I attended one of Edward Tufte’s 1-day courses in Seattle. They’re fantastic. If you’re interested in display, presentation of information, or even just general design, I highly recommend his talks and his books. (Although, if you’re a marketing website designer, Powerpoint-slinging PowerExecutive, or Microsoftie, prepare to take a bit of heat, because he tells it like it is. Down with applications!)

A Great Infographic At Low Resolution


Cherrypicking: Selective loss of data, sometimes to satisfy the low-resolution of the display media, sometimes because you’re trying to mislead people, and sometimes through ignorance about the previous two.

PGP: Particular->General->Particular, a way teachers present complicated material.

Points (Tufte)

It’s about the content! Design cannot save you if the content is cherrypicked or wrong! It’s about the content!

It doesn’t really matter at what point in time a consumer of content understands the content… it just matters that they understand. Don’t don’t stack information in time… lay everything out in front of people.

PowerPoint is a very low-resolution. Bullets waste space.

End presentations early. People will want to come back. (Also, have good content, people will want to come back.)

“Lumpy” charts are best. “Jaggy” and “flatty” charts are no good. Slope resolution’s lost at certain aspect ratios. He suggested a 45-degree average slope algorithm to get the aspect ratio right.

Thoughts (Me)

All presentations suffer from cherrypicking. There’s always at least one dimension missing. (Not that the dimension’s important for communication of your content to the audience you’re after… just that it’s missing, and I think that’s worth noting.) When you load your data up in cubes, even a “UDM”… you’re still cherrypicking. You don’t have baseball scores in there…

I propose his sparkline ‘beta” was intended as a viral movement to change written language. 500,000 to 1,000,000 Google hits for “sparklines” say it’s starting to work. If Galileo Galilei and his Lynxes had blogs, would it have caught on already?

He had a cool Space Shuttle model. Or, at least it looked cool.

Paper is back. Maybe it never went away: the resolution of paper (2400dpi) is far greater than my monitor. (Insert dataword comparing resolutions here.)

Tufte almost certainly Apple stock. Or at least, he somewhat likes them? He subtly pitched dual displays, and in particular the 30″ Cinema Display (or at the very least, a 23″) as a way to cope with lack of resolution. I wish I had a 30; a 23 will have to do.

His baseball whisker-line dataword design includes a horizontal bar indicating home games vs. away games. No one in the audience guessed that’s what that’s for at first? (Or no one spoke up, anyway.) I agree that learning this rule is much easier than learning a new word, and application of the rule communicates a great deal more than a word.

Repeat important points. Add salt, and repeat. Add oregano… and repeat. Particular, general, particular.

His voice reminded me of Garrison Keillor’s, with a little extra rhubarb.

  1. Perp,

    Ok, what the heck, you were in Seattle…and didn’t even drop me a line? We could have at least had a meal. You ornery fellow. :) Just don’t let it happen again. hehe

    What do you mean, down with applications? How could that work?

    And, I prefer to teach general > particular > general


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