Web Technology @ CCBC

Student driven blog for all things web.

It made me think of Edward Tufte

Posted by mashkenes on March 3, 2008

The comment boksoira made on Dorian’s post (re free XHTML and CSS templates) concerning minimalist web page design winning over fancy, flashy, confusing design made me recall some of Edward Tufte’s ideas about information design. Tufte’s perspectives on visual information have always resonated with me, perhaps because what he has to say relates to the presentation of statistical information, an area of responsibility of mine for a number of years of my professional life. I was fortunate enough to have attended a couple of his remarkable day-long seminars; more information about Tufte and his seminars can be found at his website.

While Tufte’s concerns are larger than the web, he has much to say that is very right on about web design. To paraphrase him: never harm the content — the design should be based on the content, not the other way around. He puts a lot of emphasis on making small, subtle visual distinctions in design elements and rails against what he refers to as “chart junk” – over-busy grid lines, redundant overblown representations of the simplest data, the “debris” of computer plotting and the like. It’s easy to relate his thoughts to web presentation.

Tufte developed what he refers to as sparklines – intense, simple, word-sized graphics. I’m not sure if boksoira was talking about Flash when he said “flashy”, but there are good examples of Flash being used to present large amounts of data in a simple, small yet intense manner. A great illustration of that is what looks to me to be a sparkline-inspired graphic that ESPN uses to recap the progress of basketball games. The graphic is called “game flow”. A link to the one from today’s (03/02) Tennessee -Kentucky game is here. It’s down a little ways on the right side of the page. Click on the graphic to activate it. If the link is no longer viable when you’re trying it, just look for another recent recap of a completed basketball game on ESPN.

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One Response to “It made me think of Edward Tufte”

  1. vjnoone said

    I have all his books! Great insight and nice post.

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