Edward Tufte "Presenting Data And Information" Minneapolis 2008

Edward Tufte is a statistician and considered an expert on presenting data visually. Tufte was highly recommended, so I decided to attend his 1-day course in Minneapolis. Part of the event cost included four of Tufte's books as hardcovers.

Tufte presented to a room of hundreds the the day I attended, and there was another day scheduled with hundreds more! I enjoyed the course and met him briefly at the end to get a book autographed.

My notes:

  • presentations should be problem-driven, use "whatever it takes" to show data
  • annotate nouns (in handouts)
  • provide "reasons to believe"
  • alternative explanations "must compete"
  • put nouns into context
  • find the "supergraphic" of your field
  • celebrate the fact that viewers of the handout accompanying your presentation are reading ahead
  • "information overload is a failure of design"
  • "genuine interaction" means evoking different memories for each user
  • bring something for your presentation that's "real" (hospital bill example), note: "real means tangible"
  • order by performance, not alphabetically, when you find the "performance data"
  • don't design to the lowest common denominator
  • gill sans font for tables, 1-pg. 750 words
  • provoke interest and curiosity beyond the moment
  • Nature magazine was used as an example of great design, it has dense high quality information
  • work hard on performance data (performance data is most important)
  • "tone deaf" to the audience
  • get information adjacent in space, not "stacked in time"
  • don't use "flatland" to describe high-dimensional problems
  • what's the rate of information throughput?
  • "improvements in resolution"
  • "direct labeling"--eliminate legends and codes etc. from chart elements as much as possible
  • bring a real 3-dimensional object to your presentation, escape flatland
  • don't segregate information by the "mode of production"
  • "compared with what", grand comparisons
  • deep knowledge and caring about the content
  • "design cannot rescue failed content" (content is most important)
  • "do no harm" to content (note: presentation should not harm content)
  • do things adjacent in space
  • use small multiples (natural comparisons), easy on the viewer
  • take advantage of viewer's investment in learning the format
  • avoid "de-quantification"
  • "chartoonist" (note: derogatory term for charts that look like cartoons)
  • PowerPoint presentations are a "dominance relationship", the "dreaded slow reveal" (note: advocates having handouts and encouraging users to read ahead, not conform to presenter's slide reveal speed)
  • turning cognitive tasks into design principles
  • principles help to be a smarter consumer
  • "interface indifference"
  • screen + paper, more cooperation, interface neutrality, "whatever it takes"
  • 90% of the screen has content, information throughput
  • "we don't have to attract them, they've already arrived."
  • avoid bureaucracy of organization in design "conway's law"
  • "outside-in" design
  • "solutions looking for a problem to solve"
  • insist on high resolution from the start
  • administrative debris
  • word-size graphics (note: these are sparklines)
  • typographic resolution not cartoon resolution
  • sparklines: part of text, not separate
  • too much weight to recency, "recency bias", sparklines do not emphasize recency, shows more data
  • design driven by cognitive task, choose graph resolution appropriate to problem
  • wave fields (note: new chart style Tufte is experimenting with)
  • PowerPoint "projector operating system", 50-250 slides fit on A3/11x17, begin with a serious summary
    1. problem (issue)
    2. why do I care (relevance)
    3. solution
  • 4-page handout, note: one sheet, double-side printed, folded
  • people talk 140-150 words per minute, attendees can read faster than that!
  • "high resolution data dump", 12 professors reading information-dense handouts
  • sentences have "causal agency"
  • get better content!
  • rehearse your presentation, listen to video and audio
  • room setup: try to get control, let audience see gestures
  • in a long room? stand on the broad side, more of the audience is engaged
  • ask a colleague to ask questions as an audience member, get the audience rolling
  • "mastering the techniques of teaching" - show up early!
  • see how long you can stay out of first person singular
  • finish early!

I enjoyed the Tufte set of talks and recommend seeing him if you get the chance!