Review of Edward Tufte’s “Envisioning Information”

Envisioning Information cover
(pic stolen from the Amazon page)

I wrote a small review of design-guru Edward Tufte’s book “Envisioning Information” which I have posted on Amazon and here for your perusal. Here it is:

As a student of Information Science and an admitted non-designer I decided to study “Envisioning Information” after looking at Mr. Tufte’s biography and well-crafted website. I was hoping to gain some insight on the rules of design especially when it came to presenting information clearly in an aesthetically-pleasing way, in teaching me these skills Tufte’s book does an admirable job.

From the beginning I was drawn in by the quality of the book itself; flipping through it for a quick skim, one cannot be left unimpressed by the vivid graphics, which serve as examples for the text; it is easy to stop, read-a-little and move on. Another integral part of the presentation is the layout of the pages; the eye is able to capture the main text, the annotations, and give the examples the attention the deserve without feeling a certain pressure to continue. This is in opposition to most instructional books, in which side-bars and special sections pull my eyes away from the main text, serving as distractions rather than additions. Tufte’s design makes sure everything on the page is related – meaning the text relates to the image, relates to the annotation. Plus, the main text is set in Bembo, which is a nice loose font; easy to read closely, as well as skim quickly.

“Envisioning Information” is broken up into five main chapters (not counting the Introduction and short Epilogue), each chapter has a main idea that is elucidated primarily by the examples Tufte presents. A criticism of the book is its relative lack of conceptual density (aside from the chapter ‘Color and Information,’ which, for me, required several close readings) – Tufte has his main ideas and briefly clarifies them, but does not go much beyond that, in fact, much of the text is used to describe the examples which [the description] is only pertinent to the concepts in a passing way. The reliance on visual examples can give the reader more an experience of viewing a slideshow than reading a text. It is these images that have the most potential to teach the reader; while the text can reasonably be understood with a quick reading, a close examination of the visuals is required to truly benefit from “Envisioning Information.”

Repetition (Tufte does not shy away from repeating his concepts when examples illustrate similar ideas as previously discussed) and conceptual density issues aside, I found “Envisioning Information” to be what I was looking for. The positive impression this book left on me is not solely because it taught me useful design/presentation ideas as I went through it, but because I know I will be able to enjoy it at length upon future forays into the subject.

All of the above is simply to say, in long-form: it is recommended.

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One Response to Review of Edward Tufte’s “Envisioning Information”

  1. I’ve already noticed the benefit of your having read this book. Those pink triangles you showed me communicate volumes.

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