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Monday, June 14, 2010

The medium is not the message

I spent the day today with hundreds of my closest friends, and this guy, who it seems to me is the real "world's most interesting man." Anyone who can convincingly establish that PowerPoint contributed to the space shuttle Columbia disaster obviously has quite a head on his shoulders, and his seminar on presenting information was truly absorbing. Not to mention full of great beauty and elegant expression, along with lots of amusement along the way:

Not many old hands can influence what I do in my day job -- or how I go about the grand hobby known as this blog, for that matter -- but today was an exception. The path has definitely been illuminated from a different angle.

Perhaps the most notable observation of the day: The computer mouse is on its way out. With the iPad, the touch screen has demonstrated its superiority and likely imminent dominance.

Comments (15)

I have all of Tufte's books and refer to them now and again for inspiration. An original thinker for sure. I have fantasized about a "Intellectual Self-Defense for Citizens" course using materials from Tufte, John Allan Poulos (Innumeracy), George Orwell, the real George Seldes, Jerry Mander, and others; maybe when I'm fully (instead of partially) decrepit I'll teach a course to other geezers.

It's as much about thinking clearly as about the mechanics of presentation. A true breath of fresh air.

I must have gone to college with this guy; we are the same age. I wish I knew him -- he is truly interesting. His first book ("The Visual Display of Quantitative Information"), which I somehow got my hands on the year it came out, is truly a masterpiece in every sense, and most particularly in the quality of its design and production

I relaly wanted to go to his presentation - This guy is actually pretty refreshing and a marked contrast to almost every politician and corporate shill.

The SOP for politicians is to come up with every neologism they can to confuse the issue (like charette) instead of trying to make it obvious what they are trying to do.

I suppose this has to do with their deep-seated fear that people will find out they spend most of their time creating slide shows and not much more for a high salary.

And I HATE it when I'm dragging a file with my computer mouse to the left (the direction I like to drag things) and it runs into my keyboard and I wind up pushing my keyboard across the desk because I don't want to yield and pick up and reposition the mouse. -- Tom Toles, June 11, 2010

Gee, the PDC uses Power Point all the time.
I guess that is one explanation for that agency's 'Epic Fail".

It's important to note that it's not PowerPoint-hate, but rather the misuse of the tool that he rails against. Granted, there is some stuff that he doesn't like about PowerPoint (low resolution, outliner, etc.), but more than that, he argues against it's use for dissemination of highly technical information which is more properly presented in a short report that can be read in total, then discussed and debated.

Quite frankly, as someone in an engineering field, I totally agree and actually have to suppress a groan every time I see a projector fire up and show me 3 bullet points on an incredibly technical topic slide over an 8-bit blue gradient with a weak transition from 1995.

One graphic chart going around has the caption, "Every time someone creates a PowerPoint presentation, Edward Tufte kills a kitten."

I agree: Visual metaphor can be concise and potent. For instance, my favorite: Tufte's depiction of Napoleon's army size and geographic location by line width as it marched to & from Moscow.

Juxtapostion of simple images can be equally concise and potent. One can find these everywhere.

The March to Moscow graphic is by Charles Minard--Tufte uses it as an example of good graphics.

What really bugs me is when I go to a meeting and am given a handout of necessary information, and then have to sit through a power-point going step-by-tedious-step through the handout. I'd much rather get a handout, have a few minutes to glance over it, and then see a presentation of related information that will add to my understanding and knowledge of the contents of the handout.

Tufte explains well why Sam's numerous powerpoint Townhall presentations usually means Doom. His powerpoints concerning the Tram are classics. His powerpoints on the Lower Willamette Plan, bioswells, bikepaths is following suit.

change "is" to "are". short on proofreading.

Edward Tufte is an entertaining performer. I've enjoyed his day-long show and read his marvelous books.

I've written a handbook on business presentations and dutifully noted Tufte's influence in using fewer slideshow tricks and more integrity in conveying data,

But to blame PowerPoint for bad presentations is like blaming Microsoft Outlook for bad emails.

He has been touring the country with this tour (Tickets are $380) and has not changed his tune about PowerPoint since 2003.

I have no reason to defend PowerPoint. Or Keynote. But come on, professor. Ease up.

No, the criticism of PowerPoint is dead-on. It elevates form over substance and gives--or seems to give-- weight to empty presentations. A recent article on the military's use of it appeared on a Sunday on the front page of the NYTimes. Most revealing was the statement of one person interviewed at the Pentagon about where PPt finds its best use: at press briefings where the intent is to convey little or no information.

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