Dan Roam’s recent book, The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures, has a great website with stick figure animations to explain how visual thinking can be employed to understand problems and communicate solutions:
In an interview at Metropolis magazine, Roam mentions:
A lot of your work involves basic information design. Are you a fan of Edward Tufte or Richard Saul Wurman?
Absolutely. Tufte and Wurman are certainly the grandfathers of information visualization, no doubt about it, and we must bow to our elders who have been there before and cut through the swamp. That said, I’m not always a huge fan of Tufte. His books have been given awards for being the most beautiful books of the 20th century. But every time I walk into an office and see them on someone’s desk, I ask, “Have you read the books?” And I have yet to meet anyone who’s actually read them. From my take in the hard and fast world of business, his approach is dry and academic. In his own work I find that he drains the blood out of the visual.
Maybe it’s not “designed” enough for you?
I had an interesting conversation with Missy Cummings, director of the Humans and Automation Lab at MIT. She’s an ex-Navy fighter pilot, who’s taken her understanding of how people in high-pressure situations understand complex data, and thought about how that data can be presented in intuitive ways. The topic of Tufte came up. Missy said she appreciates his ideas, but where she disagrees with him is: if you’re in a high-pressure situation and have multiple sources of data coming at you and one of them is off, you want chart junk yelling, “Pay attention to this piece of data over here!” You want flashing red lights, drop shadows, three-dimensional effects—all the stuff Tufte tells you to avoid. You’re supposed to take time to really look at and understand his charts. That is a lovely luxury that you almost never have in business, and certainly don’t have when you’re flying a plane.
Is your copy of Tufte’s work serving as coffee-table adornment or dog-eared work aid?