Information is Beautiful - David McCandless

This was a lovely gift of a Christmas present. In case you haven't seen it, it's a collection of slightly idiosyncratic infographics. People seem to like infographics. Off the back of Tufte, people seem to understand that information is best presented accessibly and in an aesthetically-pleasing way: Truth should be beautiful. The converse is rather more dangerous: Beautiful things are true.

There are several weaknesses to this idea, and effectively this is where the book falls down: For the areas I know plenty about, it's quite clear that there are lapses in the research. Prettiness should not stop people questioning the data! This is not helped by the references being very poor. Does being pretty make the infographics a good representation of the data? In many cases, no! The presentation actually obfuscates the data in a number of places. Even ignoring that, in a pure aesthetic sense, there are some bad choices. Dark colours on a grey background are difficult to see in anything other than bright light. Subjective opinions are swirled in without a care. There's so much wrong here...

But then you can take a step back. It's a miscellany, a set of etudes for a graphic designer, a silly toy that I'm taking too seriously. It's painfully self-indulgent and referencing Tufte is a bit offensive. However, there are some wonderful bits in there - I particularly enjoyed the movie blockbuster charts, and the children's name popularity chart. I just need to worry less about it.

Posted 2013-03-30.