Three Things I Experienced at Edward Tufte's One Day Course "Presenting Data and Information"
Have you been to the kind of workshop that really humbles you? I mean not just feeling open to new ideas. More that feeling of realizing there's an immense volume of important things that you do not know.
Recently, I felt that sort of humility when I attended Edward Tufte's one day course "Presenting Data and Information."
It was a great course, well worth the time if you're interested in any sort of visual representation of data.
Three things I took away from that experience:
Big reminder: soft sciences require especially great care, transparency, and accountability when presenting data.
Much of business, user experience, and design relies upon data that is far too easy to misinterpret, misunderstand, and misrepresent. Edward's emphasis on letting the data speak for the data was a great reminder that it's all to easy to present an argument for a design that is more based in rhetoric than in hard data.
If you take care to be transparent in both your perspective, methods, and sources, you have a chance at presenting information that can be both persuasive and hold up to scrutiny. Be wary of borrowed heuristics like "the magic number seven plus or minus two" especially when taken out of context.
Scanning and Exploring, Particular General Particular (PGP), Dashboards
Present findings in an explorable landscape while offering ways to compare and contextualize the data - know that people do scroll.
Provide something specific (particular), then go general, then go back to something particular. Conclusions are best left as something for the reader to produce rather than the writer.
Dashboards - if over simplified - "show grotesque contempt for the audience." Trust that your audience is capable of exploring, examining, and coming to their own conclusions.
To back this up, Tufte pointed out not only the methods of The New York Times, but also ESPN. Each provides data rich and accountable transparent reporting in their day to day articles and analysis.
Meetings could use people's time far better - and in a way that I didn't consider.
The sections of the one-day-course seemed to be like a well curated best-of album of Edward's lecture components. When the agenda moved to the topic of meetings it felt very different than examples and ideas we were learning about earlier. It felt like a best-of music album, when you get to a song that has a very different sound than the previous one. Still a good jam, yet certainly a different feel.
Edward outlined an approach to all meetings I hadn't considered before: start with a reading time, then get into the agenda. Be document centric. Whether you're meeting with collaborators on a project, a group you seek approval or funding, or your doctor, starting with a document that everyone holds and can review in the beginning of the meeting.
My take-away is to experiment with that and see how that might work than in to meetings I host.
"Endless generic respect for your audience"
If you have the chance, the time, and funds to partake in Tufte's one day course, I do recommend it. Time well spent. Plus - I'm curious how absorbing such a best-of album of lectures affects other people.