London-based author, data-journalist and information designer David "Information is beautiful" McCandless explains his fascination with the visualisation of data, how to create a perfect infographic and what common pitfalls you should avoid
.net: Why do we see so many infographics and data visualisations these days?
David McCandless: It's easy to feel like we're drowning in information these days. That's a problem. So the solution might be CONDENSED VISUAL information. Where someone has collected and curated the information for you and serves up a concentrated, visualised dose for your poor information-overloaded eyes. Visualised information is a relief from text, paragraphs and other linear media. That's because it's effortless to look at something, versus reading. Seeing requires little conceptual processing. So you can take in visualised information as you might a landscape. Relax. Explore it with your eyes. Drink in the information. It's actually enjoyable. A relief.
.net: What do you think the future holds for data visualisation?
DC: More interactivity. More live data visualisations. More storytelling.
.net: You’re championing the use of infographics and data visualisations to explore new directions for journalism and design. How?
DC: I think it's great to apply visualisation and infographics outside the usual subject matter. Traditionally, it's been science, topical news etc that have featured visualisations. Now we're seeing it applied to pop culture, sport, philosophy, economics, educational subjects etc.
.net: What makes perfect data visualisation?
DC: Good visuals, good story. It's really a merging of graphics and journalism. So both is a WIN!
.net: What inspired you to get so fascinated with the visualisation of data?
DC: Really I felt overloaded myself with information. So I was looking for a solution. Using the web all day, it just seemed like a natural progression to bring design into my journalism. That's how it started really.
.net: What are some of the common pitfalls you should avoid when creating a visualisation?
DC: I think the biggest challenge facing infographics is to not fall into the traps of traditional media. These include overload, banality, poor ideas, lack of insight, and too much information.
It’s an exciting time for information graphics. There’s so much potential. But it could all become routinised and just another thing. Audiences will get bored and move on.
.net: What are your thoughts on interactive visualisations?
DC: I like them. They offer more opportunity for exploration and play and storytelling. All good.
.net: What are the main tools and technologies you use to create your visualisations?
DC: I usually sketch the first draft on paper, playing around with approaches. Then move into a digital schematic using Adobe Illustrator. Then refine. Often it’s quite a torturous process. Many of my images have gone through 20 or 30 drafts. Sometimes you get to the end and realise it doesn’t work. Or it’s been overworked. Or it’s just not that interesting. If that happens, you go back to the start and try again...
.net: What’s the best data visualisation you’ve come across online recently?
DC: I liked this one: ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2011/07/food-ark/food-variety-graphic.
.net: Why do you hate pie charts?
DC: I've seen too many. Pie charts turn me off. I just feel less interested in the information. Instantly. They’re still useful when the data is dramatic. But otherwise, no thanks.
.net: What are you working on at the moment?
DC: A super-top-secret project. Oh, and a cool interactive piece about Hollywood. Stay tuned - it'll be out this month!