Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Clear and simple as the truth

This fantastic lecture by Harvard cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker has a place of honor among the resources about visualization, infographics, and journalism I've gathered in the last fifteen years. In it, Pinker discusses the main points of the book he's currently working on. Watch it and notice how many times you can insert the words "visualization" or "infographics" instead of "writing." The lecture is supposed to be just about the effective use of language, but many of its lessons can be applied to visual communication.

Pinker recognizes he's been inspired by Clear and Simple as the Truth, by Francis-Noël Thomas and Mark Turner, a most excellent book about classic prose. Yes, that's another recommendation. After all, great visualizations aren't just the result of designing effective visuals, but of pairing words and graphics seamlessly.

(Side note: How is it possible that someone who knows so much about perception and cognition —and who has written about graph design— uses slides that are so poorly designed?)


  1. Thanks for the recommendation and link to a wonderful video, Alberto. Pinker is just amazing. To your point about Pinker creating such poorly designed slides, I've often wondered about this as well. Some of the smartest research professors I had while I was at NYU's Educational Technology program were some of the worst offenders of poor slide design. My theory was always that they cared more about showing off how much they knew than to actually make sure the audience/student understood what they were saying. Just a theory.

  2. Could be. A while ago, I interviewed Stephen Kosslyn (Pinker's mentor) and he's concerned about bad slides as well. Interview's in Spanish, but I guess that Google Translate can help: He wrote a book about designing better slides, by the way

  3. Thanks for the link, Alberto. I checked out the article and this is exactly what I've been looking for! "Toda persona que tenga que enfrentarse a una audiencia debe familiarizarse con cómo funcionan la percepción, la memoria y los mecanismos del razonamiento" ... I'm putting his book(s) on my reading list. Thanks! Hablo espanol, asi que el articulo era muy util, en cualquier idioma.