Learn to Inform by Displaying

By Gavin Scott of Allegro

I recently attended a one-day course on "Presenting Data and Information" given by Edward Tufte, author of the incredible books "The Visual Display of Quantitative Information", "Envisioning Information", and "Visual Explanations". Tufte is Professor Emeritus at Yale University, where he taught courses in statistical evidence, information design, and interface design. Tufte now spends his time working on a new book and he gives about 30 seminars each year. He gave four consecutive day's worth of courses in the SF Bay area in December, and each one was sold out with 500 attendees each.

Tufte's work should be required reading for everyone who produces information display of any kind, and also for those who are required to interpret the information displays of others. "Information displays" includes things like giving presentations, preparing any sort of illustration that's intended to convey information, and computer user interface design.

His books are beautifully produced by his own publishing company, making him one of the most successful self-publishers of all time I suspect. They are printed using the highest quality materials, with some sections passing through the printer as many as 23 times. In fact a hazard of reading the books is that the rich and fascinating illustrations tend to derail you from actually reading the text, and you find yourself just paging through to look at the pictures. Of course about one in four of the illustrations is intended as an example of "bad" design, so you really do need to read the text.

The course costs $320, and includes copies of each of the three books and a poster of the famous Minard illustration of Napoleon's 1812 march on Moscow which "may be the best statistical graphic ever drawn" according to Tufte.

The class covered a diverse array of topics, including information design, presentation skills, visualizations, presenting business data, etc. Tufte is an excellent speaker, with a quick wit and sense of humor. He kept the audience on the edge of their seats throughout the day.

Highly recommended. Future courses will be given in Atlanta in January, Austin, Dallas, and Boston in March, and Arlington Virginia in May of 2001. Call 203-250-7007 for more information.

December 15, 2000