I wrote this some months ago in Stephen Few’s discussion board:
(…) What I find interesting in Tufte is that he builds a theory of information visualization based (among some other things) on some very strong aesthetic principles from minimalism (Mies van der Rohe). The result is very coherent and it gives you a strict and normative way of looking at graphs (“maximize data/ink ratio”; “maximize data density”; “no chart junk”, etc.). But design is, by its very nature, a subjective answer. You can’t always back it with scientific evidence. You can’t anticipate all the logical consequences of your design theory and some of them will collide with scientific findings, sooner or later.(…)
I also see myself as a Tufte fan but are there any other options? Tufte gives us something unique: an holistic theory and metrics to evaluate the results (the full monty…). No one else does that, only some random guidelines. I suspect that Tufte’s theory is too positivist and works better inside a simplified reality. I am glad we have him around, but I think we need an alternative view (just in case…).
He is Marx, not Leonardo.