Monday, August 12, 2013

Book Review: “Information is Beautiful” by David McCandless

Information is Beautiful (New Edition)
By David McCandless
Collins (6 Dec 2012)

The more information, the more relevant it becomes to present it in human-digestible form, whence springs the flood of infographics in your news feed. There are good examples and bad examples of data visualization, and McCandless’ graphics are among the cleanest, neatest and well-designed ones that I’ve come across. McCandless describes himself as a “data journalist” and “information designer” and with that fills in a niche in the economic ecosystem that isn’t presently populated by many.

The book is a print-version of examples from his website. It’s not the kind of book you read front to back, but one that you browse through for the sake of curiosity, for distraction, or in search of a conversation topic. It does this job quite well; it also looks good, feels nice and is interesting. Some of the graphics in the book are however quite useless or seem to be based on data, or interpretation of data, that I find questionable. This is to say, the emphasis of these graphics is on design, not on science.

I got this book as a gift and spent a cozy afternoon with it on the couch, something I haven’t yet managed to achieve with digital media. (Not to mention that I’d rather have the kids wreck a book than a screen, should I fall asleep over it.) I’m more interested in the science of information than the design of information, and from the scientific side the graphics leave wanting. But they’re an interesting reflection on contemporary thought and I’d say the book is is well worth the price.

18 comments:

Giotis said...

Generally speaking I don't like information. I have the vague feeling that it's just an acausal redistribution of an inner emptiness.

Robert L. Oldershaw said...

Are you speaking from experience?

Uncle Al said...

Information display is 2-D, even if projected from 3-D. Prism displays cheaply afford visualized 3-D, then projecting 4-D.

Thought is constrained by language. Folks who transcend the box are burned at stakes, then that new vision is adopted. Public education must abandon 15,000 BC 2-D Lascaux cave paintings.

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Uncle! Your comment went through without landing in the spam queue!

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Giotis,

Well, when N people talk about information you get e^N states of confusion with exponentially increasing vacuum density. We'll probably get to witness this at the next FQXi conference... Best,

B.

Giotis said...

This is another way to say that in a decedent world words lose their meaning and meanings cannot be expressed with words; words become a pretext. You can’t convey information in a meaningful sense. It’s pointless…

Giotis said...

It’s not just a problem of numbers or number of opinions Sabine. People are barricaded against each other, barely tolerating each other. There is no community of people to convey or share anything. That’s why I talked about a decadent world; In such context information as abounded as it might seem becomes void. You blog for so many years, can't you see that?

Uncle Al said...

@Sabine We shall see if Blooger is shriven, or has a sweet tooth for pre-Renaissance perspective in paintings.

http://viewoncanadianart.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/01-lascaux-cave-painting.jpg
http://i.huffpost.com/gen/200075/LASCAUX.jpg

The plural of "anecdote" is not "data," and data are not information. Think critically of elegantly packaged propagandistic swill, "talking points," and a chimp in a suit making sounds with his mouth.

Plato Hagel said...

Terry Moore: Why is 'x' the unknown?

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Hi Giotis,

Sorry the world is such a bleak place from your perspective. From my point of view I think things are moving, information is being conveyed and opinions do change. They just do so very slowly. It's like watching grass grow. If you sit there and stare at it, nothing seems to happen. But go on vacation and come back a month later and you'll see things have changed. Best,

B.

Christine said...

Hi Sabine,

You live in Germany/Sweden.

Best,
Christine

Phillip Helbig said...

You're in Brazil, right? Back when Max Tegmark (born and grew up in Sweden but has lift in the States since university) was married to a Brazilian, he described the USA as being halfway between Sweden and Brazil.

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Hi Christine,

Yes, and from my perspective Brazil is a country where things have been moving very quickly during the last decades. In contrast to, say, Germany, where nothing ever seems to change... Best,

Sabine

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Phillip: Did you see?

Giotis said...

Yeah, the world is what you want it to be. It’s a matter of perspective…

Christine said...

Sabine:

When Brazil gets to the point of being a Germany, the universe will collapse into itself. :D


Best.

Christine said...

Phillip:

Yes, and if I'm not mistaken his wife did some graduate work at the same institute I did, some time before me. If I recall correctly, I quickly met Max Tegmark once, but he certainly will not recall it, as I myself barely recall it.

The US is not halfway between Sweden and Brazil, it is evidently in between, closer to Sweden, and farther from Brazil.

But you see: Brazil is a nice country in many aspects. In fact, it is great in many aspects, I'd say, if you choose the "right" place. But in terms of overall development, it is a long way to go.

Best.

Phillip Helbig said...

"Phillip: Did you see?"

Yes, I keep myself up-to-date on Max's life. :-)