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Edward Tufte has recently posted some critical comments about the iPhone interface. instead of the "cartoony", "Powerpoint slide", "strong color", "zebra stripe" stock market application, he proposes a solution that is solely motivated by the high-resolution screen. his alternative interface shows "6 graphics that show 14,000 numbers worth of data accurate to 2 significant digits, & in the traditional table, 24 numbers, accurate to 5 significant digits."

in addition, he also compares 2 different weather application interfaces, complementing the "thin" but beautiful weather data list with a dynamic weather map & more detailed forecasts.

however, not everyone in the blogosphere seems to agree. do you?

[edwardtufte.com & graphpaper.com]

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10 COMMENTS

Well, his stuff looks kinda ugly, but Edward Tufte does have a point. Some of the iPhone's native apps really are a little too thin. I am sure Apple could take Tufte's ideas and make them look good.

Wed 30 Jan 2008 at 5:32 PM

I agree with his concepts for the improvement of the interface, but also feel that his graphic design skills no where near match his information architecture skills.

Definitely thought provoking insights though.

Wed 30 Jan 2008 at 5:49 PM

I totally agree with the graphpaper.com post, Tufte is treating the iPhone as a piece of paper in a book rather than an interactive portable device. He completely ignores the context in which the users interaction with the device is taking place.

Thu 31 Jan 2008 at 1:12 AM

I think Tufte makes strong points about information visualisation -- but he doesn't seem to take into account how presentation formats should differ depending on what is most appropriate for the intended audience.

For instance, I think his analysis of the stock market information is 100% correct. Most people interested in financial data will want an accurate and detailed view of that data.

However, I'd argue that most iPhone users will only have a casual interest in weather information. Surely having to zoom in to see the 5-day outlook isn't as convenient as what Apple has designed.

Cartoony can be good at times.

Thu 31 Jan 2008 at 3:49 AM

I love Tufte's work but he's forgetting about the value of use cases to drive interfaces - users are asking certain questions that the interface has to quickly answer - What's the current weather? What the current temp? What's will be the high today? Do I need an umbrella in the next 3 days? Apple's interface does a beautiful job of answering those questions.

His redone interface answers the question "What's the current radar" - which is very low on the list of useful questions - at the expense of the more common use cases.

Thu 31 Jan 2008 at 4:07 AM
michael press

Mainly just agreeing with the choir here, but yes, Tufte seems to value information density over the value of that information to the user. Other that looking pretty, a weather map has almost no value to me. As an urban dweller, the questions I need answers to daily are: Which coat? Which shoes? Umbrella? If I flew a plane, I might feel differently, but iPhones aren't so expensive that one can just assume that need.

Similarly with the stock app - I don't know that long histories are all that interesting. People who follow a given market will already have an intuitive grasp of the information, and can easily get it again if they want it. What would be more interesting than either a "cartoon" interface or a graphics rich one would be one in which one could set personalized triggers of sorts - highlight a stock that rises or falls outside of a gap, tell me when the Euro drops x%, etc.

Thu 31 Jan 2008 at 10:27 AM
fishbane

It's funny to see the sort of people who read a blog titled "information aesthetics" have the same (in my mind, correct) opinions of this: it's not JUST about the data, it's also about the visuals and the usability -- something Tufte, even with his great ideas, doesn't always understand. The amount of data per page/view does not always make it a better method.

Thu 31 Jan 2008 at 10:42 AM
Rebecca

His criticism of the visual style of the Weather and Stocks applications is unduly dismissive.

His proposal for Weather adds useful narrative explanations. But, the radar image requires knowledge of local geography which one doesn't always have.

I was in Tokyo last week when that snow storm moved through. Couldn't tell you where exactly on his map Tokyo was other than roughly in the middle.

On use cases... I tend to use radar quite a bit when I am at home and considering a trip out. When I'm browsing on my phone I tend to already be out.

Thu 31 Jan 2008 at 12:34 PM

One of the key elements of design for usability in any context is (as previously mentioned) understanding the needs of the user in their context. In order to develop this understanding is the design strategy of propose, test, repropose, retest until a satisfactory solution emerges. This strategy has developed in the face of the complexity of usability design. There are a number of guidelines and lessons learnt from previous experiences but no robust theory that enables experts to predict the performance of designs, “experts” typically only pick up 50% of usability problems which are later revealed in user testing. When discussing usability Tufte falls into the trap of criticising and evaluating the usefulness of things based on his approaches. He may be right and he may be wrong, but the answer in found in the action of iterative design and user testing and observations, not espousing theory. Did the Apple designers engage in the likely users, ask them questions, observe them, prose designs and re-evaluate them based on user observations and feedback? If so them I would hope the final result would meet most people’s needs, if not them their work will be open to any and all criticism as users give the feedback that should have been sought in the design stage.
Don't get me wrong, the reason I have any interest in this area is as a result of reading Tufte's books and many of his insights have provided me with very useful ways of approaching information design problems. However as I studied the area further and looked for methods to create usable outcomes the best approach requires involvement with users and iterative design strategies. Designers draw on ideas such as Tufte’s to provide conceptual approaches to tackle the problems, but a designer who relies on theory over observation is like a general who loses the battle but feel vindicated because they followed the plan to the letter.

Thu 31 Jan 2008 at 12:51 PM
Peter

His looks ok, but apple is slick looking with UI

Wed 03 Nov 2010 at 9:52 AM
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