In the last few years, it seems like everyone is trying to use infographics, or other data visualisation tools, to explain complicated ideas. This has led to an exponential growth in tools for infographic creation ranging from the simplistic and familiar like Google Charts all the way to tools like Piktochart or Visually.
While it is clear that presenting data in a graphic is a powerful way to handle complex content, there are some key things to keep in mind.
The method of presenting any information should actually fit the data being presented. For instance, comparing two data points using a fancy scatter plot is the wrong way to go. Similarly, if you have many data points representing parts of a larger data set, going with a bar chart instead of a pie chart wouldn’t make much sense. At a much more graphical level, it wouldn’t make much sense to explain a simple concept in a massively complex cartoon-style graphic. If something can be explained with some text or a simple photo, then that is the way to go.
- Example of information that could have been handled just as easily, and with more taste, with a paragraph of text.
Correctness, Clarity and Completeness
Mistakes happen, but things like a data set equaling up to more than 100% or misnaming the axes on an X-Y chart will ruin the most amazing-looking infographic. People need to stop and ask themselves if what they are presenting actually makes sense and if there is an actual value added to presenting the info in this manner. If reading the infographic makes one even more confused about what is being presented or compared, then it has failed. Another issue that can arise is that a beautiful graphic with all sorts of really nice, modern icons and design elements can make the data set feel complete, even when it isn’t. An example that we are all familiar with is when we finish writing something in Word and are all excited because spell check says it is correct, then, upon reread, we realise that it makes no sense. Remember that the most important part of an infographic is the info.
- Example of an overly complex, unclear infographic: https://wpengine.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Afghanistan-Stability-COIN-Dynamics.jpg.
Simplicity Leads to Clarity
Finally, the trend in infographics is towards the super complex with slick looking visuals. These kinds of graphics have their place, but consider some other examples. The webcomic xkcd is a perfect example. With a background in physics and robotics, author Randall Munroe often covers complex topics with humor and simplicity (he only draws people as stick figures). A recent comic looked at global warming and was the clearest, scariest graphic I’ve ever seen on the subject.
- Example of the global warming graphic: http://xkcd.com/1732/.
If you go through xkcd, you will notice that the art serves information and amplifies it. It never obscures or competes with it.
So there you have it, simple, complete, appropriate and clear graphics trump the flashy, over complex. Or, put another way, the right infographic, even if it is only stick figures, can make all the difference to your message.
How about you? Have you seen some great infographics? Have you ever used them in your project? We’d love to hear your thoughts on this.
Top 8 tools for creating your own infographics: http://www.creativebloq.com/infographic/tools-2131971
A list of the best infographics: http://www.creativebloq.com/graphic-design-tips/information-graphics-1232836
A blog about bad infographics: http://viz.wtf/
Photo credit: //www.flickr.com/photos/dashburst/