Thursday, May 14

Book Review: Envisioning Information

Book Cover
I had this book on my reading list because I'd heard DHH praise it a couple years back. Although I'm just a lowly software developer, I've always had a fascination with user interaction and interface design. I devoured the books by Norman, Tognazzini, Nielsen, Raskin, etc. I was hoping to glean similar insight from this tome.

The Bad

Unfortunately, it's not an easy book to read. There's something about the author's style of writing that I found to be obtuse. The way he weaves his words I quite honestly couldn't tell most of the time whether he was praising or condemning a particular visualization technique. The book is peppered with a plethora of illustrations, maps, charts, diagrams, etc. with several on each page, but half the time I couldn't figure out which image the author was referring to in the text.

The Good

Regardless of the struggle to consume the verbiage, there are some gems of wisdom to be mined. The author drills home the concept of "1 + 1 = 3" in the sense of combining two simple visualization techniques can add a third dimension of information. This is demonstrated with both good and bad consequences. The author also stresses the avoidance of decoration that distracts from the data and information "prisons" such as thick dark grid lines or table borders that could be removed completely and simply implied by the layout of the information via white space or "negative shapes". The most impressive examples in the book are the train time tables - it's mind-boggling how much data can be cleanly and clearly expressed in a two-dimensional chart with the right finesse.

1 comment:

Victor Vlist said...

This book was required reading in a course I took at my university. It truly is an amazing read. One of the books I didn't sell after graduation.