Kostelnick Can See Clearly Now That Tufte’s Gone, He Can See All Rhetoric In His Way

In the reading for today, Charles Kostelnick responds directly to Tufte’s assumptions about ink usage and chart junk. Kostelnick in just the second paragraph mocks Tufte and his principles of data communication. Charles tasks us with defining clarity, and how it relates to the billions of people in our world. He sort of defines it as the optimal use of principles of design to transmit data to the audience. While he admits that Tufte may be correct about protecting readers from the possible lies brought by charts with visual flair, those charts often catch the eye of the reader in the first place unlike the boring ones Tufte promotes. Kostelnick really believes that charts and graphs should be targeted towards the audience that you are pursuing, so more clean and clearly understandable for science types and with more leeway for graphical flourishes if targeting the more common and average denizens. Kostelnick also moves us into the modern age where charts are no longer static images in a book or journal and have the ability to be altered by the audience. This changes the dynamic and allows them to be more cooperatively designed. These interactive charts are only enticing if they are more creative than the ink-conscious work of Tufte.

Overall I agree that clarity is a sort of nebulous term that can mean different things to different people. I think that with the modern advances we have and the possible engagement that that brings to the audience, visual flair most definitely deserves a place in the graphics produced. Tufte had a pretty great mindset for the world of print, but today we are in the digital age. We are less readers and consumers and more creators and editors now, so our data intake and sources should attempt to reflect that in their design.


Here is an interactive display of how far it is from the sun to the planets. In this display the moon is one pixel and everything else is to scale according to it. You then scroll through the solar system and it shows the huge distance that is between every body in it.


Why does this display work so well? Would this make Tufte angry? How much on a scale of one to ten? What’s better, nachos or caramel corn? There are many questions.


You Know Nothing, Ed Tufte

In today’s reading Tufte compares two examples of data representation through charts. Both were made to help prevent deaths, but only one was effective in that regard. John Snow investigated a mysterious outbreak of cholera near Broad Street. He not only created charts of how many people died, but he also created a map with those deaths plotted on top. This allowed him to locate the source of the disease. He also examined oddities, such as two locations that didn’t have any deaths yet were located near the contaminated water pump. He found that these places had explanations for why they had no deaths, which allowed him to further nail down the pump as the culprit. Through his use of easily readable maps and charts, Snow helped get the pump shut down and prevented hundreds of deaths from occurring. The other example is space shuttle Challenger’s o-ring failure and how it could have been prevented if NASA had listened to Morton Thiokol. The day before the launch Morton produced a set of thirteen charts so that NASA would delay the launch. Morton had found that the o-rings would likely fail due to the extremely low temperatures of the next morning. Although he understood why this was a problem, his charts failed to show that fact in an easy and clear way. If he had created simple charts and graphs that logically linked the effect temperature has on o-rings, then he also could have saved lives.

I thought this was interesting because even though both men knew what the danger was and how to prevent it, the main difference was the fact that Snow got his point across through simple and obvious visualizations of data, while Morton didn’t due to his use of complicated and flawed methods. This is a good lesson to learn, and Tufte seemed super frustrated about the term “info-graphics” throughout the reading.

Here is a chart showing the largest bankrupt companies in history sorted by year. How would Tufte react to this?

Even Bees Won’t Eat Kale

In today’s reading Fahnestock summarizes the changes that happen to information when it leaves a strictly scientific publication and is published in one that appeals to a broader range of people, almost always a less knowledgeable demographic. I will be summarizing the main changes that Fahnestock describes and try to simplify them even more. One change that occurs is the actual information being conveyed changes. An assumption of fact occurs when words such as “only” are used to report on studies in popular publications. Another common change is making the information seem more special and one-of-a-kind, for example when Fahnestock mentions that the common blood between cheetahs “usually” only appears in lab mice. Yet another change is when the facts are  made more flashy to draw in readers, using phrases like “more than” and “exactly the same.” One more change that is frequent is when reporting about the findings of a study, sometimes the stating that it is the “first time” that this had occurred creates more importance to the reader than otherwise. There are several other changes that publications make in an effort to draw readership and move more copies, but these come at the cost of journalistic integrity and sometimes the facts are lost in the transition.

The main thing that readers need to be aware of is that the information that the are receiving, at least in popular publications as opposed to smaller ones, will tend to be less accurate and more twisted so that it will appeal more to them. I have noticed this, especially in magazines like Popular Science that I read as a teenager. They would have big articles where claims were made such as cancer being cured or certain allergies being removed, but those articles would not feature much or sometimes any actual data regarding those claims.

Here is a political cartoon that tangentially relates to the reading. In this cartoon, in my interpretation of it, the scientist is like those scholarly journals, full of data and not much fluff or changes. The politician represents the changes that happen on the way from scholarly to popular journals, and the effect that occurs on the data as it moves. Why is this change dangerous? What “scientifically proven” things have you heard people say which are almost positively caused by data being changed for the general public?

“Stop Wasting Ink You Filthy Heathens, With Your Digital Computers and Diagonal Lines, They Suck, They’re Stupid, I Hate It.” – Edward R. Tufte (2001)

In the reading for today, Tufte does his best to complain about decoration on all manner of data based graphics. He really gets his undies in a twist when he takes a simple bar graph and tears away almost half of the ink used to create it, leaving an undecipherable mess, and then saying it is better. This man knows no bounds when it comes to reducing complexity in graphs, going as far as saying that symmetry is basically useless. He does make a good point though, about the idea that data should be the first and foremost focused thing in a graph, but he definitely goes overboard and seems like a raving lunatic obsessed with ducks. Tufte has five rules for data graphics:

  1. “Above all else show the data.”
  2. “Maximize the data-ink ratio.”
  3. “Erase non-data ink.”
  4. “Erase redundant data-ink.”
  5. “Revise and edit.”

While some of these do indeed make sense, many graphs can be just as effective with some amount of decoration. I think that Tufte’s main issue is with decoration that obstructs the data. Anything that gets in the way of the viewer taking in the data at a near lightning fast speed is an poor use of ink and should be removed. Tufte just wants charts to be clean and scientific, but he doesn’t really see why sometimes those charts are overlooked by many.

I agree with Tufte on some of his principals, such as the importance of the data and the erasing of redundant information, but i feel there is a place in charts and other graphs for flourishes to grab attention or further emphasize the data displayed. Tufte’s obsession with minimizing ink makes sense in a world of print, but with technology as it is, we do not need to worry about wasting ink on our infographics, so a more liberal use of color and lines isn’t the worst in my book.

Here is a chart made by the gaming review site Polygon. This chart would make Tufte seethe with rage because not only do the two portions of data not match, but the waste of color ink would make him cry crocodile tears. This chart could have easily been made to fit Tufte’s definition of a good one. When is the use of bold colors and filled in shapes good for charts? When should ink or pixel use be minimized?

Paik and Schraw: Science Guys

In today’s reading, Pai and Schraw have conducted a study in order to determine if animation helps or hinders learning and specifically in what ways can animation be used to promote learning. The main focus of this study is the illusion of understanding, or IU for short. This concept is that an animation will make the audience feel like they understand a concept taught in the animation, but they actually have a lower learning level than those who just use unanimated materials to learn. The science guys separated animation into representational and directive, with representational showing how things work as an animation, and directive drawing the audiences attention to a certain aspect of concept. Through their study, they found that representational animation created a large level of IU in people with low learning levels, but it actually made people with higher learning levels feel less competent about their understanding. Directive animation also had a very similar effect on people based on their learning levels. The study found that an illusion of understanding mostly occurred in the subset of the population that had low learning levels, and didn’t really cause a sense of false understanding in those with high learning levels. In conclusion they found that learning takes place better when the people watching an animation have high learning levels, and it negatively impacts those with low learning levels.

This reminds me of the in-class example of the speaker animation and how it worked. This example could easily be misunderstood by people with lower learning levels and it could cause them to believe they know how it works but end up wrong about most of the inner functions. It is a very complicated animation with many intricate parts and it is easy for oneself to become overburdened with the knowledge it provides. I don’t know which type of learner I am, whether high level or low level according to Paik and Schraw, but I feel like I learned quite a bit from the animation, but i definitely don’t feel like I understand every piece of it completely.

Here is an example of a complex animation that can be misunderstood quite easily. Hans Rosling created an animated graph of life expectancy and income per person that shows countries becoming more modern and healthy over time. Without him narrating this animation it would be easy for an audience to infer incorrect reasons why certain countries became more progressive at certain times. Why is it dangerous if people misunderstand animations? Why should we care, as creators?

The Fine Line Between Architecture and Music

In the reading for today Ingold continues with his exploration of lines and shows how they became straight. In the same way that drawing is more fluid and full of emotion and gesture, so too are curved lines a more natural looking thing. Straight lines are associated with humans and with man-made artificial things. Ingold breaks down lines into two parts, guidelines and plotlines. Guidelines are lines that show where to go or define the area that a path is allowed to develop within, and plotlines are the connections between the points inside the guidelines that show the path that is generated or needs to be followed. These lines are not always visible to us, but they are part of many things we know such as building structures and in sheet music. Ingold then introduces rulers and their uses. Rulers allowed humans to finally create straight lines that are near impossible for someone to produce free handed. These ruler made lines became the standard in the period of modernism and now we are in the post-modern age where creators in many different area are deconstructing the use of lines. Fragmented lines allow us to experience and show things that straight lines limited us from creating.

I really agreed with the sentiment that straight lines are almost all man-made. If you look in nature you will be hard pressed to find any perfectly straight lines, the closest being certain minerals and elements that form simple geometric shapes. in the same thread, humans tend to live in structures that involve straight lines, as if they give off a sense of sturdiness against the outside forces of nature. Abodes that have many curbing or sagging lines are frequently associated with decay and misuse. I guess in the end it just depends on what you are attempting to create and invoke when you decide which types of lines to use in your work.

Here is a painting by Picaso. How does this painting make you feel? In what way does the artist use both straight and curved lines to go against conventions?

Pay Me, Ingold, or Silver Will Do. What Separates Writing From Will Draw to Drew?

In the first reading for today Ingold attempts to distinguish writing from drawing by showing how they are different, but ultimately that they are quite similar. One of the main points of contention that Ingold holds is that physical writing, i.e. not relying on a technology such as a computer or typewriter, is inherently more full of movement and more akin to drawing. Physically writing leaves the gesture and impact of the writer in the stroke on the page or other material. Ingold discusses why people may say that writing is a technology, such as the fact that it was invented, or uses tools, or even isn’t natural. While it is true that writing was invented it was a development in order to further facilitate communication, by taking the vocal sounds associated with language and creating a set of symbols in order to represent those sounds. This symbols were obviously drawn, and many were pictorial rather than an abstract form. Writing also does use tools, but only sometimes. Writing can be done with just a human hand and a surface such as sand or dry dirt. Just like drawing it does not require tools to communicate or provide a form for a viewer. Writing isn’t natural, but neither is drawing. Both are developments in the timeline of human communication, from grunts and fist waving to profanities and fist waving, along the way we as a species decided to create semi-permanent grunts and fist waving in order to help others understand our intent.

I would like to think that all drawing conveys meaning in the stroke of the line and the gesture of it, but that is unfortunately not true. For example, the recent popularization of icons for everything begs the question, “Are these art, or are they a technology”? Icons frequently lack and sign of stroke variation or gesture, and many of them are mono-colored static suggestions for commonly associated functions. In the same way that a stone carver removes the gesture of a scribe, so too the iconographer removes the gesture of the one who draws. How do icons fit inside both the realm of writing and drawing? Are they more rigid and unchanging or flexible and full of emotion? This is all extremely dependent on the intent of the designer and icons can fill roles in both art and the technology of writing. What is a period if not an icon that signifies the end of an idea or sentence?

In the other reading several uses of lines are listed. Lines represent many things, but they also represent obscurity and censorship. As seen above. What makes lines so versatile? And how can we use lines in novel ways in the digital age?