Tufte details graphic depictions

Edward Tufte, a professor of political science, statistics and computer science at Yale University, delivered a lecture, “Visual Explanations,” Friday at 3 p.m. in Wege Auditorium.

He used visual aides to help identify the two main problems of “visual literacy:” dimensionality and data density. In particular, his visual example documenting Napoleon’s march to Moscow demonstrated the phenomenal amount of information one can display with the correct techniques. Tufte called the map by Charles Joseph Minard “the most effective graphic illustration ever made…Minard’s graphic tells us a rich, coherent story.”

As in his three famous books on information design, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information (1983), Envisioning Information (1990) and Visual Explanations (1997), Tufte discussed the methods behind clear, creative and successful graphic presentation. For example, he explained the absolute necessity of “escaping ‘flatland,’” a term he used to describe two-dimensional space lacking the elements needed to express information clearly and vividly. “All the worlds – physical, biological, imaginary, human – that we seek to understand are inevitably multivariate in nature,” he said. “Not flatlands.” The use of “visual comparisons” and the representation of “causability,” said Tufte, are good ways to escape flatland and bring life to information design.

In addition to these techniques, Tufte said that in order to succeed in “information architecture,” one must care deeply about the content of one’s work: “Good design cannot rescue bad content.” He also stressed the importance of authorship. “Just as an artist signs his artwork, so must a designer of information graphics imprint his work with a personal touch, a creator’s signature,” he said.

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