Info We Trust: How to Inspire the World with Data By RJ Andrews


Sometimes surprises are good. I bought RJ Andrews new book Info We Trust expecting to get some practical tips on how to create better data visualizations. But frankly there’s very little in the way of “how to” in this book. Instead I was treated to a deeply engaging book that’s part history of data visualization, part exploration of human psychology, and 100% a love letter to “data storytelling”, with brief detours into linguistics, museum curation sentence diagramming and propaganda posters. If you’re looking to know when to use a bar chart vs a pie chart in your powerpoint slides, this book will be a disappointment. But if you want to learn how to think deeply about telling stories with data, or just enjoy seeing somebody who loves their topic nerd out about it for 200 pages in a beautiful formatted book, this may be for you.Let’s start with that beautiful book. This is not a read that you want to pick up on Kindle. The book is littered with fascinating illustrations, all hand drawn by the author (!!!), and almost every page has interesting quotes, examples and tangents in the marginalia. Here are a few random pages that I snapped with my phone while writing this; it turns out that every single page is this beautiful.In addition to the eye candy, Andrews mostly avoids giving readers rules, but instead dives deep into the whys of data storytelling. Things I was left thinking about: The way I think about bars vs columns differently based on my different assumptions about distance vs stacks of items How the plethora of data available in the world today has a cost: our attention. That has left me thinking both about designing interfaces that manage attention, but also how to reclaim my own distracted attention. The difference between data and information, and how each can be useful. How in the product I work on we can help users get access to enough raw data to explore on their own, but also give them meaningful “information” derived from that data. I was motivated to get better at drawing, and explaining things with images in my day to day work. I don’t do this enough.If all of that sounds too high level and impractical for you, this is probably not the book for you. But anyone who is already a data viz geek will find something to love, and as somebody who is tangential to the field it certainly expanded my mind and gave me a lot to think about. All in all, this one is easy to recommend. Check it out! Info We Trust: How to Inspire the World with Data

This book is very different to all the other technical books on the topic of data visualization: the poetic language and the philosophical tone; the wonderful illustrations; the thorough research behind it following its own guidelines about ‘truthful’ storytelling. I especially liked the beautiful and useful metaphors on the topic of data communication. It is an inspiring book for (I would say experienced) data visualization practitioners and very useful resource for the topic of data storytelling. Info We Trust: How to Inspire the World with Data A joy to read, I lapped up this book in only a few sittings. The author draws from many different sources to illustrate his ideas. Info We Trust: How to Inspire the World with Data El libro llegó maltratado pareciera que algo mojado, es un libro costoso como para que llegue en esas condiciones Info We Trust: How to Inspire the World with Data Info We Trust is unlike any other data vis book I’ve read. It's not a how to manual, but a way of thinking about information and how we share it. What struck me throughout the book was how the content was drawn from a wide range of fields. It shows that data visualization Info We Trust: How to Inspire the World with Data Some books are made for makers (technical how to books), and others target consumers. This is a book that examines all parts of the data storytelling lifecycle across disciplines (whizzing freely from museum exhibit design and mechanical engineering structure diagrams, to comics and advertising), and it does so in a way that deepened my appreciation for the craft both as a consumer and aspiring producer of data stories.Whether or not you consider yourself a data viz person, if you enjoy thinking about what makes a story interesting and how to go about crafting a good one, you will appreciate this book. While I only have read it once, I can tell that I will refer back to many times, until it is dog eared and torn.RJ based his research on materials primarily from before 1985 (around when computer graphics started to influence data visualization texts), as he was aiming to produce a work based on knowledge that is timeless and will outlive fads. Despite the ambitiousness of this goal, I felt he wove his sources into a coherent narrative without getting spread too thin.I could probably write for hours about quotes that resonated with me from each of the 21 chapters, but I've picked a tiny sample number of the ideas from the tail end of my reading notes.1. On a difference between making viz for storytelling vs for viz for problem solving: (in the French Cathedral chapter)In a data analysis app or business application, we might say the thing that conveys the most info in the fewest words, so opening a piece with all French cathedrals face east may be the end of the conversation. In contrast, if I wanted someone to muse about the data and find it compelling for deeper reasons, it's probably not smart to open your story that way.As someone who writes data visualization software for a living, it was very timely to be reminded that these are different mindsets, and it's OK to be intentional about committing to one for different audiences.2. On deciding whether mapping a variable to multiple visual channels such as modifying a circle mark's area AND and color is wastefulThe purpose of data graphic is to inform we care about people being informed efficiently, not graphic efficiency… minimal design is risky because it assumes perfect decoding by the audience.I felt this was a compact and practical counterpoint to the minimalist philosophies that certain people recommend very aggressively. There are still many times where maximizing data ink ratio is the top priority, but this chapter offered welcome inspiration + guidelines for what to do when maximizing data throughput is not the goal.3. On creating conditions for creativityCreativity is all about making new mappings between previous unconnected things… for these interactions to occur, you need to have a warehouse of material that is worth connecting… then you must give the time & space for mental fireworks.You can tell from the wealth of margin and endnotes that RJ experienced many fireworks while combining inspiration from different fields into this book, his enthusiasm bleeds onto the paper. Each chapter added a wealth of new materials to my idea warehouse.4. On the value of having a community of fellow creators to go to for feedback… they are able to differentiate between areas that are rough because they are unfinished, vs areas that are rough because you are struggling.This is one example of a thought that I retroactively realized I had felt, but had not put into words. If you have been involved with making interdisciplinary things, I believe you will find many quotes in the book that resonate with you similarly.Closing thoughts the journey doesn't end with this book.Before releasing this book, RJ published an essay online titled Information Arts, which discusses a number of text that he used while researching this one. This piece recommends 31 books about data story design that do not have the word data in the title. While it is not necessary to read all of these books to enjoy Info We Trust, the quotes and ideas for these texts very are heavily intertwined with the core narrative and the margin notes. I recommend picking a few from that list that pique your interest, and reading those too, as you will most likely be able to find interesting connections than the book had space to mention.I am excited to experience the flurry of data stories that this book will provoke from the broader data community in the years to come, and know that reading this book will enhance your enjoyment of those stories too.PS in the unlikely case you weren't sure whether RJ actually likes data visualization, the bibliography opens with a hand drawn and color coded dotted bar chart of select resources. Info We Trust: How to Inspire the World with Data

Info We Trust: How to Inspire the World with Data: Andrews, RJ: 9781119483892: Books Info We Trust: How to Inspire the World with Data