[OT] PowerPoint art by David Byrne

Alex Rice alex at mindlube.com
Sat Dec 27 19:35:52 EST 2003

It's an interesting debate for 4GL hypermedia authors like us. Here it  
is that URL again if anyone had trouble clicking through:

Especially note at the bottom of the article: "The gulf between Byrne's  
and Tufte's outlooks troubles fans." and
"Quite frankly, I have to side with Tufte on this one," Guterman said.  
"Byrne thinks it's funny that this tool exists, and he wants to play  
with it. Tufte is going for the jugular. But they both in different  
ways understand that PowerPoint is a broken tool."

Here is an article, with links, about Tufte's anti Powerpoint essays:

December 14, 2003

PowerPoint Makes You Dumb

In August, the Columbia Accident Investigation Board at NASA released  
Volume 1 of its report on why the space shuttle crashed. As expected,  
the ship's foam insulation was the main cause of the disaster. But the  
board also fingered another unusual culprit: PowerPoint, Microsoft's  
well-known ''slideware'' program.

NASA, the board argued, had become too reliant on presenting complex  
information via PowerPoint, instead of by means of traditional  
ink-and-paper technical reports. When NASA engineers assessed possible  
wing damage during the mission, they presented the findings in a  
confusing PowerPoint slide -- so crammed with nested bullet points and  
irregular short forms that it was nearly impossible to untangle. ''It  
is easy to understand how a senior manager might read this PowerPoint  
slide and not realize that it addresses a life-threatening situation,''  
the board sternly noted.

PowerPoint is the world's most popular tool for presenting information.  
There are 400 million copies in circulation, and almost no corporate  
decision takes place without it. But what if PowerPoint is actually  
making us stupider?

This year, Edward Tufte -- the famous theorist of information  
presentation -- made precisely that argument in a blistering screed  
called The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint. In his slim 28-page pamphlet,  
Tufte claimed that Microsoft's ubiquitous software forces people to  
mutilate data beyond comprehension.

  For example, the low resolution of a PowerPoint slide means that it  
usually contains only about 40 words, or barely eight seconds of  
reading. PowerPoint also encourages users to rely on bulleted lists, a  
''faux analytical'' technique, Tufte wrote, that dodges the speaker's  
responsibility to tie his information together. And perhaps worst of  
all is how PowerPoint renders charts. Charts in newspapers like The  
Wall Street Journal contain up to 120 elements on average, allowing  
readers to compare large groupings of data. But, as Tufte found,  
PowerPoint users typically produce charts with only 12 elements.  
Ultimately, Tufte concluded, PowerPoint is infused with ''an attitude  
of commercialism that turns everything into a sales pitch.''

Microsoft officials, of course, beg to differ. Simon Marks, the product  
manager for PowerPoint, counters that Tufte is a fan of ''information  
density,'' shoving tons of data at an audience. You could do that with  
PowerPoint, he says, but it's a matter of choice. ''If people were told  
they were going to have to sit through an incredibly dense  
presentation,'' he adds, ''they wouldn't want it.'' And PowerPoint  
still has fans in the highest corridors of power: Colin Powell used a  
slideware presentation in February when he made his case to the United  
Nations that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.

Of course, given that the weapons still haven't been found, maybe Tufte  
is onto something. Perhaps PowerPoint is uniquely suited to our modern  
age of obfuscation -- where manipulating facts is as important as  
presenting them clearly. If you have nothing to say, maybe you need  
just the right tool to help you not say it.

More information about the Use-livecode mailing list