Infographics: Is The End Nigh?

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I happened to have an interesting Twitter conversation with Andrew Allsop, Campaign Manager at mycleveragency last Thursday afternoon.  After posting a tweet referencing a relatively nice infographic I had found while searching the Internet, Andrew was kind enough to reply on the matter:

Firstly I apologise for my grammar “An nice…” seriously what was I thinking? Secondly I’ll admit I disagreed with Andrew. However, as the hours passed there was an increasingly loud nagging at the back of my mind – perhaps Andrew was right after all…perhaps infographics really aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. Who knows, maybe it’s even possible that they were misleading me and providing skewed information. So are infographics actually all that effective and if not is there a better way?

Edward Tufte, often referred to as the “da Vinci of Data”, wrote a series of books on the subject of information graphics called Visual Explanations back in 1997. In this book Tufte classifies good data visualisations as being able to “represent every data point accurately and enable a viewer to see trends and patterns in the data”

More recently designers such as Nicholas Felton, Scott Stowell and Lisa Strausfield have picked up the baton and sprinted head first down the track towards some amazingly stunning work, which has entertained, excited and educated people in equal measure. In fact there’s such a demand for infographics that Visual.ly has introduced a marketplace to its website, allowing people to buy and sell their prized possessions.

Now, being a community manager at a social media agency I have more than a passing interest in infographics and often reference those created by others within our various social feeds. I source them, enjoy their aesthetic delights, read the snippets of data, rely on them as a valuable tool in providing info and pass them on. However after some digging it’s easy to see how the information is so often shaped by the designer to deliver a particular message for the reader.

  • For example 3 out of 5 people could love infographics but 40% of people hate them?

The infographic at the centre of the debate!

It is all a matter of how the data is presented and this is also the case for changes in scale – which can make the same data look very dramatic or extremely minimal – slightly worrying if you’ve come to think of infographics as the go-to source for relevant data!

Beyond its easily skewed data, there are other potential pitfalls when it comes to infographics. Is there an argument that they’re possibly overcomplicated and miss the point completely? Don’t we all need some context on the matter before we can truly appreciate the graphic?

On the other hand infographics can open up heavy subject matter to a wider audience, in essence they make the boring well…less boring. It makes it easier for us to consume big, complex ideas.

Is there also not an argument that a well made and referenced infographic with a link to a credible source has the power to cut through much of traditional media’s perceived distortions and bias?  All this is of course is backed up by the medium’s obvious aesthetic merits. Many infographics are loved not for the information but simply because of how stunning and visually appealing they are.

I think it’s important to have a healthy scepticism towards the medium, let’s not forget that what you see is not always the whole story. I know I’ll certainly take more care in future to interpret the information for myself - rather than passively consume the data at hand.
Check there are credible links back to the source, and if not try to remember that visualised or not there’s always another side to the information. 

I’d love to know your thoughts on this. Do you think infographics have a future as a valuable data tool or are they too easily manipulated and therefore doomed to fail?

Post written by Content & Community Manager Steven Owens

Paul Shepherd

I've worked in digital communications for around 15 years, and specialised in social media for the past three. Passionate about new technologies, media, and the impact it has on businesses bottom line, I try to bring that passion to every campaign for every brand we work with.