Visual Explanations

This week’s reading Visual Explanation: Images and Quantities, Evidence and Narrative, by Edward R. Tufte was the first book of the semester to actually have a narrative, and I found it to be a very interesting and enjoyable read.

Visual Explanations

Each chapter spoke of different types of images used to communicate meaning, the theory behind them, and how to use them properly with the overall goal of teaching design strategies to help people communicate information effectively. The book itself was filled with many diverse and interesting visuals. I found the interactive “pop-out” flap images to be the most interesting. These images first appear on pages 16 and 17, and are used sparingly throughout the book. Though the “pop-out” nature of the images wasn’t necessarily what is important in this narrative, it reminded me of museum theory which frequently reminds the exhibit planner that adults enjoy interactivity too and it is a shame that content which is not designed for children forgets that.

Space Shuttle Challenger

As far as the content of the book, I found chapter two, which discussed how to choose visuals to effectively communicate meaning, and chapter seven, which looks at visual confections, to be the most interesting. The lesson of chapter two, to pick visuals which communicate your meaning most effectively, was not a new lesson, however the methods through which this idea was communicated made it all the more impactful. Looking at the case studies of maps used to convince public health officials to condemn wells to prevent the spread of cholera in London in 1854, and engineering graphs sent to NASA to argue that the O-Rings of the 1986 space shuttle Challenger were going to malfunction, Tufte shows how visual choices have life and death consequences. In the case of cholera in London, the maps chosen did effectively link well use to cholera outbreaks. However, the engineering graphs sent to NASA did not effectively show causation. Instead, a full data matrix should have been used to add weight to the assertion of the O-Ring engineers so that NASA may have agreed to cancel or postpone the flight. This chapter served to remind us all that visuals and their proper use can have serious consequences and we should choose them with care.

An example of one of the more whimsical visual confections found in the Tufte book.

While chapter two taught a serious lesson, chapter seven was enlightening because it explained a fun and creative visual communication style which I had frequently seen, but had never thought about at length. This is the “visual confection” style. This type of image is one which brings together several related things in to one image that could never actually happen, but still shows accurate meaning all the same. An example of this would be a plant life cycle chart which reveals how a plant takes in nutrients and expels oxygen, usually using compartment “call outs” of information, in one visual. Obviously you would never actually see a flower with all of these call outs, which makes it a visual confection. This style is also important for this class in particular since web pages are visual confections. They combine multitudes of related information through various images and texts and lay it out in a way which effectively communicates meaning, though such combinations would never appear naturally.

A New Tool:

This week we were also asked to present information about a new tool which will not be taught in the class. My choice is the Pen Tool which can be found in both Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop. Similar to the magnetic lasso tool which we used in class teach a few weeks ago, the Pen Tool is used to pick up on edges within an image. I used this tool to be able to successfully colorize city maps so that it was easier to distinguish between single family homes, multi-family homes, barns, and businesses in nineteenth century Georgetown.

Now that I have brought the Pen Tool to your attention, here is a link to help explain how to use it:

One Response to Visual Explanations

  1. Pingback: Synchronize Watches | Clio in Binary

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