Edward Tufte


In my experience, learning to use a new tool – be it iPhone, graphics software or programming language – should not begin with a complete reading of the manual. Most technological devices offer a large number of features that are rarely ever used. Reading the manual from start to finished, the user may become overwhelmed. In practice, I think it is best to start with an idea for a project and learn to use the tool by exploring its features as the user feels his or her way through the project. This will expose you to the features most suitable to your projects and in the process of searching them out, the user will happen upon other features that may spark new ideas. Tufte did refer to some features of the iPhone of which I was previously unaware. Yet, having owned an iPod Touch for more than a year, I suspect that if I didn’t yet encounter these features on my own, they are probably not ones that will be of much help to me. Every so often, I am introduced to a useful feature of a tool I’ve been using for years and this always incites a small panic in me. Are there countless others? Maybe I could have saved thousands of hours. It’s a balance.

I disagree with Tufte’s assertion that the Stocks app falls is too much like a cartoon. An iPhone is used for quick checks, touching base. When I use the web browser, it is only out of necessity. I’d rather use a computer. The iPhone’s stock app gives you a market overview and let’s you take a quick reading of individual stocks. Deep analysis requires a larger screen. I do agree however that it would be nice if the weather app had a few more details – like hour-by-hour and weekly forecasts. But, that is what the developer API and app store are for.

Tufte argues that the best visualizations are in major scientific journals such as Science and Nature because they have excellent resources, the best minds, huge amounts of data and a lack of space, which forces them to make clear and concise visualizations. The “best” is always debatable, but I think his reasoning is sound. The lack of space argument is a good one. It is very difficult to convey something in a succinct manner, but when it is necessary to do so, it is often the case that the message is memorable.

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