Information Is Beautiful: A David McCandless Infographic

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David McCandless is my favorite designer of beautiful and data-rich infographics, but this latest one takes the cake.  I love McCandless’s signature look and feel, but I also love the way this information is presented.  To be able to “see” money is difficult for me, but McCandless designs the information in an effortless way.

This is also really great material for my Entertainment Business and Music Business students, and I can’t wait to share it with them next class.  This makes me glad I’m a Spotify devotee!

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Do you follow David McCandless?  What is your favorite piece on InformationIsBeautiful?

What Makes A Great Infographic?

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What makes an infographic “good?”  Well, first you have to have a good idea, and then you have to think about the content, the flow, the color, the image, and the data.  “Anatomy of an Infographic” explains these pieces really well.

This morning, I noticed a “Top Presentation of the Day” can also help us design stronger, more powerful infographics:

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I have seen my share of poorly designed infographics.  As always, I think we can use David McCandless’ model as a guide to determine whether or not we’re doing things correctly:

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Do you design your own infographics?  What advice do you use to create strong data visualizations?

Review: The Visual Miscellaneum by David McCandless

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The Visual Miscellaneum: A Colorful Guide to the World’s Most Consequential Trivia by David McCandless is an essential coffee table book for curious people.  While my mother was visiting over her Spring Break, she picked it up and started thumbing through, unaware of who David McCandless was or what the book was about.  I had to pry the book from her hands before she left for her flight back, and we must have spent an hour each day she was in Orlando discussing pages of McCandless’s work.

When I say this book is for “curious people,” I truly do mean it.  Seth Godin talks about curiosity here and explains that “a fundamentalist is a person who considers whether a fact is acceptable to their faith before they explore it” (Source).  On the opposite pole, says Godin, are those who are curious.  “A curious person explores first and then considers whether or not they want to accept the ramifications” (Source).  This isn’t to say a fundamentalist reader wouldn’t enjoy McCandless’s work; however, this is a text that challenges the core beliefs we all hold as “the truth.”  McCandless explores science, politics, and religion visually in his book in a way that facilitates learning, questioning, and growing for those of us who are truly curious.  I personally took a deeper look into my current belief system and examined the similarities between people who think like me and people who have opposite beliefs (both politically and religiously).  It was a wonderful close examination of core values and ideals, and I think all of us should allow our belief system to undergo this kind of analysis and scrutiny.  For example, see page 14 and 15 for an examination of government and pages 46 and 47 to compare and contrast ideas about creation.

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Of course, McCandless also explores more fun and frivolous topics, and the author proves his sense of humor on nearly every page.  For example, check out “Excuse Us: Reasons For Divorce” on page 64.  The top reason for men to want a divorce compared with the top reason for women to want a divorce made me laugh out loud.

I am an enormous McCandless supporter and fan.  I wrote “In Defense of David McCandless” and “In Defense of Infographics” based upon my analysis of his work.  Since I’m obviously biased, I did want to include a few reviews of The Visual Miscellaneum

Our of 231 ratings and 50 reviews on Goodreads.com, the book earned a score of 3.81 out of 5 stars.  93% of people liked the book (Source).  Consider this review: “Over and over again, McCandless attributes the data in his infographics to Google, Wikipedia, or other unreliable and/or unintelligible sources” (Source).

FlowingData writes, “With that said, not every graphic is perfect. There were a few where I wasn’t sure what I was looking at or it took a little while for me to process, but that’s what I was expecting. Many of the graphics are probably experiments in design more than they belong in a Tufte book” (Source).

I agree that this is no Envisioning Information, and remember that McCandless’s goal is always to show the meaning behind the data – to show relationships between facts in a meaningful way – with a few key principles in place.  McCandless wants to combine “information” and “design” in a way that is both functional and beautiful:

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Form (the beauty, structure, and appearance of a design) meets function (usefulness and usability) on the design spectrum.  Information-wise, McCandless emphasizes integrity (accuracy and honesty) as well as interestingness (meaningful and relevant information).  I do believe The Visual Miscellaneum is worth reading because the text gives example after example of successful information design.  Perfect information design?  No.  Successful information design?  Absolutely.

What amazing reads have you been enjoying lately?

Currently Reading…

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On my way to yoga this morning, I received two exciting surprises on my doorstep:

Though I am superbusy at work finishing up March classes and preparing for next month, I plan to take some personal time this weekend to start reading Simon Sinek’s Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone To Take Action and David McCandless’s The Visual Miscellaneum: A Colorful Guide to the World’s Most Consequential Trivia.

I participated in a conference call with Simon Sinek a few months ago, and, unfortunately, I found him rude and unpleasant.  The conference call was to last for one hour, but I was so disturbed and offended by Sinek’s attitude and the way he spoke to two callers that I hung up after only 7 minutes.  It’s difficult for me to promote his work without expressing my disappointment in him, but I love his Start With Why concept.  Still, in my eyes, his credibility took a big hit.  Leadership, for me, is about building others up instead of tearing them down, so I have a hard time trusting that Sinek knows what makes a good leader if he cannot practice these principles in real life.  While I hope Sinek was just having a bad day, the fact remains that first impressions are lasting ones, and my impression of him is really very negative.  Since I know the content of Start With Why will be truly fantastic because his TED Talk is so fantastic, I’m not worried that my bias might influence my book review.  Check back soon!

David McCandless, on the other hand, is the epitome of grace, kindness, and credibility.  Though I haven’t spoken with him on the phone or met him in person, I’ve watched him handle himself under pressure in a really honorable fashion.  He also delivered one of my absolute favorite TED Talks.  Watch it here:

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McCandless has a beautiful website called Information Is Beautiful, but I haven’t read any of his books, so I am excited to jump into his gorgeous world of data visualization.

What great books are you reading this weekend?

In Defense of Infographics

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This morning, I was stunned to read an article by Erin Everhart of 352 Media Group alleging infographics 1) display data that sucks; 2) dumb us down more than reality television; 3) are abysmally designed; and 4) have a tarnished reputation because of those that are unsuccessful (Source).

WHAT?!

Let’s first examine this argument: “Infographics display data that sucks – even in picture form [...] They expect that people won’t understand even the simplest data and put it in picture form that just complicates it even further” (Source).  According to statisticians, putting data in “picture form” actually helps people understand the data more clearly because people can read the story in the data.  David McCandless argues that visualizing data helps us “see the patterns and connections that matter” (Source).

Most data isn’t simple.  When we hear that Americans donate over $300 billion a year to charity, our minds cannot grasp how much money that is unless we can visualize it.  David McCandless lets us see how much money $300 billion is… by making it an infographic and comparing that amount to other amounts:

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When we can visualize $300 billion, we can understand the data.  Without the visualization, $300 billion is just a number – a really, really big number.  The data doesn’t suck; it’s actually extremely important – as it most data.  But we don’t understand the data until we see the visualization.

Everhart says, “I blame infographics for dumbing us down even more than reality television” (Source).  Reality television is 100% consumption.  We sit on our couches, shut off our brains, and decay.  Infographics, on the other hand, require actual mental activity.  Infographics help us process information, so when we view one, we learn and grow; our minds are working.  According to Edward R. Tufte, author of Envisioning Information and The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, “Often the most effective way to describe, explore, and summarize a set of numbers – even a very large set – is to look at pictures of those numbers” (Source).

So let’s do some TV watching to test Everhart’s theory, shall we?  If infographics “dumb us down even more than reality television,” let’s watch the TED Talk below.  It will take you as much time as an episode of a reality TV show:

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I can 100% guarantee you weren’t “dumbed down” by watching David McCandless.  Quite the opposite: I guarantee you learned more from one of his infographics than you have from any episode of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (or from all of RHOBH episodes put together).

The third argument is that infographics are “abysmal.” Everhart says, “If your infographic contains clip art, pie charts, bar graphs, or an abundance of typography, go back to the drawing board” (Source).  I agree with 2 components of her argument,  First, clip art should not be used for an infographic (or for visualization of any kind, for that matter).  Secondly, pie charts can be retooled into something greater.  John Tukey was responsible for infographics and data visualization as we know it today.  Tukey does argue that data displayed using a pie chart can be reworked and displayed better using another visualization format.  Similarly, Edward Tufte writes, “Given their low data-density and failure to order numbers along a visual dimension, pie charts should never be used” (Source).

However, bar graphs and typography are essential parts of data visualization that help us better understand complex data.  Need proof?  Consider both in the TED Talk “Hans Rosling shows the best stats you’ve ever seen.”  Watch Rosling’s beautiful and exciting bar graph here:

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Rosling proves that bar graphs work, and he proves at the 4:00 mark that infographics are far from dull, boring, and lifeless.  According to Visualize This: The FlowingData Guide to Design, Visualization, and Statistics, Nathan Yau, self-proclaimed “data junkie” and PhD candidate in statistics, explains, “Charts and graphs have also evolved into not just tools but also as vehicles to communicate ideas” (Source).  We understand from reading Yau’s book and seeing over 300 pages of examples that “different visualization tools use different data formats, and the structure you use varies by the story you want to tell” (Source).

Typography refers to “the art and technique of arranging type in order to make language visible” (Source).  Obviously, without visible language, understanding most infographics would be impossible.

Everhart’s final argument is that, “Infographics aren’t all bad but enough of them have been done so blatantly bad that it has tarnished their reputation” (Source).  I haven’t seen too many bad infographics, but even if I’d seen 99 bad ones, this one by David McCandless would convince me that no, infographics’ reputations are not tarnished:

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Do you think infographics are dead?  What other arguments can you think of to support data visualization? 

*Thank you to Erin who corrected my misspelling of her name!  It is “Erin Everhart”