Edward Tufte on Information Design

I’m a software and systems engineer and a student and practitioner of information design. Information Design is a field of central importance to designing systems that are usable by their intended user base, yet it’s not covered in any depth in the software engineering college curricula I’m familiar with.

The foremost living master of information design is Edward Tufte. He’s well worth studying. In addition to his books and the many resources at edwardtufte.com, he gives one day courses at various US locations and I strongly recommend this course. I learned a great deal when I attended 7 or so years ago. The cost of attendance includes hardcopy versions of all 4 of Tufte’s books on information design.

Even if you can’t attend his live course, it’s worth reading up on Tufte to gain insight into how one master thinks about the world of information design. His site is below. It’s worth poking around there to see if you find anything that interests you.


Here’s a quick read on interface design and a short video by Tufte on the now very familiar iPhone interface. He covered this when I attended the one day course, when the iPhone was still rather new – http://www.edwardtufte.com/bboard/q-and-a-fetch-msg?msg_id=00036T


Here’s a good read on PowerPoint and its suitability for technical presentation and reporting. Those who’ve worked with me (and John Henris) will remember our occasional rants against PowerPoint as a tool for conveying information. We still use it, because we’re often required to, but understanding the deficiencies of PowerPoint and the human tendencies when working with PowerPoint will enable you to be a better presenter and to choose a superior tool for technical reports and presentations when the situation allows.

PowerPoint Does Rocket Science–and Better Techniques for Technical Reports – http://www.edwardtufte.com/bboard/q-and-a-fetch-msg?msg_id=0001yB


I know it will seem like I’m picking on PowerPoint (I am), but here’s another short read on Steve Ballmer’s revelation that traditional presentations are not the best way to transfer information – Microsoft’s CEO wants ET method of presentation, not PowerPoint – http://www.edwardtufte.com/bboard/q-and-a-fetch-msg?msg_id=0003RO


Finally, here is an excellent collection of facts, tips, and examples on spotting and avoiding corruption in evidence collection, presentation and analysis. It’s worthwhile reading for every person in science or engineering – Corrupt Techniques in Evidence Presentations – http://www.edwardtufte.com/bboard/q-and-a-fetch-msg?msg_id=0001et – Much of this comes from Tufte’s Beautiful Evidence book, which I’ll let you borrow if you promise to take good care of it.


Note: Tufte tends to present himself, in his writing and in his talks, as a god of technology, on the same level as Einstein and da Vinci. I mention this so you can be aware of the need to remain objective. He’s a brilliant man, but one whose ideas you should evaluate as if he was just another source of information.

As always, if you have any questions, please leave a comment and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.

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