September 14, 2007

Book Review - Visual Explanations

How do you understand the things that you see?

Visual Explanations: Images and Quantities, Evidence and Nature
Edward R. Tufte
P 93.5 .T846 1997

In his introduction, Tufte explains that his book has two primary motivations: to explain principles and logic behind depicting quantitative information visually and to examine design strategies for how best to convey information through images as in narrative. The early chapters of his book provide numerous examples of how information, often stories, events, or explanations are conveyed through graphs, charts, pictures, maps, and other visual media. He demonstrates how they eye can be visually fooled to "see" something that is not present and how small design decisions lead toward clarity or confusion when conveying information visually. He carefully analyzes characteristics that contribute to understandable visualizations, including concepts of repetition, uniqueness, comparison, size, shape, and placement. Finally, he demonstrates how multiple "storylines" can be told through a single image. This book has become a classic in the field of cartography and visualization.