I’m a sucker for informative art. It started with maps—historic maps, ancient maps, maps of my favorite cities or mountain ranges. Then I discovered demographic maps—who lives where, what they care about, what it means, where things come from. These days it seems like graphic designers can transform even the dullest data into interactive, inspiring, and informative works of art. I can’t get enough.
Recently I discovered Information Is Beautiful. The name of the site says it all and it showcases some of the coolest informational art I’ve seen. Information Is Beautiful is the brainchild of David McCandless a London-based writer and designer and contributor to the Guardian, Wired, and other publications. His curiosity seems to drive him to drum up data on all sorts of fascinating topics—from world economics to sunscreen to social networks—and then he turns this information into compelling visuals.
The one that drew me to the site shows a ladder of income inequality for countries around the world. Sweden sits at the top with the smallest gap between “haves” and “have nots.” Where is the U.S. on that continuum? Way down toward the bottom, with countries like India, Cote d’Ivoire, Turkmenistan, and Greece showing more equitable wealth distribution than us. Trickle-down economics indeed.
The more I explored, the more cool information I absorbed—like an amalgamation of all the keywords and websites China censors online; a map of the world called "International Number Ones: Because every country is the best at something." Apparently the U.S. is No. 1 for serial killers, while Estonia is winning it for adult literacy. Ouch.
Then I stumbled upon the interactive graphics living under the “Play” section of the website. Here’s where it gets really cool. Check out “How much CO2” and you’ll learn that running an 88-inch LCD T.V. for one hour produces about as much CO2 as a banana. Who knew?
Powerful infographic on popular health supplements
My favorite play graphic is called “Snake Oil? Scientific evidence for popular health supplements,” a joint effort between McCandless and Andy Perkins, another talented designer. Each ingredient has its own bubble and the bubble size is determined by popularity as measured by Google hits. They are then color coded and arranged according to the number of studies supporting each ingredient, calling out a few in red as ingredients to watch—those with few, but promising study results. There’s even a “worth it” line indicating where research meets consumer dollar value.
The best part? Click any bubble and it will take you straight to an abstract of a key study on that ingredient. Hover over the “Show me” tab on the right side of the graphic to pick the health condition you’re interested in and the graphic reconfigures itself to show you just the ingredients relating to that condition.
Data-driven graphics like these can have a bigger impact on our understanding of a topic than a 100-page thesis. “A picture is worth a 1000 words” and all that. As the world becomes more digitally connected I’m excited to play and learn from more interactive data graphics like the kind developed by David McCandless and Information Is Beautiful.
What's your favorite infographic from the site? Share in the comments below.