The word “Infographic” is still shiny and new. Annoyingly, I can’t get spell-check to accept it as a real word, and neither Merriam or Webster believe it exists. But Google does, and Wikipedia, and that’s good enough for me. Infographic – a word made up by smushing Information and Graphic together – has been around for a while. The earliest citation I can find is from 1976. I first came across it in NixLog around 2003. Now it seems they have jumped into the mainstream, and are becoming part of the zeitgeist.
There are a rash of Infographics flooding the internet today, to the point where we are beginning to see a backlash. Like PowerPoint, some people love them, some people hate them. That’s not surprising since for every good Infographic, there are a hundred awful ones. Given that, it seems fair to look at what exactly makes a good Infographic. Let’s start with an easy question. What is an Infographic? The Wikipedia definition, graphic visual representations of information, is a little to circular for me. (C’mon Wikipedia, you have a reputation to uphold). Back to Merriam-Webster.
Here we go. Information: the communication or reception of knowledge or intelligence and Graphic: of or relating to the pictorial arts. So if my logic isn’t too twisted, an Infographic should communicate knowledge or intelligence, and do it pictorially, with a smidgin of art thrown in.
Taking a page from my favorite fake scholar, Dr. J. Evans Pritchard, Ph.D.* in his seminal work Understanding Poetry,
To fully understand
poetry Infographics, we must first be fluent with its meter Data, rhyme Information, and figures of speech aesthetic. Then ask two questions: One, how artfully has the objective of the poem Infographic been rendered, and two, how important useful is that objective. Question one rates the poem’s Infographic’s perfection, question two rates its importance usefulness. And once these questions have been answered, determining a poem’s Infographic’s greatness becomes a relatively simple matter.
Put simply – is it pleasing to the consumer’s eye, and secondly is it useful. (This takes into account how easily it is understood, the veracity of its sources, etc.) Question 1 is endlessly subjective, although there are generally accepted principles that work. Question 2 is the big one. A lot of infographics are produced to capture eyeballs, and so their usefulness, and to whom, goes by the wayside. Question 2 is usually where the infographic bait and switch happens. A poor infographic tries to be neutral. A good infographic has a point of view, and then moves towards a line between positioning the truth to make your point, and distorting or obfuscating it.
*from Dead Poet’s Society
- On poorly designed infographics (visurus.wordpress.com)
- What makes a good infographic (visua.ly)
- Why Visualization (UIE Blog)
Gavin is a founding partner at fassforward consulting group. He blogs about PowerPoint, Presenting, Communication and Message Discipline at makeapowerfulpoint.com. You can follow him on twitter @powerfulpoint.