Design 101 Reference: Edward Tufte

For a deeper read than I could ever provide, I will be recommending a few books that I think will be of interest to anyone looking to demystify visual processes and what happens when one looks at art and information. The first books in this series are by a Yale School of Art professor, Edward Tufte. Some of you might have run across his books before. For those that have not, know then that Tufte is a passionate advocate of precise and accurate delivery of information and information graphics. His books outline statistical graphics, charts and diagrams of all sorts and methods for better organization and clarity. If you are in scientific or data heavy fields, the books that follow could be very illuminating for you. I know my brother, Matt, who is a mathmatician really loves these books. Well written and easy to read, Tufte’s works are filled with valuable examples all beautifully laid out for easy comprehension.

So how does this relate to gaming? Well, for me, game boards tend to be something of a beautifully illustrated dynamic chart of some sort. Their purpose being to track changing information and display relationships in an informative manner. Understanding basic mechanics in the display of information can be helpful in evaluating just what is going on when I look at a board and play a game. When I have a hard time ‘wrapping my brain’ around a game, some times it can be attributed to poor graphic design application. If not poor application, at least missed opportunities which could have exploited processes that take place on a basic perceptual level. One such example that I brought up briefly in my last blog is Mayfair’s T&E. Here, thematic ‘data junk’ overpowers critical information (like the color of the tiles). While it does not make the game impossible to play, unnecessarily emphasis on thematic details does get in the way of one’s ability to quickly scan the board and assess player positions. This is not to suggest that any graphic element that is purely thematic is bad. Quite the contrary. Instead it is the proper implementation of thematic details that allows important game play data to be a first read.

The first book in Tufte’s series is The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. This book is a visual primer relating to charts, graphs, tables and statistical graphics. Tufte delves deep into the simple display of information and how to design for quick, accurate analysis. Chalked full of examples, the book is as fascinating to look at as to read.

His second book, Envisioning Information, highlights more complicated forms of displaying information through pictograms, diagrams, computer interfaces and much, much more.

His third book, Visual Explanations, again explores the delicate processes that make up visual narratives. Here, Tufte highlights cause and effect and dynamic relationships through printed visual media. Again, absolutely fascinating and filled with beautifully illustrated examples.

For a particularly sharp blasting of PowerPoint presentations, the printed essay, The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint, is also available. This thoughtful examination of PP's corrupt influence on data and statistical analysis is something that I personally like, as I have had a particularly low opinion of presentations dependent on PP.

The books can be purchased through Tufte’s site and I believe can be found through major book dealers.

- Mike