Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Envisioning Information: Information Design can lead to a design to predict Catstrophe Theory

Tuffe, an information designer, believes that data and information should be designed well for presenting the information to us. Surely, this is crucial to Catastrophe Theory- the methods of Catastrophe Theory, although the necessity to design the method of interpreting media and images to find clues to predict Catastrophe is important, the design to make images that can predict Catastrophe is also equally important to the Catastrophe Theorist as artist and detective. A good way to find methods of design, is perhaps, to look to information design, as represented here Edward Tuffe. I,  a Catastrophe Theorist, do have the luck to get Envisioning Information, and the Visual Display of Quantitative Information both for only one dollar each, as these books are very, very expensive brand new. I hope, from my studies, to extract design methods in which one can design a method of analysis of data and images for Catastrophe Theory, as well as creating data and images to predict/solve Catastrophe Theory 

The following is someone's review of Edward's book.

Over the last twenty years, Edward Tufte has published three impressive volumes setting forth his ideas on information design. The first, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information was designated as ‘pictures of numbers’ and dealt with statistical charts, graphs, and tables. This second volume deals with ‘pictures of nouns’, which is his metaphorical way of describing the ‘strategies for high-dimensional data, and how to increase information depth on paper and computer’.

Envisioning InformationHe makes a persuasive case for layering, colour, and separation as a means of clarifying information when it is rendered in two dimensions – principally on the printed page. What he calls an ‘escape from flatland’ is illustrated in a series of wonderfully complex diagrams: a Javanese railway timetable shows departures and arrivals, distance, altitude, and even facilities at each station.

He explores the interesting notion that in a world of marks on paper, good presentation is affected by the rule that ’1 + 1 = 3 or more’. That is, even two simple lines become three visual units because of the space between them – and he provides plenty of information to prove his case, illustrated with such diverse materials as old maps, musical notation, and even medical records.

His argument that small multiple images are the best way to reveal differences is beautifully illuminated by photographs of Chinese calligraphy and nineteenth century engravings of fly fishing lures, but it doesn’t seem altogether convincing – and as in the other volumes of this trilogy, some of the bad examples are just as visually attractive as the good – which appears to spoil the point he’s trying to make.

He’s much more persuasive on the use of colour to impart information, although at some points, even if the prints and engravings are stunning, the reading is not easy:

Transparent and effective deployment of redundant signals requires, first, the need – an ambiguity or confusion in seeing data display that can in fact be diminished by multiplicity – and, second, the appropriate choice of design technique (from among all the various methods of signal reinforcement) that will work to minimize the ambiguity of reading.

For somebody who claims to be aiming for clarity in communication, this reads like a bad example out of a writer’s style manual.

He keeps coming back, as do many other theorists of two-dimensional spatial design, to one of the most interesting challenges of all – the notation of dance. Cue eighteenth-century engravings of dancing masters with fancy hats and weird hieroglyphics trailing out of their feet. Other examples in the book range from flight schedules from Czech airways to Japanese railway timetables, rowing contests, and even a diagram of Wagner’s operas.

If we want to take a robust line on someone who is obviously very successful, it’s possible to argue that Tufte designs more successfully than he writes. Much of the time, his text reads as if it has been badly translated from German; yet if ever he issues his books in paperback, they are so attractive he’ll be able to retire on the proceeds.


  Envisioning Information

  1. Escaping Flatland
    • Introduce multiple dimensions on a two-space surface, e.g., time, compounding, links, etc.
    • Focus on the point and not the Pridefully Obvious Presentation - good design strategies are transparent.
    • Study the variations, there are patterns to be found even in chaos.
    • Words are a strong deterrent to international communication, symbols convey messages to all.
    • A steady canvas makes for a clearer picture.
    • Multiple smallness of images allows local comparisons with the eyes.
    • Decorate construction, never construct decoration: Pugin.
    • Respect the audiences intelligence - construct high quality "maps" and avoid chartjunk and posterization.
    • The ducks of information design are false escapes from the Flatlands, adding pretend dimensions to impoverished data sets.
  2. Micro/Macro Readings
    • To clarify, add detail.
    • Micro/macro information: visualization is condensed, slowed, and personalized.
    • Artificial boundaries can be a good for dividing up information.
    • Stem and leaf plots can save characters and give better visual comparisons.
    • Clutter and confusion are failures of design, not attributes of information.
  3. Layering and Separation
    • 1 + 1 = 3 or more (the space between 2 objects can create new objects - watch out for clutter.)
    • Visual relationships must be in relevant proportion and in harmony to the substance of ideas, evidence, or data conveyed.
    • Macro annotation can help explain micro detail.
    • Use light, color, size, space effectively.
    • Remove the weight, avoid vibration.
    • Clarity is not everything but there is little without it.
    • Unless deliberate obscurity is sought, avoid surround words with boxes and set type above graphics (fewer descending rather than ascending letters.)
    • Information consists of differences that make a difference.
  4. Small Multiples
    • Comparisons... use a scope of alternatives, a range of options - show changes in data and not in data frames.
    • There is nothing as mysterious as a fact clearly described.
    • Comparisons must be enforced within the scope of the eyespan.
    • Flatlands within flatlands significantly deepen displays.
  5. Color and Information

    • Above all, do no harm when bringing color to information.
    • Use color to label, to measure, to represent or imitate reality, and to enliven or decorate.
    • Large areas of glaring, rich colors or placing bright colors mixed with whites produce unpleasant, confusing results.
    • Color spots against a muted field highlight data and weave an overall harmony.
  6. Narratives of Space and Time (see book examples)

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