Learn design, read a good book and join the Tufte club

Subs who deal with information set out in tables, graphs or diagrams, know how much effort goes into producing them. To make best use of that effort, you need to have some awareness of what makes for good presentation.

A good place to start is with a book by Edward Tufte, an American academic who has made a speciality of statistical graphics. The Visual Display of Quantitative Information is the first of the books he has produced and looks at the best way to present tables and the like.

Aficionados (the Tufte club?) regard it as an underground classic, but underground only in the sense that it is self-published. The guidance more than stands up to the light of day.

With material to be slotted into a table, for example, it suggests that any gridlines should be printed in a lighter tone or, better yet, dispensed with altogether to prevent distraction from the information itself.

A further two books, Envisioning Information and Visual Explanations, push out the coverage of what Tufte calls information design. And he invites comments and interaction at his website, www.edwardtufte.com.

This will, if you are not careful, lead you away from considering how to present information to your readers into such matters as designing signage and layouts for airport aprons that will help stop aircraft bumping into each other.

Suggestions for ways of presenting graphs and charts flood the pages of Jan White’s Graphic Idea Notebook. He even has notions for making pie charts look good, although Tufte will tell you these are just about the greatest waste of ink and space going.

Subs who are moving over into layout can look to another of Jan White’s books, Designing for Magazines, which suggests lots of ways of manipulating columns in space for maximum effect.

A further book, Contemporary Newspaper Design by Mario Garcia, has plenty of detailed advice, pointing out, for example, the best positions for a head shot photo in a multicolumn story – and the places to avoid at all costs.

Both these books date from the Eighties, obviously originate from the United States and may take a bit of tracking down. For something more recent, and drawing on British examples, you can turn to Designing for Newspapers and Magazines by the NUJ’s Chris Frost.

Some other books that may give you ideas are Magculture by Jeremy Leslie, Magazine Design by Stacey King and Publication Design Workbook by Timothy Samara.

Any or all of these books will make you very conscious of matters such as providing entry points for getting readers started on a page. You’ll end up realising that good designgrapples with the proper concerns of the reader

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