Edward Tufte: Your Presentation Sucks Cause Your Content Sucks

Edward Tufte Class

Image by star5112 via Flickr

Where do I begin. What a nice, genuine, humble, helpful person!

The fanatic in me ensured that I was first in the room and first to pick a seat. Why go if you don’t go whole heartedly! As I organized myself, Tufte quietly walked over and said “hi, where do you work, what do you do?” I mumbled some crap about research, my awe seriously impairing my ability to speak in a human language. He then proceeded to introduce himself to every single person in the room and signed their books at the same time. During breaks and lunch, he signed more autographs and took more questions, disregarding his own need to take breaks (except five minutes to change his shoes :). Wow.

I couldn’t even begin to share with you everything I learned. First, I guess, was the over-riding principle of if it doesn’t convey essential information, get rid of it. Whether in powerpoint, desktops, or phone screens. Think about it, even parentheses are chart junk – you could have just reduced the font and greyed the word or number out. People will get it.

You know those folks who read the sports pages everyday? Well, if they can figure out all those numbers, they can certainly figure out your well designed, content rich chart. Do not dumb down to the lowest commom denominator because even that person isn’t stupid. They might actually be forced to use their brain.

Tufte viciously trashed pie charts at least twice. Yay! He brought two Galileo books, one a first edition printed in 1613, to demonstrate the use of images and 3D charts in texts, and his assistant actually carried the books around for people to admire. Wow! He also trashed powerpoint for its ability to make people forget about content and focus on fancy. He taught me the words chartoonist, super graphic, fox pas, and software throwup. He talked about deeply retarded charts and used the highly technical term “sucks.” He’s a very funny guy!

In hindsight, would I go to his seminar? Yes! Every researcher should go. Our job is so filled with the visual display of information that this class should be a required course. He will inspire you to change the way you think about and prepare research reports.

Go. Now. Learn.

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    2 responses

    1. Please may I touch your clothes. I adore this man and it sounds fabulous.

      1. You may admire me from afar. 🙂

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