July 20, 2006

JJG and SBJ - Interface Culture 9 Years Later

Wow. The discussion between my colleague Jesse and Steven Johnson is stunning. I was a little jealous that I didn't get to converse with Steven, but after reading this, I'm now thankful -- Jesse addressed things I wouldn't have considered, and uncovered interesting ideas that I wouldn't have found.

Steven, of course, is the day 1 keynoter for Adaptive Path's User Experience Week conference happening next month. We're now allowing single day pricing, so if you just want to go to Steven's day (or Michael Bierut's, of Jeffrey Veen's), you can do that. Use promotional code FOPM and get 15% off your registration!

Posted by peterme at 09:36 PM | TrackBack

Tufte's Beautiful Evidence, Chapter 2

Earlier this month, I wrote an at-times-savage review of the introduction and first chapter of Edward Tufte's new book, Beautiful Evidence. I write that critically because I hold Tufte to very high expectations -- if only because he considers himself a critic of the highest order.

Chapter 2 is markedly different from Chapter 1 in that it is actually and believably brilliant. Titled "Sparklines: Intense, Simple Word-Sized Graphics," it provides detailed presentation of a new form of information visualization that can be embedded in the flow of text.

Something fascinating about this chapter is how I knew everything to expect, because Tufte wrote this chapter very much in public. Over two years ago I wrote about an early discussion of sparklines. And Tufte's discussion boards are filled with commentary and examples dating back to mid-2004.

Sparklines are a brilliant and seemingly inevitable innovation in the display of data with text. The degree to which it can enhance understanding, particularly of anything statistical, is enormous.

I do find some of the illustrations needlessly obtuse (the human genome, 3D scatterplot). And the inclusion of another Durer drawing seems less about intense, simple word-sized graphics than about showing off his appreciation of fine art.

But my primary frustration is Tufte's continuing dismissal of computer screens in favor of high-quality printed paper. Sparklines, as I wrote back in 2004, seem ideal for computer displays -- with their ability for color, animation, and, most important, interaction, just as much, if not more, information can be presented on screen than on print. Unfortunately, when Tufte sees a computer, he seems to see a static medium, and so doesn't recognize the power. Hans Rosling's displays at TED demonstrate that animation over a single screen can provide a far more instructive experience than seeing the information displayed over small multiples.

Posted by peterme at 09:28 PM | TrackBack


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