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Beautiful Evidence (Book Review)

If you’re a designer, an architect, an artist or a business manager you should have this book on your must read list. The effective communication of information is essential to all of our work.

Tufte's Beautiful Evidence

Edward Tufte, having authored four books to date, spent nine years compiling Beautiful Evidence as a documented account of the best practice methodology for displaying information. Or, rather, for displaying evidence with authority. Because when we make a chart or write a report or put forward a work of art it is really about displaying the evidence. He uses good and bad examples of this display of evidence to coax the reader through new ways of thinking about content. New ways of enhancing the content so that it is more intuitively understood and less confusing to the audience. We are dealing with information and communication when we put forward evidence – whether its art or architecture or a report for an official enquiry. Beautiful Evidence is about learning better ways of communication using the visual context and multivariate levels of the information itself.

My favourite example from the book (page 124) was Charles Minard’s Figurative Map of the successive losses in men of the French Army in the Russian Campaign 1812 – 1813. An elegant fold out which shows data starting and ending from the grand army’s crossing into Russia and its final retreat across the same line. The map uses thickness of line to show depletion of troops over time and terrain as they cross the 2 dimensional map of Russia towards Moscow and flee through winter across snow covered fields. It shows the depletion of men and records the temperatures experienced during the retreat. It is said to be one of the best examples of beautiful evidence ever designed. A more complete record of the event than would be afforded by an ordinary map or a series of charts. By documenting the evidence in the context of its own content Minard has created far richer communication using intelligent design.

If you are a designer then this is a book you should put in your office bookshelf and pass onto those with whom you work. Don’t be fooled that you instinctively know all of the things Tufte can tell you about displaying evidence. Designers need to be willing, even eager, to learn better ways of achieving better design skills. I’d highly recommend this to anyone who thinks intelligently about information and communication of ideas.

Jason Kottke’s review of Beautiful Evidence says much of what I haven’t had room to write. It is crafted to its own high bar and incredibly well laid out and designed. From pictures of Gallileo’s text to Matisse’s art and Minard’s Map and each open pair of pages always ends with a finished paragraph. Exquisitely crafted. And like Jason I’d ask why its not more highly publicised? This was an exceptional book.

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About the Author

Steven Clark Steven Clark - the stand up guy on this site

My name is Steven Clark (aka nortypig) and I live in Southern Tasmania. I have an MBA (Specialisation) and a Bachelor of Computing from the University of Tasmania. I'm a photographer making pictures with film. A web developer for money. A business consultant for fun. A journalist on paper. Dreams of owning the World. Idea champion. Paradox. Life partner to Megan.

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