Edward Tufte, design-stud, interview in Amazon

Dan Kohn (dan@teledesic.com)
Sun, 5 Apr 1998 17:10:15 -0700

[* Last week, the NYT reported that he's made well over $5 million in
profits from his books and seminars. Pretty impressive, considering he
took out a second mortgage to print the books himself. - dan *]


Tufte: Yes, computer administrative debris or operating-system
imperialism. I go around making measurements, and you are lucky these
days if 40 percent of the screen is devoted to content. The rest of it
is devoted to 5,000-pixel icons. And the icons need a name underneath
them so you can tell what they mean! Alan Cooper said something very
nice about interfaces, which is, "no matter how wonderful your user
interface is, it would be better if there were less of it." Especially
because we are on that low-resolution hardware, we can't afford to waste
any real estate on flying logos and elaborately rendered "stop" buttons.
I've seen things like that that take 10,000 pixels.

Those designs largely reflect the distribution of political power on the
interface. In other words, it's the programmer, the designer, the
marketeer, and--oh yes, by the way, a little space for the content. It's
not at all surprising that the operating system and the programmers in
effect have allocated about 50 percent of the screen to themselves. And
it's not surprising then, that the designer comes in and takes another
25 percent to render buttons that give you two or three commands. And
then the marketeer says you have to have the flying logotype. That
leaves this very narrow window for the actual content.

The cost of this is that people abandon--they flee from--Web sites. They
look at the opening screen, and then there's an exponential dropoff as
they are asked to drill down more deeply. They drop off maybe 80 percent
on each layer they go to. They disappear. And that's why the hit data on
most Web sites are so phony. That's right--they've hit it all right, and
they've fled! What that means is that you really need to fill that
opening screen will lots of luscious content, to show people about
everything that they can learn.