Most economists are a whizz with charts and diagrams. Both are immediate ways of convenying key relationships and interactions.
Many economists would - or certainly should - be familiar with the pathbreaking work of Edward Tufte on the visual display of information. hence my interest in a short piece by Michael Shermer in the April 2005 issue of Scientific American on the Feynman-Tufte Principle (permanent version here). It's short, but insightful:
Tufte codified the design process into six principles: "(1) documenting the sources and characteristics of the data, (2) insistently enforcing appropriate comparisons, (3) demonstrating mechanisms of cause and effect, (4) expressing those mechanisms quantitatively, (5) recognizing the inherently multivariate nature of analytic problems, (6) inspecting and evaluating alternative explanations." In brief, "information displays should be documentary, comparative, causal and explanatory, quantified, multivariate, exploratory, skeptical."
Skeptical. How fitting for this column ..because when I asked Tufte to summarize the goal of his work, he said, "Simple design, intense content."
And I like what the author calls the Feynman-Tufte Principle: "a visual display of data should be simple enough to fit on the side of a van."