Monday, March 15, 2010

Translating into Tuftese

 > "The best statistical graphic ever drawn," according to Tufte.

Obama has just appointed Edward Tufte, master of all things visually communicated, to the Recovery Independent Advisory Panel (which advises the board that tracks and explains the $787 billion in stimulus funds). From Newsweek:
"Among fans, Tufte is known as "the Da Vinci of Data." After receiving a B.A. and M.S. in statistics from Stanford and a Ph.D. in political science from Yale, the Beverly Hills native launched his academic career by signing on to teach courses in political economy and data analysis at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of International Affairs. Over time, he became increasingly interested in information design—charts, graphs, diagrams—and in 1982 he took out a second mortgage on his home in order to self-publish his first book on the subject, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. It redefined the field and was later named one of Amazon's 100 best books of the century."
Interestingly, Tufte is clear to distinguish the role of a designer as commercial artist with that of a communicator of visual evidence:
"This is about visual thinking and visual evidence," Tufte says. "It's not about commercial art. The last thing in the world that's needed here is a designer. What's needed is an analytical, statistical, quantitative approach. Reporting is different from pitching. Artists who design for marketing purposes inherently have problems with credibility. This is something very different in spirit. It's about accountability and transparency—with heavy, heavy amounts of data."
I might argue that "designer" can incorporate both meanings, including both an artistic and analytical approach. But the purpose is clear: to present information (and lots of it) in a clear, understandable, credible way. I look forward to seeing how a Tufte-approach plays out in Washington.

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