Information is Beautiful Hardcover – 4 Feb 2010
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"Information is Beautiful" is a wonderful present for anybody from 6 years to 96. I can't stop reading it. A lot of information is funny, all of it interesting, some of it even quite useful, so no house should be without one.
--Stoker Devonshire (12th Duke of Devonshire)
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We are on the third reprint and all copies now available are free from printing errors.
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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.
Some of them look 'pretty' but actually convey little information, or make the reader work hard for the insight, or generate confusion and ambiguity. Often unnecessarily.
So: treat it as a book of source material to discuss and consider and analyses, and you'll be absolutely fine. Treat it as a holy gospel handed down by the almightly via his representative on earth, and you - and your readership - will suffer.
My working environment is characterised by massive spreadsheets where the prize seems to be to hide the information you need in a morass of data that you don't - what this book does is show that just because you have a lot of data in order to make sense of it you don't have to display all of it (never mind the quality feel the width approach) For example on Page 218 there is a display of whole has the worlds's oil - and who will have it in 2020 - now, instead of a big table you get a bubble diagram showing the relative sizes - and the point just leaps off the page that the Middle East will have a GREATER share of the world's oil in 2020 that it does today - now thats information and NOT data - one for the policy makers to mull over ?
And the book is full of them
Then try the one on Page 158/9 on Carbon production - again a table, even or ordered one does not give you the full difference - but put a picture on it and you see that the airline industry produces a huge amount
This book shows you many ways to present data - not all of them work for me - but oh it makes it more interesting that yet another line or bar graph - now if we could just use this in the civil service ..