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President Obama Appoints Edward Tufte--Big Victory for Data Visualization And Transparent Government

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on March 8, 2010

I just picked this up from my Twitter stream. It’s quite an amazing event. Edward Tufte helping the American public see where their $787 billion in economic stimulus tax money is going to help revive the US economy. Turning to Tufte is a brilliant move by Obama and a big win for innovation.

Here is what Tufte says:

“I will be serving on the Recovery Independent Advisory Panel. This Panel advises The Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, whose job is to track and explain $787 billion in recovery stimulus funds:

“The Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board was created by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 with two goals:
To provide transparency in relation to the use of Recovery-related funds.
To prevent and detect fraud, waste, and mismanagement.
Earl E. Devaney was appointed by President Obama to serve as chairman of the Recovery Board. Twelve Inspectors General from various federal agencies serve with Chairman Devaney. The Board issues quarterly and annual reports to the President and Congress and, if necessary, “flash reports” on matters that require immediate attention. In addition, the Board maintains the website so the American people can see how Recovery money is being distributed by federal agencies and how the funds are being used by the recipients.

Mission statement: To promote accountability by coordinating and conducting oversight of Recovery funds to prevent fraud, waste, and abuse and to foster transparency on Recovery spending by providing the public with accurate, user-friendly information.”

I’m doing this because I like accountability and transparency, and I believe in public service. And it is the complete opposite of everything else I do. Maybe I’ll learn something. The practical consequence is that I will probably go to Washington several days each month, in addition to whatever homework and phone meetings are necessary.”

We need more designers and design thinkers like Tufte in government.

Reader Comments


March 9, 2010 12:33 AM

Moves like this can only help to increase the trust of the public when it comes to how our tax dollars are used. If this concept were refined and expanded to a national and state by state basis and then applied to taxes in general, a lot of fraud and abuse could be avoided by the nature of how the system is designed.

Sally Terrell Smith

March 9, 2010 1:40 AM

If anyone can make the use of Recovery funds make sense to me, it's Edward Tufte. Pop over to Amazon and find The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. Use Amazon’s "Look Inside" feature to search on Napoleon.

You'll find Tufte's discussion of a graphic created by a 19th century French engineer, Charles Joseph Minard. It shows the attrition of Napoleon's troops retreating from Moscow, related to the devastatingly low temperatures.

Tufte says, "It may well be the best statistical graphic ever." Turn the page to see the thick black block representing the number of men dwindle to a line the width of a single pen stroke.

What a delight this book was to those like me teaching people to make ugly, misleading 3-D charts with Harvard Graphics.

I'm delighted now that President Obama has appointed Tufte and that Tufte has taken up the challenge.

Patrick Fisher

March 9, 2010 1:57 AM

Brilliant! This a great thing about Obama: he puts the most brilliant minds our nation has to offer to work on its most important problems.


March 9, 2010 5:08 PM has a good graphic on the status of stimulus money spending on its website.


March 10, 2010 4:44 AM

This a wonderful development. I'm studying Edward Tufte and other information designer experts and from what I've learned about him and his work, he clearly stands for truth in information. His books really have changed my view on how data can be, and perhaps should be displayed.

nicole burton

March 10, 2010 3:02 PM

Edward Tufte is the Shakespeare of data visualization. This is a terrific move.


March 15, 2010 12:14 PM

Dear Sir,

I have the pleasure to brief on our Data Visualization software
"Trend Compass".

TC is a new concept in viewing statistics and trends in an animated
way by displaying 5 axis (X, Y, Time, Bubble size & Bubble color)
instead of just the traditional X and Y axis. It could be used in
analysis, research, presentation etc. In the banking sector, we have
Deutsche Bank New York as our client.

This a link on weather data :

This is a bank link to compare Deposits, Withdrawals and numbers of
Customers for different branches over time ( all in 1 Chart) :

Misc Examples :

This is a project we did with Princeton University on US unemployment :

A 3 minutes video presentation of above by Professor Alan Krueger
Bendheim Professor of Economics and Public Affairs at Princeton
University and currently Chief Economist at the US Treasury using
Trend Compass :

Latest financial links on the Central Bank of Egypt:

I hope you could evaluate it and give me your comments. So many ideas
are there.

You can download a trial version. It has a feature to export
EXE,PPS,HTML and AVI files. The most impressive is the AVI since you
can record Audio/Video for the charts you create.

All the best.

Epic Systems

March 22, 2010 5:44 PM

This is a very good move:

"This is about visual thinking and visual evidence," Tufte says. "It's not about commercial art. The last thing in the world that's needed here is a designer. What's needed is an analytical, statistical, quantitative approach. Reporting is different from pitching. Artists who design for marketing purposes inherently have problems with credibility. This is something very different in spirit. It's about accountability and transparency—with heavy, heavy amounts of data."

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Want to stop talking about innovation and learn how to make it work for you? Bruce Nussbaum takes you deep into the latest thinking about innovation and design with daily scoops, provocative perspectives and case studies. Nussbaum is at the center of a global conversation on the growing discipline of innovation and the deepening field of design thinking. Read him to discover what social networking works—and what doesn’t. Discover where service innovation is going and how experience design is shaping up. Learn which schools are graduating the most creative talent and which consulting firms are the hottest. And get his take on what the smartest companies are doing in the U.S., Asia and Europe, far ahead of the pack.

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