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Graphics Press
The Visual Display of Quantitative Information / Edition 2

The Visual Display of Quantitative Information / Edition 2

by Edward R. Tufte
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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780961392147
Publisher: Graphics Press
Publication date: 01/28/2001
Edition description: 2ND
Pages: 197
Sales rank: 110,556
Product dimensions: 8.60(w) x 10.70(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Edward Tufte is a professor at Yale University, where he teaches courses in statistical evidence and information design. His books include Visual Explanations, Envisioning Information, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, Political Control of the Economy, Data Analysis for Politics and Policy, and Size and Democracy (with Robert A. Dahl).

He is a fellow of the American Statistical Association, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. He has received honorary doctorates from The Cooper Union and Connecticut College, the Phi Beta Kappa Award in Science, and the Joseph T. Rigo Award for contributions to software documentation from the Association for Computing Machinery.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 3: Sources of Graphical Integrity and Sophistication

Why do artists draw graphics that lie? Why do the world's major newspapers and magazines publish them?

Although bias and stereotyping are the origin of more than a few graphical distortions, the primary causes of inept graphical work are to be found in the skills, attitudes, and organizational structure prevailing among those who design and edit statistical graphics.

Lack of Quantitative Skills of Professional Artists

Lurking behind the inept graphic is a lack of judgment about quan-titative evidence. Nearly all those who produce graphics for masspublication are trained exclusively in the fine arts and have hadlittle experience with the analysis of data. Such experience is essen-tial for achieving precision and grace in the presence of statistics,but even textbooks of graphical design are silent on how to thinkabout numbers. Illustrators too often see their work as an exclu-sively artistic enterprise-the words "creative," "concept," and"style" combine regularly in all possible permutations, a Big Thinkjargon for the small task of constructing a time-series a few datapoints long. Those who get ahead are those who beautify data,never mind statistical integrity.

The Doctrine That Statistical Data Are Boring

Inept graphics also flourish because many graphic artists believe that statistics are boring and tedious. It then follows that decorated graphics must pep up, animate, and all too often exaggerate what evidence there is in the data. For example:

Time's first full-time chart specialist, an art-school graduate, says that in his work, "The challenge is to present statistics as avisual idea rather than a tedious parade of numbers."
The opening sentence of the chapter on statistical charts in Jan White's Graphic Idea Notebook: "Why are statistics so boring?" Sample illustrations supposedly reveal "Dry statistics turned into symbolic graphics" and "Plain statistics embellished or humanized with pictures."
A fine book on graphics, Herdeg's Graphis/Diagrams, is described by its publisher: "An international review demonstrating convincingly that statistical and diagrammatic graphics do not necessarily have to be dull."

The doctrine of boring data serves political ends, helping to advance certain interests over others in bureaucratic struggles for control of a publication's resources. For if the numbers are dull dull dull, then an artist, indeed many artists, indeed an Art Department and an Art Director are required to animate the data, lest the eyes of the audience glaze over. Thus the doctrine encourages placing data graphics under control of artists rather than in the hands of those who write the words and know the substance. As the art bureaucracy grows, style replaces content. And the word people, having lost space in the publication to data decorators, console themselves with thoughts that statistics are really rather tedious anyway. If the statistics are boring, then you've got the wrong numbers. Finding the right numbers requires as much specialized skillstatistical skill-and hard work as creating a beautiful design or covering a complex news story.

The Doctrine That Graphics Are Only for the Unsophisticated Reader

Many believe that graphical displays should divert and entertain those in the audience who find the words in the text too difficult. For example:

Consumer Reports describes the design of their new consumer magazine for children: "For the first test issue, CU's professional staff produced an article about sugar that was longer on graphics than on information. We had feared children might be overwhelmed by too many facts."
An art director with overall responsibility for the design of some 3,ooo data graphics each year (yielding 2.5 billion printed images) said that graphics are intended more to lure the reader's attention away from the advertising than to explain the news in any detail. "Unlike the advertisements," he said, "at least we don't put naked women in our graphics...

Table of Contents

Part I: Graphical Practice
1: Graphical Excellence...13
2: Graphical Integrity...53
3: Sources of Graphical Integrity and Sophistication...79

Part II: Theory of Data Graphics
4: Data-Ink and Graphical Redesign...91
5: Chartjunk: Vibrations, Grids, and Ducks...107
6: Data-Ink Maximization and Graphical Design...123
7: Multifunctioning Graphical Elements...139
8: Data Density and Small Multiples...161
9: Aesthetics and Technique in Data Graphical Design...177

Epilogue: Designs for the Display of Information...191


Data graphics visually display measured quantities by means of the combined use of points, lines, a coordinate system, numbers, symbols, words, shading, and color.

The use of abstract, non-representational pictures to show numbers is a surprisingly recent invention, perhaps because of the diversity of skills required-the visual-artistic, empirical-statistical, and mathematical. It was not until 1750-1800 that statistical graphicslength and area to show quantity, time-series, scatterplots, and multivariate displays-were invented, long after such triumphs of mathematical ingenuity as logarithms, Cartesian coordinates, the calculus, and the basics of probability theory. The remarkable William Playfair (1759-1823 developed or improved upon nearly all the fundamental graphical designs, seeking to replace conventional tables of numbers with the systematic visual representations of his "linear arithmetic."

Modern data graphics can do much more than simply substitute for small statistical tables. At their best, graphics are instruments for reasoning about quantitative information. Often the most effective way to describe, explore, and summarize a set of numberseven a very large set-is to look at pictures of those numbers. Furthermore, of all methods for analyzing and communicating statistical information, well-designed data graphics are usually the simplest and at the same time the most powerful.

The first part of this book reviews the graphical practice of the two centuries since Playfair. The reader will, I hope, rejoice in the graphical glories shown in Chapter 1 and then condemn the lapses and lost opportunities exhibited in Chapter 2. Chapter 3, on graphical integrity andsophistication, seeks to account for these differences in quality of graphical design.

The second part of the book provides a language for discussing graphics and a practical theory of data graphics. Applying to most visual displays of quantitative information, the theory leads to changes and improvements in design, suggests why some graphics might be better than others, and generates new types of graphics. The emphasis is on maximizing principles, empirical measures of graphical performance, and the sequential improvement of graphics through revision and editing. Insights into graphical design are to be gained, I believe, from theories of what makes for excellence in art, architecture, and prose.

This is a book about the design of statistical graphics and, as such, it is concerned both with design and with statistics. But it is also about how to communicate information through the simultaneous presentation of words, numbers, and pictures. The design of statistical graphics is a universal matter-like mathematics-and is not tied to the unique features of a particular language. The descriptive concepts (a vocabulary for graphics) and the principles advanced apply to most designs. I have at times provided evidence about the scope of these ideas, by showing how frequently a principle applies to (a random sample of) news and scientific graphics.

Each year, the world over, somewhere between goo billion (9 X 10 and 2 trillion (2 X 1012) images of statistical graphics are printed. The principles of this book apply to most of those graphics. Some of the suggested changes are small, but others are substantial, with consequences for hundreds of billions of printed pages.

But I hope also that the book has consequences for the viewers and makers of those images-that they will never view or create statistical graphics the same way again. That is in part because we are about to see, collected here, so many wonderful drawings, those of Playfair, of Minard, of Marey, and, nowadays, of the computer.

Most of all, then, this book is a celebration of data graphics.

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The Visual Display of Quantitative Information 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 17 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is his first in what has become a series. With numerous examples of good practice and also of delightfully bad practice, he shows how to help the viewer see the data, not the graphic process, presuming of course that the purpose is honest communication not misdirection. Better graphs show more data (thus: 'maximise data ink') but without shouting about themselves (thus: 'avoid cybercrud and The Duck') so that subtle patterns may be perceived more readily. And some patterns are not at all subtle: one gazes at his reproduction of the graph depicting Napoleon's attack on Russia, and the vast horror of the retreat is evident. The purpose of a Visual Display is to seek understanding, and he shows techniques that will support this search, while puncturing the illusions of those whose efforts had other objectives.
ElizabethPisani on LibraryThing 7 months ago
If ever a title did a disservice to a book, this is it. Even I was nearly put off, and I am a data nerd par excellence. This books is fascinating, thought-provoking and very beautiful. Tufte goes on to repeat himself in many subsequent volumes, but this, his first book, says it all.Key concepts: ink-to-information ratio, and chart junk. I have plagerised Tufte's ideas and expressions in teaching civil servants and data analysts in countries from Indonesia to Ethiopia.
Schopflin on LibraryThing 7 months ago
I think this is my favourite of the three Tuftes volumes I've read. It really gets down to the principles of what makes a good graphic and I'm relieved to hear that for small quantities of data, he feels a table does the job perfectly well. I'm not sure I agree with everything he says. Some of the 'non-data ink' he describes as redundant is helpful because it follows familiar conventions. We know how to read the data because we are used to the point where the x and y axis meet, for example. But I'm still awed by the clarity of his writing and ideas and the sheer beauty of this book's production.
alv on LibraryThing 7 months ago
Very well written and considerably helpful. Carefully edited. Some of the exemplary diagrams are faulty in other, previously identified ways. And too much respect is paid to the figure of Playfair, sometimes leaning on an implicit argument by authority (e.g. aspect ratio). Healthy questioning of fundamental truths and necessary praise of information density in an age of visual dumbing-down. Helps avoid limiting creativity in graphical design because of constraining tools. Please comment in my profile if you know of software tools that support directly or indirectly the principles advocated by Tufte.
EowynA on LibraryThing 7 months ago
This is sensible, artistic advice about displaying statistics in a clear, understandable manner. I've been wondering about the bar graphs in the Book -- are they displaying my little bits of information in a clear, unambiguous, and effective manner? Turns out they are okay, but can be improved. So they will be, in accordance with this excellent analysis of using design to maximize communication. Highly recommended.
Harlan879 on LibraryThing 7 months ago
I was a little disappointed in this classic work on charts and graphs. On the one hand, it was clearly a revolutionary kick in the pants to a field that had no prior organization. On the other hand, as a person who makes charts and graphs as a regular part of his work (academic researcher), I found some of the advice to be misguided. His efforts to redesign clunky box plots, although admirable, end up with not *enough* ink. The little offset lines to indicate quartile ranges are just silly. And for someone who talks about the data being much more important than the design, he barely talks about data at all. Perhaps his later work is more useful. I'll have to check it out and see.
alspray on LibraryThing 7 months ago
¿Visual Display¿¿ has my minimalist self at odds with my usability self. I find Tufte¿s approach quite compelling ¿though perhaps sometimes it goes a little (eensy weensy) too far. As in, some of his pinnacle examples left me quite befuddled. All in all though, another gorgeous production by Tufte with a plethora of rich examples to explore. I wish I could frame every page and hang on it on the wall.
Murdocke23 on LibraryThing 7 months ago
This first Tutfe book focuses on charts and graphs. The text is insightful but could be presented more simply, but the ideas and examples around information graphics are excellent. Shares some similar concepts from Envisioning Information and Visual Explanations.
ftorralba on LibraryThing 7 months ago
This book has changed the way I judge and make graphical representations of data.Two lessons emerge from Tufte's masterpiece:1. Eliminate from a graph anything that doesn't add information2. Maximize the amount of information per square inchDon't let the antiquated looks of the book deceive you: keep reading till the end and you'll find that Tufte's teachings are as valid today as they were 30 years ago.I do wish, however, that this second edition incorporated more advice specific to computer-generated graphics. I'm particularly disappointed because this edition was published as recently as 2001, many years after the personal computer became THE tool for graph making. Without such applied advice, and given the old look of the examples and the large format of the volume, I'm afraid this book will be regarded by many as a geeky coffee-table piece.
detailmuse on LibraryThing 7 months ago
According to Edward Tufte, the purpose of graphics is, ¿Not the complication of the simple; rather (¿) the revelation of the complex.¿ And his The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, first self-published nearly 30 years ago, is now a bible -- a sort of The Elements of Style applied to information graphics.Tufte reviews how information can be presented (i.e. a minimal amount via a sentence; a moderate amount via a table; a huge amount via a graphic) and then turns his attention to graphics -- from their beginnings in cartography to how to achieve graphic excellence today.He urges a multi-disciplinary approach, cautioning that, ¿Allowing artist-illustrators to control the design and content of statistical graphics is almost like allowing typographers to control the content, style, and editing of prose.¿ He touches on psychology and cognition. He rails against using graphic design to deceive, and enlightens readers by pulling numerous examples of misrepresentation from prominent media. He devotes a large part of the book to improving the effectiveness of graphs by urging the elimination of ¿chart junk¿ (e.g. moiré-effect cross-hatching) and numerous other sources of ¿non-data ink.¿ In fact, a chapter wherein he strips away seemingly necessary text, frames, hatch marks, etc. (leaving little more than an ether vapor but in the process simplifying and clarifying the meaning) is revelatory.So many books I've read recently have referenced Tufte, and I'm glad to have finally read him directly. Highly recommended.
jontseng on LibraryThing 7 months ago
Like many "cult" books, its genius is making and obscure subject utterly fascinating. Contains a number of iconic images, particularly the graphic of Napoleon's retreat from Moscow.
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