The Visual Display of Quantitative Information

by Edward R. Tufte

Hardcover, 1983




Cheshire, Conn. : Graphics Press, c1983.


This book deals with the theory and practice in the design of data graphics and makes the point that the most effective way to describe, explore, and summarize a set of numbers is to look at pictures of those numbers, through the use of statistical graphics, charts, and tables. It includes 250 illustrations of the best (and a few of the worst) statistical graphics, with detailed analysis of how to display data for precise, effective, quick analysis. Also offered is information on the design of the high-resolution displays, small multiples, editing and improving graphics, and the data-ink ratio. Time-series, relational graphics, data maps, multivariate designs, as well as detection of graphical deception: design variation vs. data variation, and sources of deception are discussed. Information on aesthetics and data graphical displays is included. The 2nd edition provides high-resolution color reproductions of the many graphics of William Playfair (1750-1800), adds color to other images where appropriate, and includes all the changes and corrections during the 17 printings of the 1st edition.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member DetailMuse
According to Edward Tufte, the purpose of graphics is, “Not the complication of the simple; rather (…) the revelation of the complex.” And his The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, first self-published nearly 30 years ago, is now a bible -- a sort of The Elements of Style applied to information graphics.

Tufte reviews how information can be presented (i.e. a minimal amount via a sentence; a moderate amount via a table; a huge amount via a graphic) and then turns his attention to graphics -- from their beginnings in cartography to how to achieve graphic excellence today.

He urges a multi-disciplinary approach, cautioning that, “Allowing artist-illustrators to control the design and content of statistical graphics is almost like allowing typographers to control the content, style, and editing of prose.” He touches on psychology and cognition. He rails against using graphic design to deceive, and enlightens readers by pulling numerous examples of misrepresentation from prominent media. He devotes a large part of the book to improving the effectiveness of graphs by urging the elimination of “chart junk” (e.g. moiré-effect cross-hatching) and numerous other sources of “non-data ink.” In fact, a chapter wherein he strips away seemingly necessary text, frames, hatch marks, etc. (leaving little more than an ether vapor but in the process simplifying and clarifying the meaning) is revelatory.

So many books I've read recently have referenced Tufte, and I'm glad to have finally read him directly. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member ftorralba
This book has changed the way I judge and make graphical representations of data.

Two lessons emerge from Tufte's masterpiece:
1. Eliminate from a graph anything that doesn't add information
2. Maximize the amount of information per square inch

Don't let the antiquated looks of the book deceive you: keep reading till the end and you'll find that Tufte's teachings are as valid today as they were 30 years ago.

I do wish, however, that this second edition incorporated more advice specific to computer-generated graphics. I'm particularly disappointed because this edition was published as recently as 2001, many years after the personal computer became THE tool for graph making. Without such applied advice, and given the old look of the examples and the large format of the volume, I'm afraid this book will be regarded by many as a geeky coffee-table piece.
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LibraryThing member Davidmanheim
"The Visual Display of Quantitative Information" by Edward R. Tufte

Rarely do I find a book that I would call beautiful, but this meets the criteria, both as a physically appealing book, apropos to the purpose of the book, and an informationally dense, and well presented one. A favorite quote of mine, from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, where the protagonist says; "I remember... remarking about the analytic craftsmanship displayed." This was my reaction to Tufte's book.

The book manages to decompose graphical presentation of data into categories other than the x- and y-axes, and instead talks about multifunctional elements and data density. The book reimagines the nature of numerical information using a graphical design perspective, with a healthy dose of common sense as to how graphs are used, and a veritable treasure trove of examples of both good and bad design.

This book, along with "How Buildings Learn," by Stewart Brand, is a rare example of a narrow focus with an incredibly broad appeal. This book is not for the narrow specialist in constructing the sometimes obscurely complex graphics displayed, but rather for anyone who is interested in the data presented to them, and certainly anyone who produces this data in any form.
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LibraryThing member gregorybrown
Edward Tufte's first salvo for sanity in data design. I will admit that I read the book mainly for his historical graph-porn—examples of exemplary works of design and visual analysis. But what ended up being the most enjoyable chapter was when he took some common forms and deconstructed them: took them apart, removed the unnecessary pieces, sparingly annotated what was left, and then presented it as an immensely improved graph. While design can churn out results that are best described as magical, it's always great to see the thinking involved, and the skill and process by which something mediocre is slowly shaped into something great.… (more)
LibraryThing member hcubic
This is the first and best of Tufte's volumes on scientific graphics. Not as overpriced as the other ones.
LibraryThing member ElizabethPisani
If ever a title did a disservice to a book, this is it. Even I was nearly put off, and I am a data nerd par excellence. This books is fascinating, thought-provoking and very beautiful. Tufte goes on to repeat himself in many subsequent volumes, but this, his first book, says it all.Key concepts: ink-to-information ratio, and chart junk. I have plagerised Tufte's ideas and expressions in teaching civil servants and data analysts in countries from Indonesia to Ethiopia.
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LibraryThing member JBD1
Tufte's classic work on how to (and how not to) present data in visual form. Some good historical examples, well analyzed ... and of course very nicely designed to boot.
LibraryThing member breadhat
Precise, accessible, funny, enlightening, beautiful book. About graphs.
LibraryThing member jasonli
"The Visual Display of Quantitative Information" is Tufte's first book on information design, a field that he's become a veritable champion of. In "Visual Display of Quantitative Information," he lays out the various faults and fallacies of our current uses of charts and graphs (never use a pie chart!), points to historical and current-day exemplars of good information design, and lays out some pretty simple yet profound principles for creating charts and graphs.

Of the Tufte book's I've read (two and a half out of four), this is the one to read if you don't manage to get to the others. It lacks the complexity and beautiful Japanese examples of his other works; but its focus is razor sharp and its examples are, again and again, things that we encounter in our everyday lives. The design principles are similarly brilliant: applicable to all, and will make you think the next time you cobble together a table or graph on the computer.
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LibraryThing member Harlan879
I was a little disappointed in this classic work on charts and graphs. On the one hand, it was clearly a revolutionary kick in the pants to a field that had no prior organization. On the other hand, as a person who makes charts and graphs as a regular part of his work (academic researcher), I found some of the advice to be misguided. His efforts to redesign clunky box plots, although admirable, end up with not *enough* ink. The little offset lines to indicate quartile ranges are just silly. And for someone who talks about the data being much more important than the design, he barely talks about data at all.

Perhaps his later work is more useful. I'll have to check it out and see.
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LibraryThing member EowynA
This is sensible, artistic advice about displaying statistics in a clear, understandable manner. I've been wondering about the bar graphs in the Book -- are they displaying my little bits of information in a clear, unambiguous, and effective manner? Turns out they are okay, but can be improved. So they will be, in accordance with this excellent analysis of using design to maximize communication. Highly recommended.… (more)
LibraryThing member jontseng
Like many "cult" books, its genius is making and obscure subject utterly fascinating. Contains a number of iconic images, particularly the graphic of Napoleon's retreat from Moscow.
LibraryThing member alspray
“Visual Display…” has my minimalist self at odds with my usability self. I find Tufte’s approach quite compelling …though perhaps sometimes it goes a little (eensy weensy) too far. As in, some of his pinnacle examples left me quite befuddled. All in all though, another gorgeous production by Tufte with a plethora of rich examples to explore. I wish I could frame every page and hang on it on the wall.… (more)
LibraryThing member mykl-s
The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, 2nd edition by Edward R. Tufte (2001)
LibraryThing member maryh10000
If you make presentations of data to people, you must read this.
LibraryThing member Schopflin
I think this is my favourite of the three Tuftes volumes I've read. It really gets down to the principles of what makes a good graphic and I'm relieved to hear that for small quantities of data, he feels a table does the job perfectly well. I'm not sure I agree with everything he says. Some of the 'non-data ink' he describes as redundant is helpful because it follows familiar conventions. We know how to read the data because we are used to the point where the x and y axis meet, for example. But I'm still awed by the clarity of his writing and ideas and the sheer beauty of this book's production.… (more)
LibraryThing member alv
Very well written and considerably helpful. Carefully edited. Some of the exemplary diagrams are faulty in other, previously identified ways. And too much respect is paid to the figure of Playfair, sometimes leaning on an implicit argument by authority (e.g. aspect ratio). Healthy questioning of fundamental truths and necessary praise of information density in an age of visual dumbing-down. Helps avoid limiting creativity in graphical design because of constraining tools.

Please comment in my profile if you know of software tools that support directly or indirectly the principles advocated by Tufte.
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LibraryThing member lorin
I had heard many people rave about this book, and after I read it I realized that it deserved the hype. The book is a discussion on the best way to present data sets to an audience through the use of charts and graphics. It's something that's really essential to scientists and engineers, and yet we receive no real training in it, which is a shame. Tufte's book is a setp in the right direction.… (more)
LibraryThing member datrappert
If you like numbers and graphs, this will put you in heaven. More importantly, it will make you think about the best ways to display data and look at every data graphic in a newspaper or magazine with a new, highly critical eye.
LibraryThing member jasoncomely
Before you make that presentation, read this.
LibraryThing member KirkLowery
The best. If you use graphics in writing, you must read Tufte.
LibraryThing member hblanchard
Required reading for visual designers, statisticians, graphic designers, scientists, researchers, engineers, human factors professionals, human computer interaction designers, mathematicians, journalists ... oh heck, required reading for everybody.
LibraryThing member ilokhov
This book should serve as a great inspiration for anyone who undertakes designing charts or any kind of data visualisation. This is not a technical step-by-step guide for using particular tools or techniques but rather an overview of principles that apply when producing high quality data graphics.

Immaculately designed and packed with fantastic illustrations of good and bad approaches to visualisation, this book is a pleasure to read and absorb. I found that it worked well both when reading just a couple of pages at a time and when immersing myself in it for a longer period of time.

This is one of those books that I know I will be revisiting for reference in the future.
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LibraryThing member Cheryl_in_CC_NV
recommended by xkcd

Read/ scanned in just a few days, because a fair bit was over my head. The parts I did understand, however, were terrific and valuable, both for readers and creators of graphs and tables.

Tufte has a sense of humor, too. When showing how graphs can be presented to be misleading (ie, making a bar graph meant to represent gains vs losses start at a large negative number, and disguising the numbers by having a bold 'background' illustration), he quantifies the apparent discrepancy as a lie factor."

I would *love* to take a course under Tufte, or even under any decent professor who uses this book as the primary text.

If your library has this, I highly recommend you at least browse it."
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LibraryThing member jamespurcell
Excellent and innovative reference for visual displays.



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