Friday, July 31, 2009

Triple book review...

Since I've been on holiday, I've had the time to read some books. Some geeky stuff this time, not much fine litterature here. Sort of a red thread with regards to the topic of these books. Anyway, here we go.

Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery
by Garr Reynolds

I've been following mr. Reynolds fine blog with the same name for three years now, and have probably read about 90-100% of his posts. My first impression is how much of this book Garr has given away for free on his blog. That's not important for people who hasn't read his blog, but people like me might feel cheated for paying for something we've already have gotten. Not me, I think it's great have all this collected in a book, and presented in a complete manner.

This book explains Garr Reynolds idea of presentation, where simplicity in design and delivery is sentral. This is not a "Powerpoint primer" or similar, in fact, it hardly mentions how things is done in Powerpoint, Keynote or similar. It focus on the content and style, rather then the technical details. And mr. Reynolds have compiled a pretty good argument for his style. It's backed up with a lot of real life and fixtional examples that showcases his points. And as he closes the book with, this is not a final conclusion about presentation, but a first step on a long way of making better presentations.

As for me, I really have learned a lot about slide layout and design in general from this book, and I really like it. However, I do feel that the approch does not really apply to my needs. It's more suitable for buisness and sharing ideas and visions (but not exclusivly that). In a lecture situation, you can't cut your presentation down to the three most important points. You gotta cover the curricilum. And sometimes, you need to put in formulas and complex data (which mr. Reynolds at least partially aknowledge). At the end, there are sample slides of some other people using the presentation zen approch, among them a University lecture on aromatic chemisty. I really would love to see that lecture, because I still believe that you can't apply this approch "unmodified" to such a complex topic. But I sure like to be convinced, cause this is a book everybody who present or lecure could learn from. Recommended.

The back of the napkin
by Dan Roam

This book is about visual thinking using simple (hand-drawn) pictures to stimulate creative thinking in problem solving and present and sell ideas. I'm a sucker for icons, and I've browsed through mr. Roam's blog a couple of times, and I liked the icon-like quality of some of his drawings and his simple and effective way of picture different things (I even think I made a post about it before the US election last year). Loved the examples I found on the blog.

The book? Well, first of all, it's really buisness oriented. And I've heard mr. Roam state that buisness people us pictures and graphs far less then, say, science people. I don't know about that, but what struck me when I start reading the book, is that I actually use pictures to communicate, solve problems and illustrate a point. Many of those hand drawn, but I can't remember the last time I went into a meeting with a hand-drawn picuture or graph. Then I have them electronically in Excel/ powerpoint or similar. I also think that people with basic knowledge in statistics or chemometrics have a lot of powerful, and sometimes better, charts we can make. That's especially true for the elaborated multi-variable charts.

Apart from the point above, I did enjoy reading this book even though it is really a buisness book; a world pretty unknown to me. I did enjoy his ture stories of how he has used his pictures and graphs in selling ideas and solving problems as a buisness consultant. Some of the tools where you stimulate both the "right and left side" of the brain is also interesting and something I might consider trying out. But what I really found inspiring about this book, is the way to focus an idea and deliever it in a way that people can follow quickly. Even though the examples are buisness, it's something everybody can learn from. Another recommandation from me.

The Visual Display of Quantitative Information
by Edward Tufte

Now this is something different. Edward Tufte is an American statistician and Professor of statistics and whatnot, and this book is in a different league then the two above. While they emphasize simplicity and crystalizing out the essential message to present or sell, Tufte with his background is a strong defender of the other use of charts: To plot a lot of data to make data-dence charts that allows researcher and normal people to explore data, rather then just being sold an idea. In fact, Tufte argues that simple data/ small data sets are better represented in a table. Though I do see the use of both kinds, I am geeky enough to really enjoy Tuftes' argument and examples, going all the way back to Leonard and the first pie and bar charts ever made, up to current issues of newspapers and scientific journals. The only drawback is that this book is a reprint from 1980 or so, and a few of his arguments are obsolete. For example, one of his charts he states that he had reduced the number of lines needed to draw the chart from 80 to 10, thus saving the scientist time that should be spent better doing research. In this time of Excel and computers, I don't know of any scientist that still makes charts by hand. Furthermore, some of the changes, that improves the chart, does take longer to make then just pulling up the standard Excel-graph. And sometimes that is enough.

But his data-ink ratio (how much of the ink on a graph is used to represent data, and how much is "chart junk") and data density are really interesting. And he makes a compelling argument that the newspapers use advanced language, but simple charts. I wonder how the situation is today. This is a great book that everybody that draws charts or deal with large data sets should read. Even if it is old. Highly recommended, I will buy more of his books.


Wilhelm said...

Those first two books - presentation Zen and the Back of the napkin dealie look really interesting, brotha'

As for the third one, I'm gettin' the vibe that a much more effective and updated version can be found as a chapter (or two) in "How To Write And Publish A Scientific Paper" by Robert A. Day.

Wilhelm said...

..and I'm lovin' the apparent trend of bloggers being able to copy-and-paste material into books and actually move product :-)

Anders said...

I'm waiting for "The M-factor - How to analyze current trends in science, politics and culture". :-D

Anders said...

As for the Day book: I do have a feeling that the overlap with the Tufte book is minimal.

The Tufte book is still highly relevant. The history part hasn't changed (of course), and the newer part is still relevant. His points is still relevant, even though a few of his arguments is dated. And it's not too much concerned about "presenting" data (as the two other books are), but more "exploring" data through graphics. And I do believe that an scientific paper is more in the "presenting" genre.

But the Day book, is that one you've reviewed here some time ago?

Wilhelm said...

Yup -I reviewed the Day book a while ago. HIGHLY recommended, even for presenting data