Chikodi Chima’s excellent article on infographics raises an important warning.
The article, called “How infographics jumped the shark,” argues that graphics are incredibly useful tools to cut through the glut of information we face every day. The problem is that too many people simply stuff random information into graphical form, add decoration and call the package an infographic.
Charles Apple made a similar case a while back, saying,
“When the reader looks at my graphic and says, “Oh, wow. Cool graphic!,” I’ve failed.
“When the reader looks at my graphic and says, “Geez, is that how much we pay in taxes?” “Wow, I didn’t know that building was that tall!” “Wow, look how much money I spend every year on cigarettes!”
“That’s when you’ve done your job as a journalist. It’s the content that sings. Not the format you used to deliver that content.”
Apple also says something that I tell my students constantly: An infographic must tell a story.
I’ll repeat that: An infographic must tell a story.
If it doesn’t, it’s not an infographic; it’s simply visual noise.
All too often, though, here’s what I see:
- Random facts stacked in a colored box
- Random visual elements that adorn a graphic but that offer no visual cues about the information
- Graphics with bland, say-nothing headlines
- Graphics that lack a readout or other explanation to provide context and direction
- Graphics that simply repeat information from a story
- Graphics that lack a logical visual path
- Graphics that overwhelm readers with too much information and too many visuals
That’s hardly a comprehensive list. I offer more advice in An Editor’s Guide to Graphics, which I created with Lauren Keith.
The point is that all of us need to pay more attention to the content of infographics.
Creating good infographics isn’t easy. Just like written stories, infographics must be based on solid information. They must have focus. They must have clarity. A reader must be able to work through an infographic and come away with real information.
That’s the info in infographic.