Are You Graphically Impaired?

At TED Global 2010, David McCandless ( did a wonderful presentation titled “The beauty of data visualization.” His bio on the TED site said of him:

David McCandless turns complex data sets (like worldwide military spending, media buzz, Facebook status updates) into beautiful, simple diagrams that tease out unseen patterns and connections. Good design, he suggests, is the best way to navigate information glut — and it may just change the way we see the world.

[He] makes infographics — simple, elegant ways to see information that might be too complex or too big, small, abstract or scattered to otherwise be grasped. In his new book, Information Is Beautiful (in the US, it’s being called The Visual Miscellaneum), McCandless and his cadre of info designers take a spin through the world of visualized data, from hard stats on politics and climate to daffy but no less important trends in pop music.

In his talk, David does a great job of showing how different data and graphics can either distort our understanding or enhance it. There are many examples of good and also misleading data-graphs as well as some good quotes, such as “let the data set change your mindset.”

Black Belts, improvement professionals, and leaders need to understand the importance of

  • What questions to ask
  • What data and analyses can best reveal underlying issues
  • What graphics can best convey the data so as to aid in understanding, interpretation, and generation of insight.

I like McCandless’ descriptor of what he does and why he thinks it is important:

So, just to wrap up, I wanted to say that it feels to me that design is about solving problems and providing elegant solutions, and information design is about solving information problems. It feels like we have a lot of information problems in our society at the moment,from the overload and the saturation to the breakdown of trust and reliability and runaway skepticism and lack of transparency,or even just interestingness.

His TED presentation is worth watching; it is one of the better 20 minutes you’ll spend if you want to generate some ideas on how to use graphics and data to provide insight:

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