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Visual Explanations: Images and Quantities, Evidence and Narrative available in Hardcover
Riveting ideas on presenting better information design. Few would disagree: Life in the information age can be overwhelming. Through computers, the Internet, the media, and even our daily newspapers, we are awash in a seemingly endless stream of charts, maps, infographics, diagrams, and data. Visual Explanations, the latest book by Edward R. Tufte, a Yale design professor, is a navigational guide through this turbulent sea of information. The book is an essential reference for anyone involved in graphic, Web, or multimedia design, as well as for educators and lecturers who use graphics in presentations or classes.
Visual Explanations is the third volume in Tufte's series on the science of information design. Few scholars have been able to present the theories behind this rapidly evolving field in such a fascinating, approachable, and witty manner. Like its predecessors, Envisioning Information and The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, this book is exquisitely designed and printed. It includes built-in flaps to emphasize before-and-after comparisons. With its elegant, classical typesetting and reproductions of medieval engravings, one feels like one has discovered some obscure or antiquated tome, the strange dissertations of a forgotten philosopher.
However, Tufte's ideas are contemporary and increasingly relevant: What are the most effective ways to present information? Visual Explanations offers numerous examples that illustrate better methods of communicating complicated ideas in print, in presentations, and on the computer screen. Tufte's critical eye is quick to suggest improvements to the examples he cites: He will often redesign a graphic or chart, and his changes offer helpful guidelines on how to put theory into practice.
The first section of the book reveals the history behind our current methods of depicting information. Many conveniences we often take for granted, such as graph paper, pie charts, and topographic maps, have evolved over the past 5,000 years as scientists and statisticians have found better ways to put onto paper the events and phenomena they observed in daily life.
The historical background in this book covers a diverse range of topics. How do we explain the illusions behind a magician's tricks? What is the best way to show the size and scale of Giacometti's sculptures? What are the shortcomings of a supercomputer's animated video of a thunderstorm? Could better organization of data have prevented the tragic explosion of the space shuttle Challenger? The second part of the book considers strategies that can be used to arrange information in a more visually exciting way, not only on the printed page but also on the video and computer screen. The daily log, or "cyclogram," drawn by a Soviet cosmonaut orbiting hundreds of miles above Earth is contrasted with the engravings of ancient astronomers. Other examples that Tufte has culled from history include a Degas sculpture, ancient letters engraved on the Trajan columns, and some mugshot photographs of criminals indicted in the Watergate conspiracy.
The latter section of the book also delves into the design of computer interfaces and Web sites, whose limited screen resolution makes the presentation of text and graphics particularly challenging. This concise discussion shows how to expand the visual capacities of the screen and is extremely helpful. For anyone who would like to better organize, manage, and present information, Visual Explanations is truly an enjoyable reading experience and an invaluable reference to have on your bookshelf. -- Philip Krayna
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Table of Contents
Images and Quantities .....13
Visual and Statistical Thinking: Displays of Evidence for Making Decisions .....27
Explaining Magic: Pictorial Instruction and Disinformation Design ..... 55
The Smallest Effective Difference ..... 73
Parallelism: Repetition and Change, Comparison and Surprise ..... 79
Multiples in Space and Time .....105
Visual Confections: Juxtapositions from the Ocean of the Streams of Story ..... 121
This book describes design strategies--the proper arrangement in space and time of images, words, and numbers--for presenting information about motion, process, mechanism, cause and effect. These strategies are found again and again in portrayals of explanations, quite independent of the particular substantive content or technology of display.
And we also enter the cognitive paradise of explanation, a sparkling and exuberant world, intensely relevant to the design of information. Those who discover an explanation are often those who construct its representation. Thus we see Robert Burton in 1633 designing the title page of The Anatomy of Melancholy so as to reflect the book's elaborate argument (as did Hobbes in Leviathan); Christiaan Huygens in 1659 not only detecting the rings of Saturn but also luminously picturing his discoveries; John Snow in 1854 finding the evidence needed to end an epidemic and skillfully presenting that evidence; Richard Feynman developing space-time diagrams for quantum electrodynamics and also reasoning about the displays of evidence involved in the disastrous decision to launch the space shuttle Challenger; magicians for centuries contriving illusions about cause and effect and then in turn explaining techniques of illusion production; Ad Reinhardt presenting exquisitely subtle colors in his work and also teaching about styles of modern art with perceptive and droll cartoons. All thesequick-witted creators and discoverers demonstrate methods by which to represent, describe, illustrate, and, indeed, construct knowledge.
Many of our examples suggest that clarity and excellence in thinking is very much like clarity and excellence in the display of data. When principles of design replicate principles of thought, the act of arranging information becomes an act of insight.
The first part of this book examines the logic of depicting quantitative evidence. What principles should inform our designs for showing data? Where do those principles come from? How can the integrity of quantitative descriptions be maintained in the face of complex and animated representations of data? What are the standards for evaluating visual evidence, especially for making decisions and reaching conclusions?
The second part considers design strategies, often for the arrangement of images as narrative. Here the issues are more visual--and lyrical--than quantitative. The idea is to make designs that enhance the richness, complexity, resolution, dimensionality, and clarity of the content. By extending the visual capacities of paper, video, and computer screen, we are able to extend the depth of our own knowledge and experience. And so this part of the book reports on architectures of comparison and narrative: parallelism, multiples, confections.
Several of the illustrations have been edited and redrawn (as noted in the citations) in order to repair battered originals, to make new color separations, and to improve the design. Primary sources--the themes for my variations--are always indicated.
My three books on information design stand in the following relation:
The Visual Display of Quantitative Information is about pictures of numbers, how to depict data and enforce statistical honesty.These books are meant to be self-exemplifying: the objects themselves embody the ideas written about. Enchanted by the elegant and precise beauty of the best displays of information, and also inspired by the idea of self-exemplification, I have come to write, design, and publish the three books myself.
Envisioning Information is about pictures of nouns (maps and aerial photographs, for example, consist of a great many nouns lying on the ground). Enivisioning also deals with visual strategies for design: color, layering, and interaction effects.
Visual Explanations is about pictures of verbs, the representation of mechanism and motion, of process and dynamics, of causes and effect, of explanation and narrative. Since such displays are often used to reach conclusions and make decisions, there is a special concern with the integrity of the content and the design.
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