They say not to judge a book by its cover, but when I discovered Edward Tufte’s Envisioning Information with its eye-catching cover at a local Palo Alto bookstore many years ago, I bought the book. I was working for a publishing house at that time and the book was inspirational. The images drew me in and the text got me hooked on data visualization.
Fast forward a number of years and an informational flyer arrives in the mail – probably the only piece of unsolicited mail that has ever been of interest to me – announcing that Edward Tufte was going to be presenting in Silicon Valley. And this is how I got to meet Edward Tufte during his lunch break “office hour.”
Paula: How do you deal with information overload?
Edward Tufte: “Disjointed incrementalism”… [and here he paused as he watched the obviously perplexed look on my face, then he smiled and elaborated]… “otherwise known as muddling your way through stuff.”
Paula: How would you describe your workplace set-up?
Edward Tufte: My studio is a mess of piles of paper and stuff across a flat surface.
Paula: How do you stay productive?
Edward Tufte: I start working within a half-hour of waking up. No email, no Facebook, no Twitter before work. This is the only way to avoid being distracted. Before going to bed, I also think about the one thing I want to do the next day. It helps to keep me focused.
And so it was; three questions in three minutes. Some things disappointingly never match up to one’s expectations, but my brief chat with Mr. Tufte wasn’t one of them. Thank you Mr. Tufte for your insight into data visualization, for making it understandable, and for taking the time to answer my questions.
It felt great to break out of my comfort zone and do something completely different from my daily work. What would you like to do that is completely different from what you usually do?