Earlier this week, I attended Edward Tufte’s one-day visualization seminar.

Dr. Tufte provided an interesting summary of the knowledge gained during his career studying communication and data presentation. He gave varied examples (including the National Weather Service’s website and Minard’s depiction of Napoleon’s march into Russia).

Overall, it was a good experience and I’m looking forward to putting some of the topics he discussed into practice in my work. I’m also looking forward to reading his books which were included with the registration fee.

Key Takeaways

Six principals of analytical design:

  1. Show comparisons, contrasts, differences
  2. Causality, mechanism, structure, explanation
  3. Multivariate analysis (3 or more variables); e.g., volume, cost, time
  4. Integration of evidence: completely integrate words, numbers, images, diagrams
  5. Documentation: who, what, when, where, why, how, etc.
  6. Content counts most of all


  • When presenting, 80% is preparation
  • Work on content and reputation, including showing quotes from experts and alternative views if applicable
  • Minimize “format figure out time” and maximize “content reasoning/understanding time”
  • If you can’t explain it without jargon, you probably don’t understand it very well.
  • The point of a graphic is not understanding at a glance but conveying relevant information
  • Rehearse (record audio or video; present to a sample audience)
  • Arrive early / finish early (both help with reputation)


  • Powerpoint is convenient for the presenter but compromises the content/audience
  • Providing a handout at the start of a meeting (as is done at Amazon) is a better alternative
  • The meeting time is then spent reading the handout an then discussing its contents
  • Putting together a handout would take more time than preparing a slide deck but it is better for the audience as they can then focus on whichever part(s) they are interested in rather than waiting for the relevant slide(s) to be shown
  • Many questions can be answered in a document so the audience will not ask and interrupt the presentation flow