Graham Herrli's Reviews > Beautiful Evidence

Beautiful Evidence by Edward R. Tufte
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's review
Jan 03, 2012

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bookshelves: design-related
Read in January, 2012

It's been a while since I read this book, but I find myself often referencing one of its chapters, "The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint: Pitching Out Corrupts Within," so I decided it would be worthwhile to write a summary here. That chapter tells about a formal audit of communication within NASA after the 2003 Columbia disaster. The auditors determined that overuse of PowerPoint in lieu of whitepapers was largely culpable for the failure to respond to damage incurred by the shuttle during launch, and for the death upon reentry of all the astronauts aboard the shuttle. Engineers expressed concerns about threat to the shuttle from a break in its foam insulation in the form of PowerPoints, where the large bullets at the slide's tops expressed confidence, while the smaller bullets below contained various caveats, indicating how the break in the insulation could present a problem. As the information was passed up the chain of command, the large top bullets were considered while the smaller bullets expressing concerns were ignored. This excess of confidence prevented NASA leaders from inspecting the exterior of the shuttle using another satellite, which they could easily have done.

The takeaway: PowerPoint simplifies and segments your message. It removes subtlety and shades of grey and it breaks ideas into arbitrary chunks (based on how much will fit on a slide).

Aside from that, I remember the book as basically just being an artsier version of The Visual Display of Quantitative Information .

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