My color sense is lacking– and Tufte

The color tools on the curriculum this week were all very helpful, although I’m a bit leery of relying overly on them. The overall effect aimed for by all of these things is a sort of "pleasing neutrality." While that goal is a good one, it can make things bland, sometimes, too, I think.

I’m not a color person. I actually barely perceive color, tone, shade… No matter how much I’ve tried, I’ve learned this is somewhat inescapable. I can see a good color scheme or a bad one, and know the difference and why, but I’m just not inclined to see that way; it’s a neglected visual organ in my brain. I’ve developed a theory that there are three main ways to perceive things visually, and that each of us favor one or another. There’s people who see line and form, whose eyes naturally trace the shapes of things. There’s people oriented toward color and tone– these people are naturally atoned to changes in light, how it interacts with the contours of surfaces, things like that. Then there’s people like me– the iconic eyes. I see things almost semiotically– as representations of ideas. I see a cup, and the first thing I see isn’t the height or heft of it, or its color, or the way the light plays on its contents. I see it, and I see "cup."

Each of these is naturally inclined toward certain types of visual production– the first sort will be best at pen and ink, line drawings, and the like. The second group will be well suited to using paints, charcoal, things like that. The third group, people like me, who see representations of objects within objects, are most likely apt to be cartoonists. We’re the people who are good at Pictionary.

So color tools like these, they’ll be useful to me. Working with color always feels unnatural to me, forced, and I spend far too much time while working on my assignments playing with this.

Well, that’s a major digression.

What I wanted to talk about was Tufte.

Well, I’ll leave this post now– for the sake of brevity, in hopes that someone actually reads it– with the main thought I had while reading that book:

It’s brilliant. It’s useful. It gives a lot to think about, and doesn’t shy away from complex answers or ambiguity. That said, the statistician in Tufte shines through a bit for my tastes– I don’t believe completely that the ideal use of visual information design is accuracy and "truth." However, he gives you a great tool box, whether you’re trying to tell the truth with pictures or not.

In other people’s blogs this week, I commented in Maureen’s blog about Tufte’s self-publishing, and on Chris King’s blog about the joy of theft.

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3 Responses to My color sense is lacking– and Tufte

  1. Maureen Guignon says:

    Tufte does often show his statistician side in his numbers, organization, etc. Do you think this is also why he is so particular about how everything looks? Is he actually design oriented or does he just want perfect clarity in providing information? Whatever the reason, he has a great eye for presenting his ideas. I didn’t think I would ever be interested in the scientific jargon of the Challenger disaster.

    And, as you mentioned theft in your comment to Chris, I feel the need to confess that I stole Jeremy’s CSS from your site. It actually worked! Too bad it was after I had posted my CSS & Text assignments.

  2. SaS says:

    Tad, I enjoyed your “major digression” thoroughly! I think I agree with your categorization of people and the way they see, I have never thought about it in such complexity, only realized that I too cannot see color unless I try (which, as I have been moving towards Buddhism over the last several years, I have made a conscious effort to “see” more of the world rather than simply moving through it)…now it is I who is digressing. Anyway, I see myself in the first category, one who sees lines and forms, but who is attempting to broaden out and see all the things that this world has to offer, the good and the bad. So, in sum, I think I have done well matching your digression with one of my own!

  3. Chris King says:

    Tad, I too found Tufte quite fascinating and brilliant. I think he may be like you in seeing the symbols instead of the shapes or colors. It’s making me want to collect the other two books in his series in an effort to absorb some of his annoyingly accurate insights on information design.

    And take heart: after spending several engaging but ultimately fruitless hours trying on different color schemes, I’m willing to join you in the “I don’t get color” camp. It seems to me to be a lot of work for little return. Or do you think it’s just that the tools we have are making it so simple to find matching colors that we’re faced with too many choices?

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