The Visual Display of Quantitative Information

by katystreet

By Edward Tufte.

I quickly read this book for the second time recently in order to take notes on it. My notes are below.

Data maps:

  • Dr John Snow’s cholera map of 1854 (pg 24)
  • Charles Joseph Minard’s map of French wine exports in 1864 (pg 25)
  • population distribution usa, 1970 (pg 156)



  • Don’t waste on simple data, use numbers for that. Use for highly variable data.
  • NYC weather for 1980 (pg 30)
  • E. J. Marey’s graphical train schedule for Paris to Lyon in the 1880s. (pg 31)
  • J. H. Lambert (early 1700s) and William Playfair (last 1700s) were the great inventors of modern graphical design. (pg 32)


Narrative graphic:

  • Minard’s fate of Napoleon’s army in Russia, drawn 1861 (pg 41)


Abstract design:

  • Thermal conductivity of copper, 1974 (pg 49)


Experiments have shown that we don’t perceive measured data accurately.

  • e.g. perceived area of circle grows more slowly than actual:
  • reported perceived = (actual area)^x, x=.8+-.3 (pg 55)
  • plus you can tell that everyone is different


Representations of 3d objects lead to confusing comparisons as perspective reduces our ability to accurately compare measurements.


  • “Representation of numbers should be directly proportional to the numerical quantities represented.”
  • “Show data variation, not design variation.” (pg 61)
  • “Number of … variables depicted should not exceed the number of dimensions in the data.” (pg 71)
  • “Graphics must not quote data out of context.” (pg 74)


No one can write decently who is distrustful of the reader’s intelligence, or whose attitude is patronizing. – E. B. White


  • Data-ink ratio = data-ink / total ink used to print graphic
  • erase non-data-ink and redundant data-ink
  • (it’s only a single dimension to measure with, efficiency, should also consider complexity, structure, density, and beauty. pg 137)


Chartjunk to erase:

  • unintentional optical art (patterned shading.”moire vibration”)
  • grid lines (can be faint)
  • pg 118: perhaps the worst graphic ever, only 5 pieces of data
  • the duck (decorative forms)


Tufte forms:

  • bar plot pg 128
  • boxplot pg 129
  • scatter plot pg 133


Data can be part of graphic, numbers as points or labels as markers for max/min or points values.


  • data density = numbers of entries in data matrix/area of data graphic
  • e.g. annual sunshine report in London 1971 (pg 165)


Graphs can often be shrunk.
Graphical elegance is often found in simplicity of design and complexity of data.” (pg 177)