Bimbo Banter


Remember Tufte’s Lesson From the Space Shuttle Columbia


  • Trends
  • February 1, 2018
  • by Merrie Spaeth

Slide53

We remember the brave members of the Columbia crew who lost their lives 15 years ago today when the space shuttle disintegrated in a tragic accident as it re-entered the earth’s atmosphere. If we wish truly to honor them, we should also learn from a critique of how NASA came to make its fateful decision. Interestingly, NASA took its cues from PowerPoint slides. After the tragic event, Yale professor and leader of the “envisioning information” movement Edward Tufte went public with a stinging critique of the slides that informed the momentous decision.

The key slide obscured the problem. Later investigations found that some within the space agency wanted to get pictures of the underside of the wing but NASA bigwigs declined to ask the Department of Defense for help. Clearly, one message that should have been front and center in this slide deck was “Help!” NASA avoided telling the shuttle crew the truth and many feel that they also avoided grappling with whether or not to launch a rescue mission. You know the saying, “It’s not rocket science?” Well, the rocket scientists should have demanded better than the dense, incomprehensible PPT slide.

We may not be rocket scientists, but we owe our clients a better way to use visuals – and PPT – to inform and motivate. We can change corporate cultures that have fallen into the habit of throwing everything onto a PPT slide, a habit that fails to engage listeners or teach its users how to construct, deliver and, yes, illustrate a compelling story.   



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