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Book Reviews College

envisioning information: multiples and colors

“There is nothing as mysterious as a fact clearly described.”

An interesting point made by Tufte is that “comparisons must be enforced within the scope of the eyespan”. For those readers who do not have this book, there are four separate maps of China with red dots of varying sizes indicating the number of poets born in what location during each of four dynasties. Since these maps extend two pages in the book, they are not a good tool for comparisons.
Can’t a comparison be displayed in two separate locations and still be a comparison?
Let’s ignore numerical data, as that would clearly be able to be compared outside of a single eyspan. What other types of data can be displayed and compared in separate locations? In many cases, dimensions of the data can be compared. For example, on the two-page example, it is quite difficult to compare different dynasties in terms of exactly how many poets were born in a single area. However, it is not as difficult to compare that the Ming dynasty had a much greater concentration of births along the coast as compared to the Tang dynasty.
We should be careful to say when something can or can’t be done.
Small multiples would be well used for displaying the progression of one’s facial expression during a class. In lieu of a video or animation, we could capture 9 still photographs of an individual’s face- once every ten minutes for the standard 90-minute class. Looking at the presented information, we can determine if the material led to excitement, boredom, shock or another one of the human emotions we express through our faces.

Do no evil.

In addition to being the motto of Google, this is also the credo of information designers. When adding color to information displays, the first question that should be asked “does this help or hurt the presentation of information?”
Colors should interact on a level that allows the consumer to see the data, not the colors. Color should enhance the data, not confuse it. For example, the colors on a CapMetro system map are designed to allow information consumers to follow bus routes on the map. However, there needs to be more care taken in high-traffic areas, such as downtown and the UT campus. In those areas, the multiple colors detract from the information to be conveyed, making it difficult to follow a bus route. In these cases, they should consolidate the lines and reduce the number of objects on the map.
A theme that is constant is that information must be presented in ways that would not confuse the intended consumer. If the data is confusing, it is not useful and the purpose of information, in most cases, is to be useful.

By Brandon Kraft

My life is an open-source book.

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