Tag Archives: data

Never Enough Tufte

29 Nov

Edward Tufte is the guru of info design…I published this three years ago but unearthing from the vault for a redux.


I highly recommend the works of Edward Tufte to anyone who (1) likes diagrams of any sort, (2) enjoys communications about data, and/or (3) gets personal satisfaction from bridging the gap between a highly technical topic and an extremely non-technical audience.

Tufte is a Yale professor emeritus probably best known among statisticians, engineers and designers. These audiences tend to appreciate diagrams, and developing a meaningful, clean and well organized visual explanation is not easy. Edward Tufte explains how using pictures to convey information is both an art and a science. His works provide case studies of well-done and poorly executed diagrams, both of which are well worth studying. It’s good for anyone to learn how best to handle these matters and how to avoid others’ mistakes. Buying Tufte’s books is recommended for those (like me) who are tactile. The paper quality and fold-out sections deliver the adult version of a pop-up book.

Writers of any sort should better get to know Tufte. Probably the biggest reason is that many writers do not have a natural affinity for data. By nature, most people either “do” words or numbers. Some juggle both well, and those sorts will lap up Tufte like a cat with a bowl of milk. Those writers who do not take well to numbers can learn how to integrate data into copy in an engaging way, by using accurate and interesting narrative descriptions and visuals that help to tell the story.

Edward Tufte is a revolutionary communicator, in a practical way. His Powerpoint essay explains why. This is a must-read for anyone as an introduction to his approach. The Gettysburg address a la Powerpoint will make you laugh. The NASA Columbia engineers’ plight when forced to grapple with the inadequacies of Powerpoint will make you cry. Tufte’s post mortem lays out how a seemingly helpful tool such as Powerpoint contributed to the Columbia disaster. He explains, blow by blow, the right way to share highly important technical information with a business audience. Powerpoint is not the tool to use. At its best, it’s a sales tool. At its worst, it squeezes important information into a hierarchical outline format that requires a very small amount of information per slide, when it’s a proven point that people in general can absorb so much more. The comparisons to Pravda are revealing. Everything that we’ve been taught about what’s “proper” to include on a given slide in terms of information volume is sorely lacking, and Tufte explains why in his Powerpoint essay.

There are larger issues beyond Powerpoint. At the heart of Tufte’s method is a lesson for every writer willing to grow in his or her chosen field. We all know that feeling when we “nail it”–when the audience reads or hears what we are writing or presenting about, and they absorb it and take it to the next level for their own purposes. We also know when we are not able to make a meaningful translation–when the information just doesn’t stick. This is a bad feeling for us and for the reader/audience, because it wastes time. Why burn time when it could be used to communicate more productively?

In our information-rich world, it’s critical for any writer to understand how best to separate the wheat from the chaff, and Edward Tufte pioneers a quality approach. Prioritizing critical information from non-critical “phluff” is what it’s all about. If you are a writer, Tufte is worth your time.

Alsop’s Law Two: Reputation Measurement

29 Mar

When reading my Facebook link to yesterday’s post on the topic of Ronald Alsop’s corporate reputation tome, a good friend said:

That book sounds ridiculously boring and tedious. Try Harry Potter.

This same friend also said to me 12 years ago, just after my daughter was born, when I was getting zero sleep and never thought I would leave my house again:

Don’t worry, things will go back to normal soon.

Well, that good friend now has a two-year-old son that is keeping him very busy these days. “Soon” is a relative term, I have reminded my friend. He is a person that my husband and I have regarded as an older brother of sorts, and he is our children’s godfather (all the better since his last name is Italian). It makes me think of how much has changed in the time since my daughter was born.

images1What does my friend’s advice have to do with Alsop and corporate reputation? It’s all about perspective. The second law points out the importance of taking the pulse of your corporate reputation. Assessing reputation, through industry-proven metrics like Harris’ Reputation Quotient, Hay Group/Fortune’s Most Admired Companies or CoreBrand’s Brand Power, is big business. People pay for this insight, and for good reason.

Alsop’s point with law two is similar to the sorting hat in Harry Potter. Like the hat’s process for sorting people into different houses at Hogwarts, the public’s process for sorting a company’s reputation will differ depending upon circumstances. Those who’ve read Harry Potter know that his house was a toss-up between Gryffindor (open-hearted and good-doing) and Slytherin (power-hungry and possibly up to no good).

As Alsop schools us, reputation management is not customer satisfaction. The best measures are painstakingly researched reputation attributes that align most closely with each company’s core values. So it’s all relative, up to a point. Sure, there are basic reputation do’s and don’ts, following along the same themes as the Ten Commandments or the Hippocratic Oath. But depending on what part of the world a company selling its products or services, the measure for corporate reputation will vary. Europeans put more stock in a company’s social responsibility. Value-added differentiators are more important in Japan. In China, respect for history makes a difference.

Media monitoring is key in reputation measurement. Are news media discussing your company favorably, unfavorably or neutrally? Or not at all? Depending upon who you are and what you do for business, any one of those could be optimal. Social media measurement is a newer capability of PR firms, leveraging the insights of tools like Radian6. Those active in the social media world know that listening is one important part of sharing in the conversation. If corporations do not take the time to listen to what’s being said about their reputations in the social media space, they ignore an important reputation metric.

Companies are capable of stellar reputations, yet brands are sullied by missed details or missteps that make all the difference in the end. Little things DO count when it comes to reputation. One day you’re in Gryffindor, the next day it could be Slytherin, depending on how you deliver (or not) on your promises. Reputation measurement is undertaken to provide feedback to companies to help them sustain over the long haul, with a series of carefully chosen steps towards stellar public perception.