‘A picture paints a thousand words’ so the saying goes and that, in a nutshell, is the power and magic of the infographic. However with the recent rise in the popularity of them, are we starting to lose the plot? Is style winning over substance?
Part of the definition of an infographic is that “graphics present complex information quickly and clearly” – Wiki. They’ve been used for centuries to convey complex data in order to achieve noble ambitions, for example the Florence Nightingale ‘infographic’ below that greatly increased peoples chances of surviving hospital admissions.
And yet lately I’ve noticed more and more infographics (let’s call them infoGRAPHICS) that, when you take away the froth, you’re left with not a great deal of coffee. Even worse, in some cases they’re being used simply as a means of corporate or government propaganda, bending the truth to unimaginable proportions “Ooooh don’t the little unemployed people in this graph look so cute and, er small”
The examples below are tongue in cheek but represent a real problem.
How much can you trust a bearded man?
To be fair, the author does note that this is based on no scientific evidence whatsoever and in its defence it’s funny but it’s a reflection on the people at visual.ly that they actually have this on their homepage.
The ‘Conversation prism’
I’ve seen this one a few times. Rolled out at presentations by people in thick black rimmed glasses and stripey shirts. No one in the audience understands it. The person in the stripey shirt doesn’t even understand it but everyone thinks ‘Oooh pretty colours and lots of social networks that I have the vague feeling I should know about but don’t’. Guy in stripey shirt likes the impact it has on an audience, the presumption is that he must know what this wheel means and therefore he should be listened to. It’s the ultimate emporer’s new clothes.
For all the added useful insight it brings to an audience, the ‘conversation prism’ (which isn’t even a prism by the way) may as well just look like this:
Social networks people are actually on Who uses them? Advertise on?
facebook Your mum, weirdo’s No way
twitter People you’re actually interested in, pornbots No way
linkedin Your boss, recruitment consultants No way
Now I’m not saying I’m a good designer, or even a designer but whenever I have to design, I try to make sure it’s necessary and that the picture shows a true view of the data that needs to be conveyed (so for example the London underground map doesn’t need to be ‘to scale’ because that’s not what it’s conveying, the important information is the stops, orientation and interchanges which it conveys truthfully). I may not get this right all of the time but it’s what I work towards and I suspect many people, companies and organisations don’t.
At the moment we’re in a honeymoon period where the validity of these infographics isn’t really being checked out by the end user however this honeymoon period will end and when it does it’s likely that just a few infoGRAPHICS will tarnish much of the good work going into this area.
I suppose, ironically, the best way to sum up this post is with an infographic of its own. The utterly brilliant spoof from thinkbrilliant.com.
You may also want to read another post on this blog about the most popular questions asked on search engines.