Edward Tufte has released his fourth book on information design: Beautiful Evidence. As with the previous books in the series, there are a lot of great ideas that stand alone. I’m going to list a few that I think have the most practical value. One overall theme to the book is “a guide for what to do with high-resolution display devices”. An increasing amount of contemporary design is done for low-resolution displays, such as television and computer monitors. If we get a 1200 dpi version of one of these designs, as is easily possible with an inexpensive laser printer, we are not getting much benefit from that increased resolution. A lot of the ideas in Beautiful Evidence can be used today with Web scripts that generate PDF files to be printed. The rest of the ideas will be waiting for designers 20 years from now when computer monitors finally catch up to paper.
Idea 1: Sparklines (see examples from Tufte’s Web site). Tufte points out that nothing stops the modern printer from including small graphs right in-line with text or tables and that these graphs make comparisons much easier. Baseball fans will enjoy Tufte’s depiction of a baseball season, first for one team and then for all teams. Tufte argues convincingly that showing history in a “sparkline” reduces “recency bias, the persistent and widespread over-weighting of recent events in making decisions.”
Idea 2: Forcing people to write English sentences instead of PowerPoint bullets results in a lot more clarity, especially with respect to causality.
Idea 3: If you’re running a business, figure out how to pack a huge amount of information, including sparklines, onto a single 11×17″ sheet of paper and print it out on a laserprinter, then give it to decision makers. With that one sheet of paper, they will have as much information as 15 computer screenfuls or 300 PowerPoint slides.
Amazon should have the book in stock eventually, or order straight from the publisher: http://www.edwardtufte.com/tufte/books_be