Envisioning Information

by Edward R. Tufte

Cover image

Publisher: Graphics Press
Copyright: April 1990
Printing: August 1995
ISBN: 0-9613921-1-8
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 126

Buy at Powell's Books

Yes, I read non-fiction too!

This is the second book in Tufte's series of (currently) three books on how to present information graphically. The first of the series is the rightfully famous The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, but the second book is very much worth reading as well.

This is a beautiful volume, like all of Tufte's work, full of vivid examples on every page. Tufte's books are some of the best laid-out non-fiction books that I've ever had the pleasure to read, with clear, easy-to-read text and excellent use of marginal notes rather than footnotes. This book is rich with both good examples and horrible examples of how to present information, and it's almost as enjoyable to page through as a collection of artwork as it is to read.

Envisioning Information, unlike Visual Display, isn't as useful as a reference work for how one should create graphics. It covers more ground and variety and has fewer concrete recommendations, although it provides an excellent guide to what not to do in many areas. I think it's best read as a set of examples of well-done graphics and detailed analyses of the failures of poorly-done graphics, to let one's subconscious chew on and hopefully influence your own work.

The analysis is, as always for Tufte, excellent. He's very specific about why a graphic fails, while being entertainingly blunt and biting in his criticism. By the time you finish this book, you'll be cringing at excessive grid lines, unintended visual artifacts, and obnoxious colors in the graphics you see.

I can't recommend this book as strongly as Visual Display because it's hard to draw general conclusions and practical advice from it, but I think it's still very much worth reading for anyone who designs informational graphics. Even those who don't will find it both beautiful and entertaining. I've never regretted reading any of Tufte's work, and this book is no exception. Don't let the high price and slim size of the book put you off; it really is worth it.

Followed by Visual Explanations.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Reviewed: 2004-05-08

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