In Defense of David McCandless


David McCandless is one of my favorite designers not only because of what he does with data visualization and information design, but also because he isn’t a trained artist – he learns by doing.  He is proof that we’re all literate in visual design, and I love that idea.  McCandless is soft spoken and has a beautiful speaking voice; I love his humility as well as his brilliance.  Watch his TED Talk here.


In this interview with BBC NewsNight (above), McCandless explains his work to David Sillito.  After the 6-minute introduction, McCandless then appears live on NewsNight in a debate-style piece with Neville Brody who is immediately given precedence over McCandless… the anchor calls him “the legendary designer.”  The anchor and Brody join in dismissing McCandless’s ideas.  Brody does so directly – he says, “the problem is trying to make information pretty.”  Brody then claims McCandless’s designs are “beguiling and seductive,” and he also dismisses McCandless’s work as “decoration.”  If you look at McCandless’s “good” information design chart (below), you can see that he strives not only for beauty, but also for honesty and integrity, function and useability, as well as meaningful and relevant data.

During the interview, Brody continuously mocks McCandless, and the anchor rarely lets McCandless finish a thought without interrupting him.  The anchor asks, “Why not just put information straight on the screen?”  She then calls his work “coffee table graphics.”

Both Brody and the anchor obviously miss the point.  If they were going to dissect McCandless’s work critically, which is a wonderful thing to do to all ideas and theories, Brody and the anchor could have at least done their homework to provide more coherent, relevant criticism.

Positive things do come out of the interview!  During the piece, we’re introduced to Stefanie Posavec of It’s Been Real.  Her work is magnificent.  My favorite is this visualization of literature: Literary Organism.  Of course, we meet Hans Rosling, the man McCandless calls “the master” and “his master” (Source).  Rosling delivers his TED Talk so passionately that you can’t help but be excited about information design.  Learning about these two figures helps to place McCandless in the world of data visualization, though, I would argue, he is far and away my favorite.


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