Feb 16, 2009

edward tufte and presenting data


I was lucky enough to attend a seminar from Edward Tufte, a couple of weeks ago, on the Presentation of Data and Information. Edward Tufte is probably best known for the book 'The Quantitative Display of Visual Information' and was an engaging and entertaining presenter. He has a very different style from the normal Powerpoint-driven presentation approach. In fact, much of his work is railing against the uses and abuses of Powerpoint and similar slide techniques.

The main take-away I got from the whole day was that if you have to communicate complicated data sets or information, that you really need to consider how people will use and interact with the data first. Too often, we go straight to presentation software and start trying to work out how to express the information in slides, rather than taking the time to consider if there are other, better ways to impart the information. Tufte was very keen on the concept of a 'super-graphic' which is a data rich, high resolution physical handout that lets participants see and consider a lot of data at once. A map is a great example of a super-graphic, or the weather page in a typical newspaper. A key part of this is that paper is much higher resolution than a typical computer screen (72dpi to 600dpi means you can show a whole lot more data in the same space). This is why multiple display screens are really useful for serious work. It also means that printing out and sharing data is a great way to get information infront of people in a meeting, rather than drip feeding it from slides)

I compare this idea to another guide I saw in the same week on creating powerpoint presentations that admonishes that there should never be more than 8 numbers on any slide or graphic. Tufte's response to this was repeatedly 'when did we become so stupid, just because we walked into a business meeting?' People handle large, complex data displays every day in the real world. People read and study sports scores in a newspaper, or financial reports without any trouble at all.

Let the data drive the presentation format, rather than the presentation software drive how the data is displayed.

There are comments.

Comments !