The visual display of quantitive information by Edward Tufte

This book is perhaps, short on words but long on ideas, proving us with time-efficient high-vision and wide knowledge about graphic design.

It is truly remarkable the strong research gracias al cual vemos ejemplos de gráficos que corresponden a los ultimo dos siglos, y nos muestran que no es necesaria la ultima tecnologia para ofrecer un grafico solido, claro y que presente una alta densidad de datos que de otra forma no seria posible visualizar en en un solo golpe de vista

Parts of the book

The book is divided in two parts, Part I: Graphical practice and Part II: Theory of Data Graphics.

The first part of the book is an historical revision about graphical practices covering the last two centuries since Playfair(*). These first three chapters are about the foundation of graphics design.

Within the chapter 1 – Graphical Excellence its presents how to communicate complex ideas with clarity, precision and efficiency, and how design has evolved along the time. There is a lot of examples with graphs created in different periods during the last two century encompassing trends and countries.

The chapter 2 – Graphical Integrity is about how some graphic could lie inadvertently or on propose to the reader, and again one of the most remarkable things is the strong documentation presented with examples and concise explanations

Finally the chapter 3 – Source of integrity and sophistication is about  how to avoid graphic mediocrity.

The second part is named as Theory of Data Graphics and along the chapters the book presents concepts and ideas and how to implement those in order to generate elegant graphic.

The chapter 4 – DataInk, express the idea of statistical graphics are instruments to help people reason about quantitative information, and the enunciates the fundamental principle of good statistical graphic: Above all else show the data.  Along this chapter there are other concepts to take in consideration and every concept is accompanied with examples in order to by more clear about the general idea behind that concept.

The chapter 5 – Chartjunk: Vibrations, Grids and Ducks, and this is a term for unnecessary or confusing visual elements in charts and graphs. Markings and visual elements can be called chart-junk if they are not part of the minimum set of visuals necessary to communicate the information understandably.

The chapter 6 – Data ink maximization and graphical design is about how to make the right desicion in order to achieve the best possible graph, and though several charts and examples the author details reasons behind each desicion that we took when we created a graph.

The chapter 7 – Multifunctioning graphical elements is about if we design with care and subtlety, one graph could be able to display complex, multivariate data. It is also important to keep in mind that the danger of multifunctioning elements is that they tend to generate graphical puzzles, with difficult encodings, in occasions only broken by their inventor. So, design techniques for enhancing graphical clarity must be developed in parallel with multifuncioning elements.

The chapter 8 – Data density and small multiples or how many entries in data matrix are displayed into the data graphic. Data graphics should ofter be based on large data matrices and have a high data density. More information is better, data-rich design give a context and credibility to stadistical evidence. The principle is maximize data density and the size of the data matrix, within reason. The idea behind small multiples is similar a frames of a movie: a serie of graphics, showing the same combination of variables, indexed by changes in another variable.

The chapter 9 – Aesthetics and Techniques in Data graphical design, and one of the most remarkable principles about what is the meaning of the good design: simplicity of design and complexity of data. Along this chapter there are a wide enumeration about principles related with line weight, lettering, how to create a friendly graphic, how to combinate words, numbers and pictures.

Main concepts

Why to use graphics

Because at the momento that we excel in the creation of statistical graph we are be able to communicate complex ideas with clarity, precision and efficiency.

More over, graphics reveal data. Of course, graph are good are the idea to communicate. A silly theory means a silly graph.

Graphics organize dense and complex information

Graphics simplify complex information

Graphical displays essentials

In the first chapter and in a way to establish what are the main lines that the book will cover, the author presents the essential concepts to be in mind at the moment to create a graph.

  • Show the data
  • Induce viewer to think about substance rather than methodology
  • Encourage eye to compare different pieces of data
  • Avoid distorting what the data represents
  • Present many numbers in a small space
  • Make large data sets coherent
  • Reveal data at several levels of details – broad overview and fine structure

Principles of Graphical Excellence

Graphical excellence is the well-designed presentation of interesting data – a matter of substance, of statistics and of design. It is also, which gives to the viewer the greatest number of ideas in the shortest time with the least ink in the smallest space.

And also, graphical excellence requires telling the truth about the data.

Data-to-ink ratio

1.0 – proportion of a graphic that can be erased without loss of data

Along different examples the author explains how import is maximize the share of Data-ink, considering that every bit of ink on a graphic requires a reason, and nearly always the reason should be that the ink presents new information.

Also recommends to erase non-data-ink, within reason. This is the other way of increasing the proportion of data. In most cases, gratuitous decoration and reinforcement of the data measures generate much redundant data-ink.

And finally erase redundant data-ink, within reason, because unless redundacy has a distinctly worthy purpose, instead of emphatize the information tends to blur the atention  of the reader toward the less valuable details of the graph.

Cart junk

Unnecessary or confusing visual elements in charts and graphs. Markings and visual elements can be called chart-junk if they are not part of the minimum set of visuals necessary to communicate the information understandably.

Narrative graphics of space and time

One of the most relevant graphic ever created is a classic of Charles Minard, french engineer, which shows the terrible fate of Napoleon’s army in Russia. This is a combination of data map and time-series. Six variables are plotted: the size of the army, location on a two-dimensional surface, direction of the army’s movement and temperature on various dates during the retreat from Moscow.

minard_lgAnother excellent example is a design created by Marey about graphical train schedule for Paris to Lyon in the 1880s. Arrivals and departures from a station are located along the horizontal; lenght of stop at a station is indicated be the lenght of the horizontal line. Teh distance between station is in proportion to their actual distance apart. The slope of the lines represents the speed of the train.



Design is a choice, and the main task of the designer is the revelation of the complex.


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