on 30 January 2010
The problems that affected the US version of this book called 'The Visual Miscellaneum' still exist in the UK version. Pages 60-65 do not have any labels, so they just don't make any sense. Why didn't Harper Collins have this issue corrected in the UK printing? The problem has been well reported on Amazon.com and on David McCandless's blog, so they must have known. The author has posted a PDF with the correct version of the diagrams on the Information is Beautiful blog (search for 'errata'), so at least you can see what they are supposed to look like.
Well it would be if my house wasn't bursting at the seams with books (thank god for Kindle) so it's been regrettably relegated to a bedside table in the spare bedroom, the last flat space not yet overflowing with books. This is a beautiful piece of work, with McCandless' wonderful diagrams perfectly illustrating both his message and his undoubted sense of humour. McCandless' visual style is an informative journey into the power of visualisation as a way of presenting data clearly and showing unexpected connections. It transforms dull but worth data into a powerful message and should be required reading for anyone in management reporting, BI or political reportage. Highly recommended.
on 10 June 2011
This is a fabulous book both for the coffee table and the study. If there were errors in earlier editions, they're not obvious now and the associated website keeps you updated as new data is processed along with interactive versions of some of the visualisations.
I write a lot of presentations often full of data so keeping them fresh and engaging can be hard - this book is chock full of ideas and sits beside my desk so its handy when inspiration is needed.
My kids like random interesting facts - its perfect for framing questions and visualising the answers.
One of the best "work books" I've bought in ages.
on 28 October 2014
For the logically overloaded, such as myself, this book is a really insightful way to understand how to represent complex data comparisons. Provides some great metaphors and diagrams for inspiration in how to represent your own data.
Apparently there were numerous errors in earlier versions of this book, but this review is for the 2012 edition which would appear to have corrected the omissions and errors of earlier editions.
The most serious fault that I can level at McCandless's "Information is Beautiful" is that is has almost single handedly given rise to the infographic obsession that means that you can hardly go online without encountering some designer's view of information that is all style and little substance. However, returning to McCandless's book shows how, when done with thought and insight, the graphic can add to the reader's understanding of the data. The book is one part modern art, one part geek-porn and several parts graphic design. It's not only interesting, but is indeed as beautiful as the title promises it to be.
When the book was first published, in 2009, many of the designs were seldom used - not most of them will be familiar and that threatens to minimise the importance of the book in the history of infographic design. Rather like HDR photography, a badly thought out infographic is dull and a bit cliche now, but when done properly, they really do get the message over. A picture is said to paint a thousand words, but a well-designed infographic can get over more than that. And this is full of them.
McCandless is good at sourcing the data. One slight concern though is that there is a fair bit that is sourced from Wikipedia - which is seldom the most reliable of sources on anything. With that caveat, this book is a modern design classic. It's beautiful, interesting, clever and thoughtful.
on 18 December 2010
I first came across this author (or should that be artist?) in a presentation he gave which is available on TED.com and which I thoroughly recommend. As a student of economics, the idea of taking complex data and displaying it in novel and intriguing way really appealed to me and it's done to great effect here. As human beings, we often struggle to grasp the true proportions of large numbers when they're written out as strings of zero; David McCandless allows us to 'see' the figures far more clearly and how our spending on foreign aid measures up to the defence budget etc.
I bought this book as a gift for my father but found myself engrossed with it for a good couple of hours before I finally got it wrapped! The whole family enjoyed having a dip into it in the following days, so I'd definitely recommend it as a gift.
I must also echo the earlier criticisms however, as there are a few of the visualisations that are missing key information and for a book that aims to make data more accessible, I did get confused as to what some of the depictions were about. Clearly an editor somewhere has not been doing their job properly which is especially disappointing for a book of this nature.
My other slight niggle is the number of references to wikipedia on subjects where the data could easily have been acquired from more credible academic sources, and I remember seeing a few figures that seemed a bit suspect. That being said however, the book does take the deluge of data on the internet as its inspiration so that can be overlooked.
This is a book by a graphic designer who has chosen to tackle statistics, as opposed to a statistician dabbling in design. As such, the information is indeed beautiful, but anyone with a serious grounding in stats may get frustrated in places. Nevertheless, an interesting and thought-provoking book.
Having to deal with information overload on a daily basis can be mind-numbing and it's easy to 'turn off'. Newspapers and the TV - and now of course the internet - bombard us with information of all kinds from innumerable sources. As an antidote to all that - this book provides an illustrative, artistic approach to representing information, even if some of that information is quite complex.
I thought it very artfully done and it's genuinely the kind of thing you can pick up, turn to any page, and learn something new. I also like the fact it is representing information, rather than just raw data and stats. So themes, ideas, philosophies, etc, are all represented.
There is a surprising amount of genuinely useful information in the book - like the vintage wine guide on page 174-75. Or perhaps, like me, you don't know the difference between a macchiato, a caffe mocha, a caffe latte or an americano. Turn to page 156-7 and the composition of each is graphically represented!
The book appeals because there is lots of 'out in left field' information that you've probably never given much thought to, such as the most common 'would like to meet...' phrases people use when dating; or how you will spend the average 77.8 years of life, shown graphically; or what average IQs are in standard professions (hairdressers are at the bottom and senior politicians and civil servants are at the top!). And the information is very strongly graphically represented - making it pretty accessible.
All in all, this is an enjoyable book to pick up and leaf through. It is genuinely educational and insightful on an extremely diverse range of subjects.
NB: Didn't give it 5* as there were a few pages missing the labels of the data that was illustrated.
Plenty of the other reviews have commented on the printing errors so I won't go into these and haven't taken them into account when rating the book - all told, they're pretty minor and corrections can be obtained for free. So, to the book itself.
There seems to be an emerging trend for this type of open analysis of statistics and other information - the Guardian newspaper's datasets are put our for people to do imaginative visual things with and Michael Blastland has an excellent semi-regular column on the BBC's website. Both of these, and others, make efforts to democratize information, to present it in such a way that more people can understand, interpret and make use of it. In a world where data has become a valuable commodity this is a noble task and one which David McCandless shares and seems to have made the core objective of this book (and his website). In my view, it is one he mostly achieves. Some of these 'data visualisations' (not sure there's a better term) are elegant and simple, based on a clever idea and employ design in such a way that the information is best communicated; the Billion Pound-o-gram might be the best example of this. This shows, quite simply but powerfully, spending on different things (Iraq war, NHS, etc.) represented by differnet rectangles with the size of each rectangle corresponding to the size of the spending. There's a good reason this has been re-printed in pretty much every weekly newspaper.
The book is full of similar visualisations and taken together, they have an excellent effect. However, there is also a fair amount of filler in between and this is where the book falls down. In a number of cases, the weakest visualisations are those which are not based on numbers or data but on description and categorisation or at worst, opinion and conjecture. Examples of these are the visualisations of different theories of consciousness and an almost totally pointless musical genre map. In the former example, it would actually be easier to explain them with just words rather than including distracting and largely unilluminating pictures (heads with different shape lines coming out of them mostly). In latter example, one could say it's amusing but its incomplete by a long shot and only based on the author's opinion. We also can not 'do' anything with it and it tells us nothing new.
Overall though, the good far outweighs the bad which makes this book a valuable and fascinating read. More than that though, it adds further weight to the argument that information and data should be freed from Government's and corporations and opened up for everyone to truly understand.
Over the years I've been asked to produce countless graphs and schematics to illustrate some kind of statistic or concept for business reports, and I've invariably found myself being pushed down the route of a bar chart or pie chart or, if the client feels particularly daring, a 3D version of the same. With a little imagination the same information could be conveyed in a more appealing, and more memorable, way. This book is something of a showcase of just what can be done with a bit of imagination, and some probably very expensive graphics software.
This chunky hardback is a collection of some of David McCandless's best graphics to date, printed on matt paper (a bit of a surprise in itself - something glossier would have been nicer for this kind of book) in full colour. You'll find illustrations on such topics as carbon footprints, American spending, rising sea levels, traffic on the internet... and so on. Some of the charts are more pretty than anything - those of the internet structure and the human genome spring to mind immediately - and some are missing labels, which renders them rather useless as all we are left with is a page of coloured blobs (the author has an errata document on his website if you are prepared to dig around for it). A few reviewers have commented on the accuracy of the statistics being measured as several of the sources seem to be corporate websites belonging to the likes of BP, plus several are based on data found on Wikipedia, but to be fair I think the main purpose of this book is to show just how data *can* be presented, rather than to serve as a reference book - after all, statistics are only correct at a particular moment in time, and as soon as they are documented they are usually out of date.
So it is a nice book to look at, but the missing labels on a few of the charts spoil things a little, as does the author's apparent tendency to opt for a bubble chart wherever possible, which spoils the variety ever so slightly. I really enjoyed this book, and will return to it again and again for inspiration, but it might be an idea to wait for the next printing by which time some of the errors may have been sorted out.
Is it an art book about graphic design, or a highly-designed book about statistics? I'd say Information is Beautiful is 85% the former, 15% the latter. Either way, this is a gorgeous book that will appeal to anyone interested in the current state and/or development of graphic design - and communication - in our visually impacted lives. Less an educational book, and more a sheer delight for the eyes, McCandless' collection of seemingly bonkers diagrams are a triumph of modern design and printing processes, celebrating everything that is vibrant and colourful about media today. But if that makes this book sound complex or dense, think again; because Information is Beautiful is anything but. Yes, the work is complex at root, but the book - and the diagrams it contains - are all about the beauty of how imagery, colours and words can come together in presenting information in ever more engaging, engrossing ways.
If you've ever looked at a newspaper like The Guardian, found yourself fascinated by the merging of design and text on the internet - even watched prime-time news programmes on TV during the last few years, with their increasing reliance on motion graphics - then you're guaranteed to find something to like in this visually astonishing book. For McCandless has taken the idea of the statistics graph and run with it, breaking as far from the conventional idea of horizontal and vertical bars and straight lines as it's possible to go in a 2D format. The boardroom of old, this most definitely is not; and in breaking away, the author is confirming that in our internet age, where the idea of information relay continues to merge back and forth with design - even entertainment formats - in a bid to retain our attention, for new presentations to stick any chance they need to work as hard as book, poster or record-sleeve designs; communicators need to innovate.
If you've ever flicked through Wired magazine, with its bold, progressive design work you'll already have experienced work like the author's; vibrant, engaging imagery that not only breaks down the barriers on otherwise complex subjects and studies - essentially sugaring the pill on something that may not have attracted and/or held your attention otherwise - but also relay statistics quickly; and most notably, in anything other than a dry, bland fashion.
To be honest, I wasn't even conscious of the statistical relevance of Information is Beautiful; I was simply interested in the design aspect, the entertaining way the author breaks barriers, repeatedly performing the graphic design equivalent of a skateboard or card trick. For he makes it all look so easy, so obvious; when in fact the construction of some of these diagrams must have required some major head-scratching. That he has broken down such complexity into such juicy, entertaining designs is testament to his creativity. And it is also validation of the underlying discussion McCandless is trying to have with us, the viewer.
Building over the course of his selection into an index of representational possibilities, the author's work is less a linear development of information communication, building on what was done yesterday, last year or in previous decades, more a re-imagining of it's potential, given what our increasingly visually-literate mainstream is now capable of consuming. At root, McCandless is acknowledging and discussing through his diagrams the fact that we are now capable more than ever - thanks in part to the developments of graphic design in our everyday lives - of decoding increasingly more complex arrangements of words, colours, shapes and pictorials. That each successive diagram works proves his point, as he repeatedly blends words and images in a way that cultures like Japan are already capable of - due to the logographic (or ideogramic) nature of their alphabet system - but our Western phonemic system cannot.
I for one, think this is a great, great book.