Visual thinking

by Russ Roberts on January 9, 2007

in Education

I am always interested in different ways to present information which is why I like Edward Tufte’s work so much. So here is a visual representation of various ways of visually representing things: A Periodic Table of Visualization Methods. (HT: Boing Boing) Go to the page and mouse over the elements. Don’t miss Sd and Ed, the two explicit bits of economics. I got a kick out of Kn. My wife and I are often anchored in the Bay of Mirth.

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tw January 9, 2007 at 3:53 pm

I share your appreciation for Tufte's work, but was disappointed when I attended one of his seminars. All he seemingly did was read from his books and show us many pictures of the grounds of his house/estate. Quite an ego!

Russ Roberts January 9, 2007 at 4:02 pm


I loved his seminar, actually. When did you attend? I went about eight or so years ago. He was a brilliant lecturer and I went up to him afterwards and told him so. Then I asked him whether he gave the same lecture every time and he said he did, which I found fascinating. I'd have trouble doing that. But for him, it was probably like being in Les Miz every night. I enjoyed it so much (and was so inspired it by it), I'd be happy to hear it again, word-for-word. But I assume he does adjust it when he publishes a new book and draws on it for content.

I've recommended Tufte's seminar to folks who have gone recently and they've enjoyed it, too. So either you got a bad draw out of the urn of randomness or we have different tastes.

tw January 9, 2007 at 5:15 pm

I attended Tufte's seminar within the past year….either in March or April as best I recall.

Don't get me wrong. I appreciated most of the information he imparted, and I have used his sparklines….it's just that he spent almost all the time reading/reviewing material from his books, which we had in front of us to follow along.

It seemed too much like a book review to me and less like a seminar or speech. Around the same time, I was fortunate to attend a lecture by David McCullough on "1776" and he spent the time telling stories about what interested him in the subject and lots of anecdotes he left out. He went into a creative discussion of how he comes up with ideas and how he writes… comparison, and maybe it's unfair because I compare them only because I attended them so close together, Tufte's seminar seemed to be of a much lower quality.

As a FYI, one of our senior management attended the same Tufte seminar that I did, and he also found it disappointing.

Pasha Roberts January 9, 2007 at 8:34 pm

My company focuses on financial visualization, and I send all our artists to Tufte's seminars… I'll say that Tufte *is* a bit full of himself. He does surprise quite a few people with that characteristic because his books' presentation is so neutral. But if you just accept that part and go along for the ride, there is a lot of good information in there, and it's a fun show.

It's interesting to compare Tufte to filmmakers. Tufte's approach strives to eliminate cognitive bias, preconception, and emotion. Filmmakers also deal exclusively in the visual realm, but try to change your pulse, your heart, and your mind. It's precisely the difference between classical economics (Homo Economicus) and behavioral economics (Homo Sapiens).

For most financial and economics applications, the right solution is some (hopefully) skillful combination of the two.

(No relation to Russ – but a big fan)

spencer January 11, 2007 at 12:24 pm

You should check out junkcharts.

The quality varies, but overall it is quite good.

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