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Obama taps infographics guru for stimulus board

By Ed O'Keefe

The Obama administration has recruited a top infographics designer to advise stimulus board officials on how to better explain the complexities of the economic stimulus to the general public.

President Obama tapped Edward Tufte last week to join Recovery Independent Advisory Panel, which advises the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board on its oversight of the economic stimulus program. A Yale University professor of political science and computer science, Tufte is widely respected in the design community for his work on infographics.

"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," Tufte wrote on his personal Web site. "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."

Tufte has written several books and lectures frequently on how to effectively present data and information. He essentially advocates a "keep it simple" approach, arguing that jazzy colors and designs distract from important information. (You can find several of his books on the desks of Washington Post designers, who were thrilled to be asked about him.)

Tufte especially dislikes PowerPoint, arguing in a 2003 Wired essay: "Presentations largely stand or fall on the quality, relevance, and integrity of the content. If your numbers are boring, then you've got the wrong numbers. If your words or images are not on point, making them dance in color won't make them relevant. Audience boredom is usually a content failure, not a decoration failure."

One wonders what Tufte might have to say about, the RAT Board's stimulus-tracking Web site that uses several colorful bar graphs and maps to present stimulus spending information.

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By Ed O'Keefe  | March 9, 2010; 11:05 AM ET
Categories:  Revolving Door, Tracking the Stimulus  
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Comments has an effective graphic on onoing stimulus spending.

Posted by: BGS1 | March 9, 2010 11:52 AM | Report abuse

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