Some years ago, infographics were the thing to do. Everyone was rushing to create splash pages of charts, graphs and numbers, without first asking themselves whether this way of presenting information was 1. desirable, 2. understandable, and/or 3. effective.
Today, the hype has more or less died down because the crowd has moved on to animations to fulfill the tasks. But are infographics now redundant? Absolutely not. But I feel more comfortable sharing my thoughts about them now than before, because there is less noise in the discussion.
What are infographics and how can we use them?
An “infographic” is short for “information graphic“. It is a graphic visual representation of information, data or knowledge, presented in such a way that the information is very quickly and clearly related to the audience. Most importantly, an infographic utilises visual graphic to enhance human cognition of a particular piece of information by showcasing patterns, trends or processes.
This definition is crucially in helping us develop truly effective infographics. So let’s get down to it!
Graphic Visual Representations
First of all, if you present a huge chunk of text and stick an icon on the side, do not call it infographic. Infographics could contain an introductory paragraph which is not meant to be the focal point of your information. Is it not possible to transform your text information into a graphical representation? Then it just means that this piece of information has to remain in text form. Period. It is not infographic, and can never be.
Patterns, Trends and Processes
Related to the point above, not all information can be converted or even desirable in graphics.
Data, in terms of numbers and percentages, can more easily be represented through charts. Knowledge, such as the complex definition of the qualified majority (QM) mechanism in the EU Council, cannot, whilst other information such as evolution of a caterpillar into a butterfly or the way votes are being counted in the US Presidential Elections can.
Why? It’s because anything that showcases a pattern, a process or a trend can be graphically represented with minimum accompanying explanatory text.
So what might these be?
- Pattern: Every year, the number of house burglary increases in the summer months of July and August, whenever people go abroad for holiday.
- Process: How a smartphone is built – from the gathering of raw material, to the manufacturing of various components, the assembly of the components into a smartphone to delivery to stores for consumer purchase
- Trend: A consistent year-on-year increase in the sale of electric vehicles
Clear and Easy
If we look at how more and more data are being churned out and used to explain positions and trends, the term “data visualisation” is used to represent the collation of these data, in a way that is interactive, such that a user is able to browse through different comparable sets of data. Often, such data sets could be segregated by geographical locations, age groups, user profiles etc.
So are data visualisations also “infographics”? The answer is no.
Data visualisations are similar to infographics, in the sense that they are there to allow the user to make sense figures.
But data visualisations go beyond that. With an incredible amount of data that is now available, data visualisations are often multidimensional, in order to allow the user to interact with the various segments of the data sets, to compare and contrast, and also to extract and draw conclusions from subsets.
Infographics however are made for mass communications.
Therefore they need to be as clear as possible and as easy to understand as possible.
In short, if your infographic is not understood by your audience at the first glance, you will have to try again.
Even if you have come up with good infographics, you have to put them into context. Context will help your audience remember your figures. Context will help you weave your figures into your story, such that you are able to more effectively convince your audience. Remember: “Numbers don’t tell the stories. Stories do.”
Eureka Moments are not so much moments of sudden realisation or enlightenment like Archimedes. They are moments while I am in my commute when I get to reflect on things that someone mentioned to me, things that I am confronted with, things that I or others have sought a solution for. They are more ‘oh I get it’ rather than ‘I have discovered it’.