October 03, 2003

Yesterday I attended one of the regularly given Edward Tufte seminars. It was an interesting day spent looking at design and analysis, in cases where it works and in cases where it doesn't - and certainly a good way to spend 8 hours thinking in ways somewhat outside my normal patterns and context.

To recap the content would be both futile and necessarily inaccurate. However, one of the strong messages which I came away with was an impression of Tufte, the work he does, and the work he hopes to enable others to do is the element of craft.

Early in the presentation, Tufte called for the attribution of the analytic (chart, graph) work that individuals do. To provide attribution sets a stake of ownership in the input to the data and the analysis that comes out of the presentation of that data. He returned to this repeatedly throughout the presentation - if you don't have pride and show that pride in your work, the message and value of the analysis or presentation is necessarily diminished, potentially to the point of irrelevance.

This comes across in his books as well - simply as objects. We've owned Envisioning Information for several years now, in no small part because the design as object of the book was alluring. Careful attention has been made to as many details as can in contemporary book production. And while Tufte takes pride in this (and other pieces of his work), and while that pride comes through in page after page or graphic after graphic, never does the ego of the author overshadow the message.

If there is a weakness in the Tufte seminar, it is in the breadth of the information presented. After three books and some essays, Tufte stakes out a lot of material to cover in the time alloted, and so some elements get shorter shrift than others. But as each attendee walks away with a copy of the source books, this is easily mitigated by further study. Indeed, in his section on presentations, this physical element of (or beyond) a presentation is a key point.

Finally, I was surprised by the depth of staff Tufte brings with him on these road shows - there must have been 6 or 8 in attendance, taking admission receipts, babysitting the (rarely used) projectors, showing the objects to the gathered couple hundred, etc. And yet somehow with all this staff, I don't think I saw Tufte take a bite to eat through the course of the day, instead spending time answering questions and attending to the autograph line.

In sum, I'd recommend this, even if it is on your own dime. Try to arrange for a 10 pack with friends to get the discount (given these parlous times) if possible, but do try to attend if you want play with new perspectives about your ways of embracing your work and your thinking. At least, that's one of the things I got for my money.

Posted by esinclai at October 03, 2003 06:54 AM |

Just returned from the Indy version of the same thing. Very much enjoyed it. I have far more to say about it, and hope to get it out on my blog at some point.

But only time now for a second on the high recommendation: there is a massive moral or ethical depth that comes from getting the information from this man in person; there is strong character behind the ideas.

Posted by: Chris on October 3, 2003 07:49 PM
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