Presumably, Tufte will be using his expertise to find charts that illustrate how the stimulus is being used, and what effect its having on the economy. That's brilliant news, for anyone overwhelmed by the blather surrounding political debates. And it's not just a token appointment. Tufte says that he'll be going to Washington several days a month, and teleworking regularly. "Infographics Win! Obama Appoints Data-Viz Demigod to Chart the Stimulus", Fast Company, 8th March 2010I concede that my knowledge of the US government is largely informed by the West Wing and so I don't fully understand the relationships between and alignment of the various councils, departments, panels and bodies. Furthermore, I'm unclear about the role of the department that appears responsible for delivering the spending sites (Chief Information Officer's Council) nor entirely clear about the potential scope or reach of Tufte's appointment. However, whilst there are certainly good things amongst these services (eg. the use of gapminder works well) there is a distinct lack of evidence that he has had any design input or influence: Recovery.gov
The inelegant design of much of the above (especially the ugly tree map and indecipherable USA Spending categorical colour scheme) and the presence of devices like 3D pie charts and gauges does not evoke the Tufte principles many of us take great influence from. Furthermore, when you hear that the development of the visualisation service for IT spending portfolio cost a total of $8M you start to see it in a new light, especially when you see this summary comment from the same people who were applauding the Data-Viz demigod's appointment:
Of course, a sophisticated Web site of this magnitude doesn't come cheap, but it is certainly easy to use... In this case, USASpending.gov's IT Dashboard is $0.1 million under budget, ahead of schedule by 1.3%, and has an overall rating of 7.5. And the cost to create the USASpending.gov? $8 million, with the dashboard itself costing $1.3 million to build. For this kind of high-tech transparency, I think it's absolutely worth it. Fast Company article, 14th July 2010I'm sure I'll receive feedback criticising my pedantry with this post but surely we would have expected better?