Thursday, December 7, 2006

beautiful evidence

I spent the entire day today in a conference room two floors underground in the basement of a downtown hotel listening to a geek give a talk on presenting data and information. You’d think I’d be fast asleep drooling on my handout by midday. But I wasn’t. Neither was Captain Organico (who smartly invited me to fill the spot his sick coworker was leaving open). And neither was anyone else for that matter.

That’s because Edward Tufte is one really entertaining geek. No flash. No fuss. He essentially just stood at the front of the packed conference room and delivered.

The reason I dug him…he calls for minimizing the distractions in a presentation, maximizing the content, and most importantly, for achieving credibility in data presentation.

“The single biggest threat to the credibility of a presentation, outside of lying and censorship, is the cherry picking of evidence.” One of his good niblets. Too true. I see it all the time in medical journals. Which is appalling and unethical.

“Icons are retarded.” Another good niblet. This one he mentioned when ranting about how design doesn’t make content any better. In other words, don’t replace your data with symbols. Just put your data out there.

Whether you’re a NASA engineer presenting on what went wrong in the 2003 spaceflight of shuttle Columbia, a music lover diagramming the history of rock and roll, an artist trying to design a personal webpage, or a doctor (ahem) presenting an interesting patient case, the information in Tufte’s talk applies.

Check him out.

*To The Queen’s Own, who went to Tufte’s talk last year and has not shut up about it since (I’ve mentioned he’s fond of chatting, right?)…I see what all the chatter was about. You were right. Me gusta.

*To Captain Organico’s coworker, thanks for being sorry you were sick today. (Hope you feel better soon.)

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