Infographics are everywhere. For one reason or another they are irresistible link-bait and Pinterest is awash with them. More often than not, however, they are inaccurate, confusing or just plain poorly designed.
Edward Tufte became famous for his war on PowerPoint, citing the Boeing slide that arguably convinced NASA that it was safe to land the shuttle Colombia as an example of the extent to which data can be distorted when represented visually. It seems infographics have gone the same way, and it needs to stop.
Where it’s all gone wrong (some of this may be familiar to you)
Decoration not meaning
An infographic is not a poster. Don’t just illustrate words.
Use colour for highlighting important information, not for reducing readability.
How to lie with infographics: unrepresentative datasets, selective use of scales and time series, not giving sources, false correlation etc.
Apples != Oranges
If you look like you’re comparing things, use similar scales.
Putting data in an infographic doesn’t make it true.
Too much stuff
Visualisation is meant to clarify a single point, not clutter a page
Infographics are 90% perspiration and 30% mathematics.
Doing it right
When produced with thought and care, and based on accurate and substantial data, infographics can be wondrous things. A good infographic can even save lives, such as this graphic that shows the link between an infected water pump and a cholera outbreak.
Co.Design ran an article charting some of the most influential infographics of the 19th century. As the author, Susan Schulten, points out, there are some which “are by no means intuitive or clear–some are downright chaotic–but they stand out for their attempt to integrate more than one class of information or tell a complex story in a single picture.”
Infographics are useful because (done properly) they represent a vast quantity of data in an easily digestible and logical visual format. Sometimes people still remember that, and they create amazing things that can give us all hope that Edward Tufte’s war has not yet been lost: