I was reading an article on web typography and came across a great passage that sums up my problem with most of the character sheets I’ve seen:

The statistician and information designer Edward Tufte introduced the concept of data-ink in his 1983 classic, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. He defines data-ink as ‘the non-erasable core of the graphic’, whereas non-data-ink is the ink used in the graphic, not to directly represent data but for scales, labels, fills and edges. Tufte goes on to define the data-ink ratio as the proportion of ink that is used to present actual data compared to the total amount of ink used in the entire graphic. The goal is to design a graphic with the highest possible data-ink ratio (tending towards 1.0) without eliminating what is necessary for effective communication.


14 thoughts on “I was reading an article on web typography and came across a great passage that sums up my problem with most of the…

  1. Tim Koppang Correct! Most sheets look like tax forms to me, where the borders and labels overpower everything, making it hard to identify the actual character info.

    Honestly, I largely gave up on character sheets when I got my first Mac back in 1989. A cleanly lain-out doc with lots of white-space is my preference.

  2. For the latter computer programs, I think maintaining familiarity is the misguided motive there. Although that just goes to the underlying argument that these sheets should be better designed in the first place.

  3. I have a different take: my usual two issues are:

    1) Data that needs to be related being stuck in different parts of the character sheet (“wait, what’s the modifier? Lemme look on the back of the sheet”)

    2) Conditional tracking or even entirely optional tracking for gameplay taking up too much of the character sheet. (When is the last time your character’s eye color came into play?, Have you ever NOT gotten your synergy bonus in a D20 game?)

    It’s one thing to navigate to an area (“Look under Combat stats”), it’s another when there’s 8 numbers to disambiguate from that (“no, no, that’s the sub-modifier, you have to look at the total”)

    I like my non-data ink to delineate spaces/areas to look in (“This is the box where all the Motivations sit”).

  4. Yup. These are user-interface 101 mistakes that, as someone who designs UI for a living, drive me nuts.

    I also think a lot of these issues arise because “that’s always how we’ve done it.” We’ve been grouping things the way TSR did in the 70s ever since, because obviously they got it right on the first try.