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Whither infographics

Reader Aleks found this infographics poster (by Phil Gyford) which is sure to excite (or exercise) some people.

Infographicsposter I admire the work of infographic artists in processing and structuring huge amounts of data.  I think many such presentations, especially the interactive ones, are terrific in empowering readers (users?) to slice and dice data.

Some infographics are produced by people who probably see themselves as artists first, and the charts as objects of art. (Diagrams of network structure come to mind.) That's fine, too. And I can appreciate them as if I am in MoMA.

Some infographics are daunting works of blood and sweat. They make our jaws drop, we wonder how they did that. They remind us of the Great Wall of China, the pyramids, etc. The layers upon layers of details are there to  dazzle us, to prove the point.


But I like my charts to tell me something important about the data. I want charts to be "self-sufficient". If readers must consult the raw data (printed on the chart) in order to get the message, then all the graphical constructs (bars, dots, axes, etc.) are redundant!

In addition, I don't like to make readers do a lot of work. The task of extracting insights from the data should fall to the designer, not the readers.


That said, judging from the circulation of infographics on the Web, these displays clearly are popular so one can't argue with that.

What's your view of the state of infographics? Love it or hate it?

 PS. Robert at EagerEyes made comments on this topic, likening visualization to a "cargo cult". He calls for drawing a line in the sand. My feeling, as outlined above, is that there could be different classes of infographics -- my personal interest is in those that contribute to effective communication but others may be interested in artistic rendering, story-telling and exploration, technical wizardry, etc.


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A seemingly simpleton answer: I love the good ones, hate the bad ones. There's no point doing an infographic if it doesn't assist the viewer's understanding of the issues. But if you get it right, you can make a stronger point.

Robert Kosara

I wrote a posting about this last week, called The Visualization Cargo Cult. You can probably guess from that title what I think of the flood of bad and nonsensical infographics.


There's undoubtedly a desire among the creators of these things to "bring statistics to life". It's obvious that this goal is far from easy to achieve because not only are most people clueless about the underlying principles that might make that actually happen, but they would not recognise a good execution (as in revealing of the data) if it exploded in their custard. The future for infoviz is therefore bleak.


In fact thinking about this further ... not only do most people not have a clue about either the execution or the delivery of good infovis, they also don't have much of a handle on statistics and probability. This is a serious problem since it leads people to think it's acceptable to say something like "4 people of swine flu this week!!!" without any attempt to contextualise it with "... and last week it was 7, while there have been 800 deaths from common flu in the same period."

It seems to me that without also a decent grasp of probability and statistics, we can't really expect much.

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