- Hardcover: 126 pages
- Publisher: Graphics Press (January 1990)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0961392118
- ISBN-13: 978-0961392116
- Product Dimensions: 10.8 x 8.9 x 0.9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars See all reviews (116 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #16,072 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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A remarkable range of examples for the idea of visual thinking, with beautifully printed pages. A real treat for all who reason and learn by means of images. -- Rudolf Arnheim
A beautiful, magnificent sequel to his classic,
The Visual Display of Quantitative Information -- American Mathematical Society
A beautifully illustrated, well-argued volume. -- Scientific American
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Top Customer Reviews
Tufte presents a collection of some the best examples of information design ever invented, and some of the worst examples. And then he goes into the underlying principles that make the great ones sing out.
This book will be really helpful to any web page designer, UI designers, statisticians, cartographers, scientists, or anyone concerned with presenting dense information in a clear way.
There is a chapter on presenting multiple dimensional data on a flat, 2D paper that all by itself is worth the price of the book. Then there's the chapter on "Small Multiples" which presents wonderful examples of how to show patterns and changes. But then there's the chapter on layering of information, so the key pieces of data appear first, and the less relevant ones reveal themselves later. And on and on and on. Its just a great book.
To add to it, Tufte is obsessed with quality like nobody else I can think of in the book business. Its printed on 100% rag paper using real lead type because he thinks that all other methods are inferior. Which means the book is costly to make, but its of heirloom quality.
This book is like the poetry of visualizations; you will need to supplement it with books that are the prose of visualizations - see suggestions at the end of the review.
Why 3 Stars???
I initially gave this four stars, but then changed it to three stars. This may seem harsh, but hear me out. There is lots that is good in the book. However, this book's focus is more on cartography and maps. And this is where it falls short. It does not address the issue of map based visualizations in any sort of depth. Not much space is devoted to the different types of map based visualizations - dot plots, qualitative and quantitative choropleths (color patches), heatmaps, proportional bars, 3D maps, maps with variable sized markers, isopleths, flow maps, dot-location maps, graduated symbol maps, and much, much, more. The other reason for deducting two stars is the fact that this book, in 2009, does read a bit dated. It is a beautifully laid out book, that almost falls into the coffee-table book category, but looking beyond that, the material does show its age. 10 or 15 years ago the rating would have been 4 or 5 stars. Perhaps unfair on my part...
On the topic of spatial maps, Tufte highlights a problem that may emerge with conventional choropleths (blot maps): "(they)... paint over areas formed by given geographic or political boundaries ..." and resulting in non-uniform sizes, and "historical changes in political boundaries disrupt continuity of statistical comparisons." The solution? Or at least one solution: "Mesh maps finesse these problems." Taking the example of a map of Japan, "... the whole country of Japan was divided up in 379,000 equal-sized units and then, in a heroic endeavor, census data and addresses were collated to match the new grid squares." [page 40, 41]
Some of the examples may not strike a resonant chord with everyone - for example, the "Weather Chart" at the top of page 32 looks too dense and full of diverse symbols to be truly effective.
Excerpts from the book:
"All communication between the readers of an image and the makers of an image must now take place on a two-dimensional surface. Escaping this flatland is the essential task of envisioning information." [page 12]
Given the inherent multi-dimensionality of data (a measure that represents value or values over time, region, and other dimensions - e.g. number of employees by year, by country, and by line-of-business), Tufte states that we should "... increase (1) the number of dimensions that can be represented on plane surfaces and (2) the data density (amount of information per unit area)." [page 13]
This focus on data density finds resonance throughout the book:
"Simplicity of reading derives from the context of detailed and complex information, properly arranged. A most unconventional design strategy is revealed: to clarify, add detail." [page 37]
Tufte is especially harsh on charts that feature "chart junk", what he describes as "... display apparatus and ornamentation" that "... seek to attract and divert attention...", and that "Lurking behind chart junk is contempt both for information and for the audience. ... designing as if readers were obtuse and uncaring... " [page 33, 34]
"The struggle between maintenance of context and enforcement of comparison... " [page 77]
Excessive or wanton use of color can be very damaging to the visualization. Eduard Imhof enumerates four rules of minimizing such color damage:
"First rule: Pure, bright colors or very strong colors have loud, unbearable effects when they stand unrelieved over large areas adjacent to each other, but extraordinary effects can be achieved when they are used sparingly on or between dull background tones. ...
Second rule: The placing of light, bright colors mixed with white next to each other usually produces unpleasant results..." [page 82]
Tufte lists "... the fundamental uses of color in information design: to label (color as noun), to measure (color as quantity), to represent or intimate reality (color as representation), and to enliven or decorate (color as beauty)." [page 81]
The book is short. It doesn't feel so, but is in fact all of 126 pages.
More color is needed.
Some of the reproductions are not very clear, and it is a real strain on the eyes to discern the data and the visualization: certainly not a ringing endorsement for a book on visualizations.
Without some any formal, theoretical background, this book feels incomplete.
Consider this: while you may use other books more frequently to learn and reference when creating visualizations, charts, or dashboards, you will want to keep this book handy to remind yourself of the bigger picture and the historical context of visualizations.
Suggested Additional Reading:
You should supplement the visual feast in Tufte's "Envisioning Information" with these books:
- Tufte's other book, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, 2nd edition, is probably the better one.
- Stephen Few's "Information Dashboard Design: The Effective Visual Communication of Data"
- Jenifer Tidwell's "Designing Interfaces: Patterns for Effective Interaction Design"
- Colin Ware's "Information Visualization, Second Edition: Perception for Design (Interactive Technologies)"
- Visualizing Data by William S. Cleveland
- Exploratory Data Analysis by John W. Tukey
and many other books that cover the topic of information visualizations.
This is not a "how to" book, but rather a group of inspiring examples showing any would be information designer the concepts behind the execution of these superb examples.The concepts are painstakingly argued and illustrated. Tufte is obsessed with quality - the book is printed on 100% rag paper using old fashioned lead type because he believes this yields the highest quality results. One of the best books I have ever read when it comes to visual design!
For instance, in his chapter "Layering and Separation," Tufte dissects the problems with array of marshaling signals then reworks the presentation and provides a step-by-step explanation of his process. His coining of the wonderful notion of an "information prison" shows that his cleverness extends from the visual to the written.
As Tufte writes in his introduction, "The principles of information design are universal-like mathematics-and are not tied to unique features of a particular language or culture." He proves this point amply by drawing on myriad sources and examples.
His comments and insights of the power of color are especially enlightening, and if you have ever been subjected to a particularly hideous PowerPoint slide show where the presenter got more than a bit carried away with the technology, you will be agreeing more than disagreeing with the ideas here.
Finally, I acknowledge there is bound to be some sticker shock associated with Edward Tufte's books. But if you consider the amount and quality of color (which requires special press runs), the quality of the paper, the amount of press time (Tufte oversees and approves the printing), and the vast scope of timeless information contained in each book, then these books are a deal.