Mr. Tufte Goes to Washington

On Friday, the White House crowned its latest czar: Edward Tufte was named to the newly created Recovery Independent Advisory Panel, making him the Obama administration’s unofficial data visualization guru, at least for all things stimulus-related. That’s exciting news for graphics and data geeks, who generally revere Tufte as an evangelist of clean yet complex information design, the inventor of sparklines, and the sworn enemy of chartjunk and slideware. For non-geeks who need a translation: He’s good at drawing charts. Plus, Tufte has some experience cutting through visual bureaucracy: He did risk-assessment work for NASA following the Challenger and Columbia explosions, concluding that the agency’s unthinking reliance on bullet points and PowerPoint helped bring down the Space Shuttles. So what can E.T. (as the faithful call him) do for an administration that, for all its messaging failures, is pretty good at tooting its horn in chart form? His advisory panel is tasked with explaining the use and abuse recovery funds. On his website, Tufte is vague, saying that “I’m doing this because I like accountability and transparency.” At the very least, let’s hope Tufte uses his time in D.C. to drum up some support for bipartisan chart reform so we never again have to see an abomination like this:

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