Edward Tufte — The Visual Display of Quantitative Information

Edward Tufte is a writer, statistician and professor. The Visual Display of Quantitative Information is one of four books he has published. It is a book purely dedicated to visualization, which is pretty cool. I have come  across his name in several forums and he has been refered to as “The godfather of visualization”. Pretty strong words, so expectations where perhaps a bit too high when I finally got to read this book. I think I subcontiously pictured the more carismatic Hans Rosling (but that was not the case).


I will start off with a soft warning: This is not light reading. Perhaps you can tell from the title. You need time to digest and re-read some of the parts, in order to fully grasp everything. Or at least I had to.

The first chapter is actually a history lecture in visuals.  World-class examples from previous centuries on how to display quantitative information  — grafical excellence. Tufte then moves over to the opposite side and discuss examples where visuals are used to manipulate the reader — lacking any graphical integrity.

An excellent graphic displays complex information in a simple and easy manner. The reader should understand the data in a few seconds, and get as much ideas as possible from the visualization.

Part two of the book introduce a new term, data-ink ratio. Tufte suggest to focus on using a large share of your graphic’s ink to display your actual data. Review gridlines, frames, boxes and so on with a critical mind. Can part of the grafic be trimmed without any relevant information being lost?

Other newer designs that I will try is range-frame, dot-dash-plot, a white grid (rather than the traditional black), quartile plot and half face.

A simple tip in the last chapter is to follow your data when choosing type of graphs, and move towards using horizontal graphics (easy on the eye) that is 50% wider than tall.

I feel it is a book worth reading, but it is a bit to heavy in how the information is presented. I will give it 4/6.

I bought my copy at Amazon.

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