David McCandless is an interesting person doing interesting things. Interesting to me, that is, because his work exemplifies something I find deeply mysterious in the way people regard information visualisation. His pursuit of “beauty” seems to be a licence to override clarity, truth, and even common sense. Yet he is widely lauded (here he is writing on the Guardian’s Data Blog). In this, he is surely the anti-Tufte.
McCandless’s current pièce de résistance, “Colours in Cultures” – depicted on the cover of his book Information is Beautiful, typifies all that baffles me about him and the people that praise his work. It’s the Philippe Starck juicer of information graphics: it looks great, but if you actually want to know what the colour purple represents in different “cultures”, it’s damn hard work compared to the obvious alternative of a simple table. But then, that would be boring, I suppose. So is it art or science? Am I asking the wrong questions about it entirely? Perhaps I should buy his book and hit myself over the head with it until I understand.