Beyond the Pie Chart

Information designer David McCandless uses beautiful, complex graphics to illuminate science, leaving the lowly pie chart in the dust.

David McCandless does not like pie charts. “When I see a default [Powerpoint template] pie chart, I sag internally,” he admits. And for good reason. McCandless is a data journalist and “information designer.” Between his popular blog Information is Beautiful, and books (the latest is Knowledge is Beautiful) he’s shown over and over again the explanatory power of a well-researched, well-designed graphic.

On stage at the Aspen Ideas Festival this week, McCandless took Ira and a ballroom full of Science Friday fans on a tour of some of the science and health graphics he’s constructed over the years. He explained that, for him, each new infographic begins with a question: “Stuff I don’t understand, things that frustrate and confuse me, that suggests to me there’s problem—an information problem—and I want to create a graphic that explains it” he said.

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Science Friday at the Aspen Ideas Festival

In the case of the infographic “Stellar Entities,” McCandless was frustrated with how we usually depict the cosmos: as uniform “points of light.” “That disguises the intense, exotic flora and fauna that exist in the cosmos, [like] blazars, quasars, supernovas, molecular clouds…these huge exotic and amazing objects,” he explained.

In the audio slideshow below, McCandless shows Ira how he transformed the Milky Way into a beautiful cosmic bouquet:

Special thanks to: David McCandless, Ruth Jobey, Information is Beautiful
Audio and Video: Annie Minoff
Photography: Olivier Douliery

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About Annie Minoff

Annie Minoff is co-host and producer of Undiscovered. She also plays the banjo.