White House taps the Da Vinci of data

President Barack Obama has appointed visual data guru Edward Tufte (previously mentioned: here) to the Recovery Independent Advisory Panel. Tufte will advise on such things as the Recovery.gov website, where citizens can punch their zip code into a track-the-money map and see all the recovery projects in their area.

Bob Garfield of New York public radio’s On The Media interviewed Tufte about the appointment this week (audio embedded below; transcript here).

GARFIELD: Tufte has inspired a generation of innovators with his ideas for the efficient, clean and rich presentation of information. He’s a fan of The New York Times website, the iPhone, and, most of all, the lowly sports page, with its tables and stats a reader can grasp in an instant. But he’s in a constant war with the average website, cluttered with scroll bars, logos, jargon and meaningless graphics.

EDWARD TUFTE: They make the simple complex. The design hand in there is from the marketing department, and it’s unfortunate because our eye-brain system is so powerful, in one long glance, maybe a 12-second glance at something, probably 120 megabits of information goes to our brain. And there’s no reason we have to be looking at impoverished materials because we process material at enormous rates.

Tufte’s first piece of advice to government: its websites should imitate the best news organization sites.

Hat tip: FlowingData.

Big Mac v. salad – feedback (updated)

Contrarian reader Ken Clare thinks Contrarian’s standards slipped with our post of a chart comparing US food subsidies:


Edward Tufte, the “Galileo of Graphics” you introduced us to back in June, refers to images like these as “chartjunk.”

I haven’t taken the time to measure the images you copied (from a committee of physicians who may have had a passing relationship with math sometime in their pasts), but the subsidies pyramid eyeballs closer to a 100-to-1 ratio than the 75-to-25 ratio it is labeled.

Update: A Diligent Reader award goes to Contrarian’s insomniac friend Alistair Watt, who spent time with a ruler and a spreadsheet before concluding that the front faces of the pyramid graphs were a nearly perfect match for the data they purported to represent, but their transformation into three-dimensional pyramids distorted the data severely.

In other words, had this been presented as a column chart or a pie chart, it would have been reasonable. However, when I laboriously calculated the volumes implied by each subsection, the results were dramatically different.

The da Vinci of data shows why the iPhone works

Edward Tufte, the Yale University statistician known to Business Week as “the the Galileo of graphics,” and to the New York Times as, “tbe da Vinci of data,” explains why the iPhone works so well. The secret lies in the “magnificent and intense” resolution of its screen, and its “brilliant suppression” of content-stealing “computer administrative debris.” Moneyquote:

Here’s the general theory: To clarify, add detail. Imagine that. To clarify, add detail. And, clutter and overload are not an attribute of information; they are failures of design.

If the information is in chaos, don’t start throwing out information, instead fix the design. And that is exactly what the iPhone platform has done.

More at Tufte’s website and his Vimeo videos..