Holmes or Tufte? Mineral Water Composition chart

I’ve just watched some lectures on the two major schools of design: Tufte and Holmes.

This was one of them (Vimeo.com)

They’re radically different. Tufte advocates simple data visualisations with a maximum data-to-ink ratio. Holmes likes to add visual elements, pictures and illustrations onto charts, which Tufte calls “chartjunk”. You’ll have noticed the striking difference between these two competing schools when you upgraded your iPhone from the Holmes-inspired, skeuomorphic iOS 6 to the Tufte-inspired, clear and minimalist iOS 7.

iOS and iOS 7 comparison
LEFT: Holmes-style design (iOS 6). RIGHT: Tufte-style design (iOS 7)

Clearly, the Tufte-inspired version on the right looks much better.

Here is a simple introduction to minimalist Tufte design:

Data-to-ink ratio

I’m on the side of Tufte here. I like complicated data visualised in a simple-looking graphic. Looking back at the graphics I made last summer, I decided to update the Mineral Water Composition chart I made last year according to Tufte’s design philosophy.

Here’s the new, Tufte-inspired version:

Water water everywhere v3
Tufte school of design. Click to enlarge (JPEG)

And here’s the old Holmes-inspired version I made a year ago:

Mineral Water Composition by Brand
Holmes school of design. Click to enlarge (JPEG).

Which design do you prefer…? Holmes or Tufte?


6 thoughts on “Holmes or Tufte? Mineral Water Composition chart

  1. I prefer the Tufte version, but I find the graduated axis lines noisy and confusing – do they have a meaningful pattern or are they purely visual. If the latter then maybe they should go, if the former, then they need to be more easily understood, so different. The data points with label graphics work very well.


    1. I like the Tufte much better as well, though I’m not so thrilled about the new io7 even if it does look cleaner (I particularly like the font). I agree with ephem and I also had trouble with the taste characteristic labels placed throughout the chart. Usually these types of labels are in quadrants and/or at least aligned to help make it easier to understand/chunk the context. It took me a bit to understand that they were even related.


  2. I think the Holmes iOS 6 is much more attractive than the iOS 7 Tufte design, but I think the Tufte chart design is cleaner. I do think the green “perfect” zone gets lost more than the dotted lines in the Holmes version.


  3. I like the Tufte much better also, but the size of the graphic symbols for each water is too large due to the closeness of the data. I like using the labels for the symbols, it creates a link with the reader, I have seen these labels – but here is the one I usually reach for. – maybe next time I will try this one and see if I can tell the difference. The labels put the data in context. In this specific instance, the value of the connection to the reader is hampered by the manufactures layout. This is obscuring the message and making the data harder to read. The speed of the connection for the reader to apply the content will help to keep him engaged.

    Along this line, I also have a comment on the introduction – at the base of each item (french fries, potato chips, …) – put in a photo graphic of what 100 grams of chips looks like or a stack or pile of fries. This quantifies the viewers eating habits vs. the data the chart was designed to for and makes the data personal and usable for the layperson. I understand it is additional data, but the combination of the data enables the reader to apply the data. Readability is critical, but “application” of what is read is the gold standard to me (especially when I am trying to get through to my teenagers).

    I am on the way out right now – but I wonder – how many fries is this? Good fries are so addictive; the whole pile has to be eaten.

    I also intend to share the water table with my sports-type non-science type son. He is becoming interested in supplements; it will be interesting to hear the feedback.


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