If you fancy a ringside seat at some design fisticuffs, you should watch yesterday’s Newsnight. In the blue corner, David McCandless, journalist, graphic designer and author of blog and book Information is Beautiful, defended his assertion that presenting information in a beautiful way can bring clarity and focus – quality graphics can increase the likelihood that you retain information.
In the red corner, graphic design heavyweight Neville Brody rained the punches on such ‘beguiling’ infographics. ‘The problem is, trying to make information pretty can sometimes hide the core message,’ he said. ‘So that you end up with something which is very beguiling and seductive but [which means] we’re often missing the core message – that there is a story [made out of these pieces of information] which is extremely relevant to our daily lives.’
In fact McCandless was pretty much knocked out in the first round. ‘I’m striving to create a landscape out of these images so that you can explore [the information],’ his defence went. ‘Colour, space, shape [are] the language of the eye, and words and numbers are the language of the mind, and if you combine the two you’re speaking two languages and become more powerful.’
That somewhat meek parry didn’t do much to convince, but some of McCandless’ work does the convincing more eloquently. Granted, a representation of the meaning of different colours in different cultures (as popped up at an inopportune moment during the discussion) might amount to what presenter Kirsty Wark called ‘coffee table graphics’ but his interpretation of the projected billions spent on the Iraq war is exactly the sort of visual that can help readers grasp the enormity of the costs involved.
With an endless flood of data and stats coursing through the Internet and other media, infographics are becoming invaluable.
As Alex Morrison, managing director of Cogapp, said in Design Week last month, ‘We’re entering a new world where events, locations and contextual information are open and shared, and it’s going to be huge. Visualisation is the sexy graphics output of that, but the challenge will be in designing information architecture which makes sense of it and allows people to do something useful with it.’
If this information architecture happens to be sexy or seductive, even better – after all, beauty and brains is a winning combination.