Notes from Tufte Advanced Course

I recently attended this all-day event led by Edward Tufte. However, unlike the usual seminar with Tufte sermonizing the scholastic principles of information design (with a free book set for attendees), this event featured three other speakers beyond Tufte, who simply spoke at the very end! Entitled “See, Think, Design, Produce”, this “advanced course” involved a veritable rockstar lineup: Jonathan Corum, Bret Victor, Mike Bostock. Tufte concluded with a short lecture on his new book “The Thinking Eye”. Below are my main notes, condensed from all four talks. Enjoy!

– Seeing is about pattern recognition and learning new patterns. It must be practiced over time to develop the sensitivity to see “what’s possible” and “find what’s more than what’s available.”

– Sketching is visual problem solving, a method of probing and finding a clear thought. Once you find it, then communicate that “aha” moment.

– When designing, you must consider someone else. Don’t be your audience, instead you must break from your inner echo-chamber or bubble. Beyond empathy, you must remember how not to understand something, then reverse explain something intelligibly.

– Anticipate confusion and help the reader/viewer navigate through your solution. Through the combined efforts of understanding and explanation you should respect the user.

– “Good design is clear thinking made visible.” — Edward Tufte (ET)

– Too much of publicly applauded design is really empty facades of communication without actual real meaning and value. (“Pretty” vs “Beauty”)

– When producing the designs, embrace the limitations to arrive at truly novel solutions (innovation). Keep honing and refining the idea by ruthlessly applying “common sense”.

– Understanding, elegance, and beauty are emergent qualities that result from clarity, empathy, and simplicity.

– Consider the amplifying power of dynamic displays and dynamic content: visual cues, transitions to show change, jolt the user with new expectations, animate to show orientation, preserving context while clarifying data, adjustable elements to understand consequence of change (this is all via Bret Victor’s demos)

– Shift your thinking about graphics from “nouns” (geometry) to “verbs” (physics): from data objects with edges and vertices to transformations and consequences for continual interaction. (shaping a dialogue between user and data via interaction)

– Design is fundamental a “search problem”: like a maze unfolding in real-time and you’re trying to find your way through that maze to the “right” exit. You’re searching for the solutions while simultaneously grasping the contours of the problem space and audience needs.

– As a designer you’re constantly in a state of creating and editing, thus compounding the challenge of what it means to design something elegant and understandable with value.

– “The Thinking Eye” has a taste for excellence and searches forever for knowledge. Serenity is the condition in which all brainpower is devoted to this “Thinking Eye”.

– “Design is now code. Code is design”— Edward Tufte


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