Thursday, August 05, 2010

Book review: The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward Tufte

Edward R. Tufte: The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward R. Tufte

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The book goes through many examples of displaying information visually. And it does so through a historical context, reminding us that the issues that are faced and the many ways to (mis)-represent them have been around for centuries.

What I'm reminded of is that statistics and data analysis is not just about methods, but they are means of communication. And like all methods of communication, they can be made less clear whenever you have something other than clear communication as the goal.

Many of the techniques discussed in the creation of various plots and charts are artifacts of when printing graphics was done by ink and pen, and difficult to reproduce. But the book's focus is not on the techniques of making these visual displays, but on the principles in designing efficient displays.

I use a number of data analysis packages and packages, Excel, R, Python, etc. After reading this it makes me look at these other packages and their options differently, wanting to evaluate the choices there designers made. It also makes me look at charts and graphs on internet sites, newspapers and magazines differently. I imagine the author would consider that to be a success.

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