Two cents blog

Beautiful Data

by Mike Rolfe on 10 March 2015

As creative people, we’re constantly told consumers don’t read copy anymore.

Even as an art director, I find that quite depressing. I love great copy and storytelling. Sometimes, it feels like we’re trying to hold an intelligent conversation with Paris Hilton in a Tiffany store.

Anyway, now that information is our new currency, and Short Attention Span (SAS) is the new norm, visualising and decoding information is becoming an art form. Someone who’s faced this challenge in an innovative way is data journalist David McCandless – his TED presentation is a fantastic demonstration of the power of information visualisation.

As a finance journalist, McCandless was frequently faced with masses of facts and figures that he had to translate into something his readers could understand. In the end, he gave up using numbers and words and turned to data design.


For the first time, McCandless could ‘see’ the numbers and collate all the data sets into one graphic. He landscaped a graphic and christened it ‘The Billion Dollar O-gram’. It revealed the motivation behind government expenditure on such things as war, aid and profiteering.

It also allowed him to see patterns and connections that only emerged once the data had been visualised. He even developed a graphic that plots a timeline of global media panic and identifies a yearly pattern.

Good design, argues McCandless, is the best way to navigate information glut — and it may just change the way we see the world.

After this presentation I wondered, what if politicians – especially finance ministers – used data design to explain their nations’ challenges? What if we could see the debt and deficit in relation to the GDP? Or the real effects of an ageing population?

What do you think? Does the modern day PM need data design to sell difficult policy decisions? Let us know in the comments below.

Mike Rolfe is a Senior Art Director at BCM

- Alessandro on March 13

Hi Mike, for sure you know the free online resource to find, access and reuse public datasets from the Australian Government. It gives you the opportunity to submit a data set request - -, in order to suggest what you'd like to see available on . That's great, but it would be even better if supported by visual datasets. Maybe that's the digital channel you can start your visual revolution. Good luck!

- Gillian Tucker on March 12

Fascinating post Mike. A picture tells a thousand words. I'd like to see morebof it. A powerful and meaningful way to disseminate information.

- Kev on March 11

Mike The idea of using data design to simply convey complex macro political issues is a great idea I reckon.

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