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I know this might be far fetched as a topic on this site, but I don't see where else it would belong (statistics SE? meh, I think we are more oriented toward producing clean and readable stuff than they are).

I am aware of Tufte's work as a good reference for producing quality graphics and figures, however I am wondering, which of his books/works should I read? If I were to read only one of his books to inspire myself in making greater TeX documents, figures and graphics, which one should it be?

Additional information: Note that I am writing mainly scientific stuff, machine learning and computer engineering papers, also my thesis.

Also, I've heard that some LaTeX classes were inspired from Tufte's designs, which one are they? In what regard were they inspired by his works? From which book?

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There's no type.stackexchange site, so I'd say your question belongs here. –  lockstep Nov 16 '10 at 17:04
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@lockstep: I'm torn, myself. It's definitely something many of us will care about, but it's not about TeX. And just because there's no specific site for typography questions doesn't mean we want them all here; there's banana-growing.stackexchange.com either, but that doesn't mean banana growing questions are on topic. Of course, typography is more related to TeX than bananas, but even so. (Maybe a typography or design Stack Exchange would be a good idea?) –  Antal S-Z Nov 16 '10 at 17:42
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@Antal: If typography.stackexchange.com (or maybe "typo.stackexchange.com"? :P) would exist, some questions here would be well suited there as well, and probably even more questions originally posted there would belong here. Instead, maybe most of us are typography interested enough to include questions like these in and friends. –  Tomas Lycken Nov 16 '10 at 19:09
    
@lockstep, @Tomas: I feel like this discussion is worth moving over to Meta. See this question. (I tried to keep the question neutral, but if you think it's worded poorly, please fix it.) –  Antal S-Z Nov 16 '10 at 20:56
    
@Antal S-Z: I'd be very interested in such a typography.stackexchange - maybe we can create one? However, there is graphicdesign.stackexchange.com, where People (at least the professionals) should have knowledge about typography also. –  Martin Jul 25 '11 at 8:22

3 Answers 3

up vote 15 down vote accepted

The classes that attempt to duplicate the typography of Tufte's books are called Tufte-LaTeX. The website has documentation and examples. There are 2 classes provided, one for books and another for handouts.

As for which book to read, I would recommend starting at the beginning, with The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. As I read the reviews of his work, I discovered that this one seemed to be regarded as the classic. Do know that this is the only one I have read, so I can't speak from personal experience about the others.

A few thoughts about the book:

  • It doesn't really deal with typography as much as figure preparation.
  • His ideas seem logical and useful, but many of the suggestions he makes are difficult to implement in standard plotting packages.
  • The book is short, so even if you don't like it, you won't waste much time.
  • After reading reviews, I got the impression that the book would change my life. While it provided some good things to think about, it certainly wasn't life-changing.
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Perhaps LaTeX has already changed our lives in the way that those reviewers experienced with Tufte ;) –  Konrad Swanepoel Nov 17 '10 at 22:46

I have read The Visual Display of Quantitative Information (VDQI), Envisioning Information (EI) and Beautiful Evidence (BE).

To me, EI was the greatest pleasure to read, because it covers some more topics than VDQI and left me with more inspiration. VDQI is a classic, but indeed is mainly about quantitative information. If you have other types of information, EI and BE are better suited. BE covers even more topics than EI (especially the one about PowerPoint is a fun to read), but in my opinion BE is not as cohesive.

I also agree with Matt and perelanda that tufte's views (not limited to the bare minimum of ink example Matt pulled out) are sometimes extreme, and implementing them is not a guarantee for applause. I have experienced that. Do provide chart junk, just for people to feel comfortable.

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I agree with perelandra about The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. It is Tufte's "classic" text and has some nice suggestions, but it won't change your life. Its elitism is often off-putting and Tufte's assertion that figures are always better with a bare minimum of ink -- clarity be damned -- is debatable.

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