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David McCandless onstage with Ira, live at the Aspen Ideas Festival. Photo by Olivier Douliery

David McCandless does not like pie charts. “When I see a default [Powerpoint template] pie chart, I sag internally,” he admits. And for good reason. McCandless is a data journalist and “information designer.” Between his popular blog Information is Beautiful, and books (the latest is Knowledge is Beautiful) he’s shown over and over again the explanatory power of a well-researched, well-designed graphic. 

On stage at the Aspen Ideas Festival this week, McCandless took Ira and a ballroom full of Science Friday fans on a tour of some of the science and health graphics he’s constructed over the years. He explained that, for him, each new infographic begins with a question: “Stuff I don’t understand, things that frustrate and confuse me, that suggests to me there’s problem—an information problem—and I want to create a graphic that explains it” he said.

In the case of the infographic “Stellar Entities,” McCandless was frustrated with how we usually depict the cosmos: as uniform “points of light.” “That disguises the intense, exotic flora and fauna that exist in the cosmos, [like] blazars, quasars, supernovas, molecular clouds...these huge exotic and amazing objects,” he explained. 

In the audio slideshow below, McCandless shows Ira how he transformed the Milky Way into a beautiful cosmic bouquet: 

Special thanks to: David McCandless, Ruth Jobey, Information is Beautiful 

Audio and Video: Annie Minoff 

Photography: Olivier Douliery