We use data daily. In the Information Age, we’re literally immersed in it. It can be relevant and revelatory, but also deceptive if it’s not treated with transparency and appropriate communication. Can it also be “beautiful”? David McCandless, one of the world’s best-known data journalists and information designers proves it can. He will be one of the key speakers during the upcoming Oscar Pomilio Forum/UENet Summit on 6 and 7 July. In an exclusive interview with Pomilio Blumm, he talks about “fake news” and conspiracy theories unveiling some secrets of “beautiful information”.

For years, David has been creating stunning visualisations to show “the relationship between facts, the context, the connections that make information meaningful”. He sees “charts and graphs as cognitive aids”, a kind of “upgrades to our thinking”. And, as he points out, “with the information sphere so intense these days, we really need the latest upgrades!”

He has coined the term “infopocalypse” which refers to the deluge of conspiracy theories, deliberate polarisation and the rise of “fake news” that intensified on the heels of recent global events (the COVID pandemic is a prominent but not an exclusive example). But probably the worst aspect of this crisis is that it became tactics to “confuse and conquer” consciously employed by “committed bad actors using the power of social media as a megaphone to divide and disorient citizens.”

The experience of COVID shows that charts and scientific communications, even in the most beautiful form, are not enough to influence people’s personal decisions. However, David observes “ that story-telling – enclosing the data and message in a narrative wrapper – is a crucial part of making communication impactful, memorable, digestible”. In David’s opinion, this is a takeaway for those who communicate between institutions and citizens. Another tip to better navigate Information Age is to train the young generation “in critical thinking, journalistic research, scientific reasoning, healthy cognitive habits – the skills of sense-making”. This should equip them with effective tools to deal with mis- and disinformation in the future.