Making Data Beautiful: Belong Q&A with David McCandless

Making Data Beautiful: Belong Q&A with David McCandless

As the author of Information is Beautiful and Knowledge is Beautiful, data journalist David McCandless brings data to life through simple diagrams, revealing the stories and hidden patterns behind the numbers. Here, he chats to us ahead of his upcoming talk at Belong and answers a few questions about the world of work.

Describe your job in 10 words or less…

Data journalist and information designer.

What was your first job? What was one thing you learned from that and took forward with you in your career?

My first job, aged 14, was as a hacker, breaking into video games to make them easier and give infinite lives. I had a column in magazine where I’d share these hacks with readers.

It’s not a million miles from what I do now: roving vast tracts of data and information to find the gold – that single, vital ‘number-nugget’ that can changes peoples’ experience or make understanding easier. 

One of our tracks for this event is Inspiration. Where do you look for inspiration in your work, and how do you seek to inspire others with what you do?

The internet is my inspiration. I’m constantly looking at fresh design, graphics, ideas, stories, visualisations to fertilise my mind. We’re living through the Cambrian Explosion of Creativity and the web is our window on this riot of invention.

Inspiring others was an unexpected side-effect of releasing my books and work online. When creating the books, I had dreamt of perhaps success or sales, but I never anticipated that my work might inspire people. In particular, inspiring others to take up design and story-telling with data. I feel very honoured to have had an impact.

At Belong, we’ll also be looking at the theme of Insight. What’s the most surprising skill or aspect you’ve learned about yourself or the way you work?

Insight, I feel, arrives when you suddenly perceive the underlying unity between things, the previously hidden connections. That’s only possible if you can somehow ‘see through’ the surface of what you’re looking at. I think visualisation really empowers this kind of vision. And a key skill in visualisation and story telling is to be able to see through the obvious or the bland or the deliberately obscured to reveal something that’s never been seen before. That’s what excites and motivates me anyway!

We’re also going to explore the subject of Inclusion. How did you build a sense of community within what you do?

There may be something inherently democratising about turning data and information into easy to understand graphics and stories. By visualising, you’re literally making it more accessible, open, interesting. So that has to mean a wider, more inclusive audience can engage.

What can people expect to learn from you at Belong?

All of the above! Plus how visualisation is a novel storytelling medium for ideas and insights. And how playful, creative attitude towards data can lead to unexpected and fascinating results. And jokes. There will be jokes 🙂