“What’s your story? And do they believe?” These are Edward Tufte’s two main points of emphasis behind information design and presentation. Whether these questions are asked by a user visiting a Web site or by an audience experiencing a presentation pitch, Tufte helps to explain a number of sound methods that assist in answering these key questions.
Allow the audience to absorb information on their own
Tufte argues that designers and presenters generally don’t give enough credit to our audience. We often feel compelled to guide people step-by-step along a path, when designers should allow for people to guide themselves. We shouldn’t have to explain the information we display - people are smart enough to figure out for themselves what they’re looking at and what it represents.
Tufte states that a designer/presenter can never provide too much information. It is merely a design flaw if that information appears disjointed or verbose. This argument certainly has a solid footing in web design but I found myself questioning how this would apply in regards to site navigation. According to Tufte’s approach, secondary navigation should be done away with and all available site links should be present and accessible on the home page. While this approach has worked successfully for some of our previous projects with fairly a straightforward navigation, what happens when the site contains thousands of links such as TVWeek.com?
Oftentimes web designers employ graphical treatments that become more significant to site than the content itself - what Tufte would not hesitate to call a grievous error. A great designer and a great Web site should be “endlessly self-effacing”. A site (or presentation) should be no less than 90% content and for one to lower this percentage would be a disservice to the end user.
Edward Tufte is a noted American statistician and Professor Emeritus of statistics, information design, interface design and political economy at Yale University. His course “Presenting Data and Information” travels all around the US and is soon making its way overseas. To find out more about the class and his books visit www.edwardtufte.com.
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