The May/June issue of Washington Monthly has an in-depth feature article on Edward Tufte, the data visualization guru. Tufte's a personal hero of mine: Bill Venables introduced me to his first book, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, when I was an undergraduate. Its common-sense approach to looking at data (and its derision of chartjunk) instantly lighted the passion I still hold for awesome data visualizations to this day. If you haven't experienced Tufte yet, this quote from the article sums him up pretty well:
“Tufte killed the idea that we are afraid of numbers,” said Tobias Frere-Jones, a typographer who keeps Tufte’s books on a shelf above his desk in downtown New York. “And once you get over that idea, you can’t really justify the birthday-party-clown school of data visualization, where you need bright colors and shiny things to convey that the stock market went down this week.”
The article covers the history of information design, Tufte's influence in government (Karl Rove was a fan -- really?), his campaign against Powerpoint, his invention of sparklines (which I was surprised to learn Microsoft tried to patent in 2009) and his role in improving communication with data generally. Check out the whole article linked below for a great read. Better yet, go see him in person at one of his one-day courses -- if you don't have his books already, attending one of his seminars is a cost-effective way to get hold of them, and hear Tufte explain the principles behind them in his own words.
Washington Monthly: The Information Sage