Visual Information books by Edward Tufte?

Subject: Visual Information books by Edward Tufte?
From: Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca>
To: Tracy Taylor <ipsque -at- yahoo -dot- com>, TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Sat, 31 Dec 2005 09:57:35 -0500

Tracy Taylor wondered: <<Has anyone used any of Edward Tufte's books to help design visual information for documentation?>>

I imprinted on his books early in my career. So I suppose you could say that all my design work since then has been strongly influenced by Tufte's approach. I was also fortunate enough to read Jacques Bertin's "Semiology of graphics" (in translation). But I don't use this information as a cookbook; I use it to understand the parameters of a design and figure out how to implement the design effectively in that context.

<<any resource that helps you figure out what types of information are best in a diagram, and what information is best presented in which type of visual?>>

The first step always involves a careful consideration of the degree of abstraction required--or, expressed in less jargon, how "real-world" the image must be to communicate. Color, for example, requires a photograph if you want to express how that color is perceived (near-zero abstraction) but a precise CMYK or RGB number with no actual visual content if you want to define the color for printing or a computer monitor (near-100% abstraction). Similarly, a photograph is best if you need to show exactly what the viewer's eyes will see, including all the irrelevant details (near-zero abstraction) whereas a highly simplified line drawing is better if you want to exclude every potentially irrelevant detail, leaving only the key details (near-100% abstraction).

In between these extremes lie a range of options. The trick is to look at each option (photo, line drawing, graph, mathematical equation, number, word) and ask yourself how its inherent level of abstraction relates to the message you want to communicate. I'm not aware of any one book that defines this simply and clearly and tells you how to apply this knowledge; I'm hoping to write one in a couple years once I'm finished my current projects.

In case you're interested, I found bargain prices on Tufte's books at and at various times, and now own two of the three. I'd dearly love to find an affordable copy of Bertin's book, but that apparently isn't going to happen any time soon. Sigh.

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Geoff Hart ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca
(try geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com if you don't get a reply)
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Visual Information books by Edward Tufte: From: Tracy Taylor

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