid appropriately. It would add an immediate sense of familiarity and relevance for an audience trying to derive something from a seemingly complicated series of objects, as well as a new data set in the form of geographical location and clear sense of the height of the conflict when the storm reaches the shores at it’s highest power.
A Maddening Evolution Through Background Ruminations
Trying to implement lessons from Tufte is not unlike his well-known over-saturated ego: a bit maddening. The luxury of Tufte is that he gets to practice design as redesign to his heart’s content and when it finally hits a healthy point, he publishes something damn impressive. Time is far too scant to pursue his level of quality in the day to day world. Some lessons fit as simple guidelines that are easily found: direct labeling, simplified language, the outright rejection of obvious data junk, but the more subtle lessons can be insanely illusive when in the harried act of your own creation. At some point though, I realized many of these more subtle choices started to become a part of my standard behavior: the minor yet welcoming reduction of data noise by slightly more informed font choices, a certain relaxation and reduced complication of aesthetics that takes place all around when growing out of certain visual hangups, the ability to throw away dozens of visual experiments and accept that the first and most simple one is the winner.
It’s tough to define the success of Tufte’s well chosen examples when you first encounter them and it’s even harder to implement them, but once you do, once you realize your brain is finally understanding some of the finer notions of displaying information, you find yourself at an almost equal loss for words when trying to pass these lessons on to another. When we get lost in the nuance of something that lives far outside of a black and white world, we are stuck with referring to them in nuanced ways. When Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart was asked to define obscenity, he could have referring to good information design.
“I don’t know how to define it, but I know it when I see it.”