Where Science Meets Muse

Infographics Need to be More than Illustrated Fact Sheets

Posted by Plish on June 2, 2012

For those who are championing innovations, inspiring dreams, or just trying to educate, a well put together infographic can be indispensable to generating an emotional, engaging and memorable response.  This is because, at their root, good infographics tell stories.  The pictures in them are worth a thousand, or more, words.

Unfortunately, the ‘graphic’ aspect of infographics, often lack depth.   Illustrations on many infographics don’t add anything and in fact, often create confusion.

What do I mean?

Two out of three people reading this will agree with me

What does the graphic above add to the text?  Nothing.  Take a gander at infographics over at Daily Infographic  and you’ll see the equivalent of the above graphic all too frequently.  Most infographics are illustrated sheets of factoids. Sure there is information being conveyed and yes, there are graphics present, but a cohesive elegance is lacking.

Here’s another example where the graphics confuse and really don’t add much to the story being told:

How can you tell if a graphic is unnecessary? The rule is simple:

Remove it from the infographic. Does the message suffer?

Check out the above infographic and try the above rule.   I’m guessing that two out of three of you will see plenty of distracting fluff.

What is even more frustrating is that the words used in many infographics aren’t even engaging.   What would you rather read?

“He was nervous waiting to meet her for the first time.  The train was due any minute.”


“He was surprised his hands were shaking as he glanced down at the gold Seiko on his wrist. 5:58 and the whistle in the distance seemed closer than 2 minutes away.”

When I read text I want to be shown what is being described, not simply be told what is happening.  Words need to provoke and stimulate.  To quote Edward Tufte: “The best designs are intriguing and curiosity-provoking, drawing the viewer into the wonder of data, sometimes by narrative power, sometimes by immense detail, and sometimes by elegant presentation of simple but interesting data.  But no information, no sense of discovery, no wonder, no substance, is generated by chartjunk.” (The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, pg 121)

Good infographics look like…

And check out this one depicting all the water in the world…

Both of the above infographics are more than a bunch of words or facts with redundant artistic decoration.  Words play a minor role. They are truly infographics.  These graphics stand on their own – they are conversation stimulators in their own right.  The water graphic even provoked me to carry out the calculations and prove that the size of the water sphere was accurate!

What are the rules for making good infographics?   We can look to Tufte again for some general direction regarding what types of structure should be present,(from “Beautiful Evidence”, pp 126-136.)

  1. Shows comparisons, contrasts and differences
  2. Shows causality, mechanism, explanation, systematic structure
  3. Shows more than 1 or 2 variables
  4. Integrates words, numbers, images, diagrams
  5. Sources are documented
  6. Content is everything

Number 6 is, in some ways, the rule around which all other rules orbit.  The content needs to drive the message.  It needs to be clear, compelling, and thought-provoking.  Like any story, it needs to have the ability to draw us in.   It does this more effectively when the superfluous is eliminated.   Elegance isn’t only for iPads!

One closing thought on infographics.

In 1570, Euclid’s Elements was published with pop-ups that showed, in 3D, what the various concepts looked like.  There is no reason why newer technologies can’t help create infographics that go beyond 2D and include interactivity or music, narration, animation, or ???

What do you think about the state of, and the future of, Infographics?

3 Responses to “Infographics Need to be More than Illustrated Fact Sheets”

  1. Hildegard said

    I am truly delighted to read this web site posts
    which contains tons of helpful data, thanks for providing such information.

  2. madeleine nawar said

    couldn’t agree more…infographics tend to be less informative and hence adds to misinformation and waste of time.

  3. Plish said

    Thanks for your thoughts, Madeleine! Great points about adding to misinformation and time wasting!

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