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Ideas Without Words—or Pie Charts

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010 by Alicia

You don’t have to be a word nerd, data wonk, or graphics geek to love the Information Is Beautiful website, but you’ll be doubly entranced if you are. Taglined Ideas, issues, knowledge, data—visualized!, the site is the baby of London-based “data journalist and information designer” David McCandless, who corrals all sorts of fascinating miscellany into witty, eye-catching visual representations with a minimum of verbiage (sorry, but it does take a bit of verbiage to describe).  McCandless likes to stretch the boundaries of data design and declares, “My pet hate is pie charts. Love pie. Hate pie charts.”

I found this site when my health-happy sister-in-law, who knows me to be a skeptic about herbal, mineral, and other dietary supplements, sent me a link to McCandless’s interactive graphic Snake Oil? Scientific Evidence for Popular Health Supplements. It’s a “bubble race”—a fancy but instantly understandable flow chart that tells at a glance that there really is strong evidence for licorice root aiding coughs, although potassium falls firmly below the “Worth It” line for cardio health.  Click on the interactive “Show Me” tab and you can slice and dice by condition (e.g., digestion, malaria, mental health) and compound (e.g. enzyme, mineral, plant). Two clicks, and you know just how well your favorite supplement works to treat your personal health obsession.  It’s more fun than mere words can convey—and that’s the point.

Check out Snake Oil and other similarly groovy graphics like Caffeine and Calories, which visually equates the calories in, say, a mocha frappe latte (semi-skimmed) with a half-hour of boxing, or The Billion Dollar Gram, in which candy-colored boxes represent the relative totals in billions of things like Walmart revenues and the global illegal drug market.

Sometimes we copywriter people need to be put in our place. Information Is Beautiful does it.

is a member of the Content Bureau editorial team.

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