Data is beautiful


Following on from an interview with Belinda Parmar, the founder of LadyGeek, I decided to investigate how information and data is becoming more aesthetically pleasing.

Like most evolving things in the world, people have found that there is more ‘user-generated content’ if data is found to be colourful, more social and more accessible.

The pioneer committed to making data and information beautiful is the beautiful Veronica Falson Hiis, a graphic designer who is obsessed with technology and sees the importance in making data beautiful for it to reach its full potential.

Information is beautiful is a website that takes information, be it a story, a song, an article or even a horoscope, and turns it into very well presented data.

In other words, it transcribes subject matter into boiled down and succinct data, all the while explaining why this method is simpler, easier to read and more translatable with colorful web design.

Looking at an example on the website, the Horoscoped post illustrates the zodiac signs in an image and explains why the data from certain horoscope websites may be inaccurate.

It also shows user generated content on a number of horoscope websites and shows in data form, which words are most common for each star sign.

With these ‘word analyses’, Information is Beautiful has deduced what sort of people are categorized in each star sign through filtering down the web’s information and putting it into its own horoscope data. It’s interesting and fun!

Something to add, though. This analysis appears to reveal something. The bulk of the words in horoscopes (at least 90%) are the same. That’s not a full, proper statistical analysis but is nonetheless, fairly accurate.

The founder of the site, David McCandless, constructed a rough hierarchy of visual understanding-

i) On the bottom of the pyramid, representing the basis- he listed DATA. The website presents this in exciting and playful mediums making it fun to use and look at. This is the ‘visualization’ part of the pyramid using discrete and simple elements like, words, numbers, codes, tables and databases.

ii) On the second tier of the pyramid he listed INFORMATION which also accounts for design. He uses linked elements here like sentences, paragraphs, concepts, ideas, questions and simple stories. This can be seen in the ‘horoscoped’ portion of the website.

iii) On the third tier is KNOWLEDGE, also seen as mapping organized information like chapters, theories, axioms and facts.

iv) Finally, on the top of the hierarchical pyramid is WISDOM, which speaks for itself! This is the applied knowledge and the sum of all other tiers. It allows people to weave, embody, discriminate and synthesize web data, or the data presented to them.

To David McCandless, data is information, knowledge and wisdom.

The website‘s ability to take information, scrutinize and research it, and present it in a way that makes it easy for the reader is certainly what data journalists, or journalists in general (!) are trying to achieve.

It also allows you to choose how to map or visualize your data.

By Alex Lawton (@AlexandraLawton).

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About Alexandra Lawton

Having completed a degree at Durham University in Anthropology, i'm now doing a masters at City University in Broadcast Journalism. I am 23 years old.
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