i can’t help it, and yes, i do slow down for car crashes:

“Not enough controversy on this list, so here goes.


Tufte understands packing the data in. He lacks an understanding of people. Sometimes chart junk (his term) helps in the understanding of a chart by providing mnemonic aid to the symbols. Sometimes it helps motivate the reader. For most casual users of charts and graphs, less is better. For the professional statistician, such as Tufte, denser is better.

Tufte is often wrong about what constitutes good communication. Indeed, I am surprised he likes the Napoleon map so much because it has, in his terms, superfluous chart chunk – those drawings of soldiers. This is indeed an excellent graphic, but much of his work does not have this character.

Tufte is not the only statistician who has addressed the problems of representing graphical material. In my opinion, Bertin is the best.

Tufte preaches. I entered into a discussion with him about this once and tried to present some experimental data that one of my students had collected. he refused even to look at it. That is, it isn’t that he looked at the data and disagreed with the interpretation or even the collection– that would be permissible. No, he refused even to look.

Tufte is fun to read. Much of what he says is important and valuable. The problem is, you have to decide what to follow and what to ignore. Don’t follow all that he preaches — you will do your users a disservice.


note that this is not the first time tufte has been the subject of relatively high profile disrespectin’. this one’s courtesy of richard saul wurman:

“Well, I think he’s completely wrong. And he’s completely wrong because of who he is. First of all, his books are terrific. But they’re the books of an analytic historian. He is not a graphic designer. He is not an information architect. He doesn’t have any ideas about graphics and what’s going to happen in the future. He has documented the history of information design superbly and he’s done a very good analysis of it. But I think, since he doesn’t have creative ideas about the future, he can’t see how there will be amazing information displayed on the Internet, done by very creative people, in the very near future. Are we stumbling around now doing things? You bet. Because we’re finding our way. Much the same as when the movies first happened, when cinema first happened, they based it on old things, they made it look like stage plays. Well, we’re just getting over the point where we’re just putting diagrams on a screen. We’re not taking the appropriate way of using dynamic information. We’re using it to show off that we can spin things, and we’re showing off things because we can do it, and everybody is bragging to one another about some cute program. We are going to get over that show off stage very soon. We’re going to be able to show things, and will show things, accurately, clearly, and using the medium for what it is. I mean, if you or anybody else is going through the stage that many of us are of getting fast downloads and speeding up your equipment, it changes your whole relationship with what you can see and how you see it. And I think his reflection is on things as he’s looking backwards not forwards.”


[don norman ACM SIGCHI WWW Human Factors post via xblog]

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