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See now . . . Words later

Here are 2 pages from my new short book (or long essay) Seeing Around:

-- Edward Tufte

To be pedantic, it'd be 1.25 MB or 1.192 MiB (created to eliminate the ambiguity between base-2 prefixes and the SI base-10 prefixes), or even 10 Mb.

[From ET: My thanks to Tchad and to Greg Pfeil for pointing out my error. It is now Mb instead of MB in the essay above.]

-- Greg Pfeil (email)

See now . . . Words later, as applied to design reviews

Back in the days when I did product reviews, the product manager and designer would pitch their forthcoming product to me--and only later let me see and review their work on the product. Some managers would recount reasons for interface and hardware decisions, the limits they were working under, the product release date, the delicate feelings of their design staff, the names of other consultants who had worked on the product, the corporate politics involved, their admiration for my books, and so on. Before this went on very long, I would say something like this: "I can be more helpful to you by remaining naive and uninformed, by providing you with a fresh look." My private unspoken thoughts were "No damn pitch, just let me quietly look and play with the product myself. You've been designing for months now under the direct control of your pitch words, but my eyes should not also be under that same control."

Thus I would try to (1) have images of the product sent to me in advance so I could look, unmolested, the product over, (2) give my deliberately naive review onsite, (3) listen to the product manager's response, and (4) make suggestions after my eyes had been recalibrated by the product manager's information. Such reasonableness is not easy since everyone, even a product manager, is very sensitive to criticism. Furthermore, I tend to be quite direct. And I really dislike bad design and sloppy thinking. I am, however, expressively enthusiastic about excellent work and would try to use such work as examples to other product managers within the same company.

Prior to undertaking this policy, I found that some product managers would give very skilled and knowing pitches, which did, in fact, seem affect my seeing. (Or maybe great products cause great pitches.The relevant example is Steve Jobs.) Under my no-prior-pitch policy, I was more likely to say something stupid or irrelevant, but also more likely to say something fresh, to make off-the-wall and possibly helpful analogies, and to provide the sort of advice that can only come from outsiders.

One danger of the no-prior-pitch policy is that external reviewers will simply repeat their own favorite recipes, babble on about how they would have designed the product 20 years ago, and rehearse old anecdotes--all lacking in relevance to the product review at hand. In short, consultants give their standard pitch.

So it is the responsibility of the consultant to see with fresh eyes. I usually tend to point out small, particular problems that illustrate the larger issues in a product review. This microscopic approach does let clients know that I have actually looked at the product with at least some care. (This method also suggests that they should look at their work with similar microscopic care.) Also there are deep endemic problems in much of corporate product design that may well deserve treatment by the consultant's favorite recipes. After all, the main reason that particular consultants are called in for a product review is because of their good recipes.

Here's a consulting story relevant to the above.

-- Edward Tufte

Tour-guide and real-estate pitches

Surely the no-pitch-just-let-me-look principle applies strongly to real estate agents, with their annoying, presumptuous, and canned pitches:

"Your dinner guests will marvel at your fine selected
vinyl wainscoting in your jumbo formal dining room."

The use of the second person is particularly insolent.

To avoid being pitched while being held captivity by tour guides and real estate agents, I just walk away and look around on my own.

-- Edward Tufte

Give [the] piece a chance...a new knowledge of reality.

The abstract wrench piece has popped to
mind a couple of times over the last few
days and it brings a smile each time.

What could I use it do? Would it slip off
the nut? Would I hang it on a nail or a hook?
Would I hang it through the eye? Ouch! Would
I wince? It has been fun thinking about it while
trying to remain a comfortable distance from any
sort of pitch-like thinking. That said, I keep
coming back to the giraffe so I seem to have
pitched myself. Oops.

Concerning the essay and the layout; it is intersting
to see that Ad Reinhardt gets a mention next to his
drawing but the others do not. Would a subtle heading
vertically aligned at the precise moment of need
such as:

William Shakespeare

help the sidenote stand alone as a tool for ease of
reference (like the style your other recent books)
in a easier way than the small arrow currently achieves?

Likewise, a little more information about the
Wallace Stevens poem might be also helpful to the
casual reader.Is there a quiet reference to,
"Not Ideas about the Thing but the Thing Itself"?

It will be interesting to see if this links up with the thread on Grand truths about human behaviour
where both a priori and a posteriori thinking aloud is allowed

-- Tchad (email)

Seeing around

There are more open-ended pieces here.

Tchad points to some page-design issues growing out of my try at an oblong format. The longer horizontal run helps carry the sculpture images very well in the rest of the essay, but the shape is not so good, at the least the way I've sketched it out here, for text with extract.

The references to Stevens, Shakespeare, and others are, alas, on a separate page showing sources, copyright matters, and permissions.

Several small changes and a correction are posted in the version now shown at the top of the thread.

-- Edward Tufte

A more prosaic application of these concepts, from a presentation I viewed earlier this year. True story:

A gaggle of marketers proposed to introduce a new product on a large bank's website. They went through the usual corporate drills to have their idea approved: business cases, presentations, meetings, etc. They could not convince the corporate lawyers that the product would satsify regulatory or legal requirements. Many carefully-reasoned arguments for proceeding were proposed, many discussions about the business concepts occurred, to no avail: the lawyers were convinced that the concept could not be realized as described.

So the marketers built it anyway, as honestly as they could and without suspect over-simplification, and went back to the lawyers with their design. "Look here: this is what we were talking about. This is what we want to do." No presentations, no business cases, no carefully reasoned arguments. Just "look at this."

All of the many words exchanged didn't matter anymore. The lawyers saw what was proposed, grew excited about what they were seeing on a monitor, and the success of the product in the financial services industry has become both well-known and much imitated.

-- Ed Brett (email)

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