Tufte’s 6 Principles for Graphical Integrity (Adopted for Service Design)

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

Photo of Edward Tufte
Edward Rolf Tufte is an American statistician and professor emeritus of political science, statistics, and computer science at Yale University. He is noted for his writings on information design and as a pioneer in the field of data visualization.

Tufte’s principles serve as a guide for how to accurately portray data using visual elements. This is critical for service designers who must be skilled at presenting ideas. I’ve seen managers rise to executive positions with strong skills to shape narratives from data.

Along these lines, there are some dos and don’ts for presenting data. For this, we look to Tufte’s principles, which have been cut down to their essentials here for service designers.

To begin, Tufte describes the importance of accurately scaling data for visualization. Many of us are guilty of adjusting charts to fit a format. But when, say, a line chart or an area chart is contracted or expanded its meaning will change. With the chart below, for instance, stretching it out will smooth the large dip and contracting its size will increase the size of the dip.

Therefore, deesigners must take care to avoid giving a false impression of the data that will inevitably lead to incorrect conclusions.

These are Tufte’s 6 principles adopted for Service Design:

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.

In summary, when service designers recognize one of their roles is to lead teams and present data to executives, they will take great care to develop solid narratives from facts and create accurate visual presentations. I’ve seen some who possess these skills rise in their careers, and I’ve also seen others whose careers have stagnated because they lacked this ability.

An Excerpt from The Master: A Handbook for Service Designers. (Available soon.) Find out more from www.InternationalServiceDesignInstitute.com.

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Steven J. Slater

Steven J. Slater

Steven J. Slater, a service designer, is co-founder of International Service Design Institute www.internationalservicedesigninstitute.com