Edward Tufte: Ask E.T. forum – Sparklines
Posted by shannonclark on March 2, 2004
At least once a month I am reminded by Edward Tufte is one of the most important thinkers in America today, and one my personally biggest influences in how I approach design and presentation.
In a recent “ask E.T. forum” he shared draft pages from his next book, and introduced a concept (currently being called Sparklines but wordgraph, wordgraphics and other terms have been proposed) for the presentation of very detailed rich data embeded into a graphic design of words – his idea is either graphics as “words” in a page, or as an alternative and dense approach to presenting information in a way perhaps even richer than “just” a table or standard chart (in one example he even enhances a chart from one of his own earlier books using this new methodology).
On the one hand I really appreciate his work and see how valuable and useful it can and should be.
On the other hand, however, I wonder how his focus on text (in the form of high resolution printed text) is useful and relevant in the highly digital age that we live in. Further, most of the graphics that he is describing especially at the density of information that he proposes need to be computed by a computer vs. drawn by hand. It is less clear to me how he proposes doing this as part of an ongoing, real-world application.
What occurs to me, however, is could the capabilities of a programming language like PHP be used to generate these types of graphics for use on the web and elsewhere? I have personally used such a graphic in the calendaring application that JigZaw developed. We created graphics that displayed in a very small space the status of a person on a given day, showing all day events with a single solid line and during the day events with small graphics. Creating a dense and rich display of the status, however, at a lower resolution than the very fine smaller than letter graphic that Tufte is suggesting. But the key point is that it is technically possible.
So, go and read this article!