An Excerpt from The Master: A Handbook for Service Designers. (Available soon.)

Numeric or quantitative results are opportunities to tell powerful narratives, foremost expert on visualizing information Edward Tufte, says. Tufte, a statistician and artist, has written, designed, and self-published four books on data visualization including Beautiful Evidence, a well-respected tome on visualizing numerical findings.

Tufte’s principles serve as a guide for how to accurately portray data using visual elements. One of the biggest violations is scaling data results, including line charts, disproportionately to fit a space.

Or, when values are tightly packed in one area, and sparse in another, there is a desire and tendency to spread things out evenly. In each case, this can lead to a false impression of the data, and incorrect conclusions.

These are Tufte’s 6 principles:

1. Comparisons:  Show data by comparisons (bar charts and the like) to depict contrasts and differences between dependent variables.

2. Causality:  Demonstrate how one or more independent variables impact or influence dependent variables.

3. Multivariate: Various data are combined so an audience can easily interpret an otherwise complex narrative.

4. Integration:  Incorporate various modes of information (texts, maps, calculations, diagrams, etc.), to show evidence of source data-to-findings. 

5. Documentation:  For credibility, include attribution, detailed titles, and measurements (scales).

6. Context: Describe or depict the before and after state. Show trend lines to hint at results in the future.


Service Design Insights and Inspiration Delivered WeeklyJoin our newsletter to receive the latest content from the International Service Design Institute.