Infographics came to be when William Playfair, scottish inventor and engineer, merged words and drawings into what came to be known in the 1750s as “graphical statistics”. Yes, if you’re unfamiliar with data analysis there’s at least one bad word in there but that’s how it all started – by coloring charts and dressing up graphs.
Over 200 years later, in the Adobe Era, data visualization has become the ultimate tool for the fast and the furious: know more, know now. And because of the quantity of information out there, we’ve taught our brains to expand their reach but sharpen their focus, basically reducing clutter.
Alberto Cairo, Professor of Information Graphics and Visualization at the School of Communication of the University of Miami, is one the top notch experts on Infographics and how they help us understand the world. He is the author of the book “The Functional Art”, an introduction to Information Graphics and Visualization, the communication of facts and data by means of charts, graphs, maps, and diagrams. Stuck somewhere between a manual and a novel, Professor Cairo’s book takes you through the secrets of data visualization and case studies of worldwide professionals.
In an article by Chiara Nanni, a writer and blogger, Professor Alberto answers a few questions about his work and the future Infographic Art. Below are some excerpts.
Can you obtain ”user retention” with infographics, both in B2B and B2C?
User retention can be achieved through different strategies, which refer to different levels of user engagement. Visual Appeal is the first level: fonts, typefaces, colors and illustrations do the job in making it fun and appealing for the eye. Information is the next level, and not one all designers pursue: the infographic should be insightful, informative and reveal something interesting, whatever the topic. Your goal is to make sure that your readers actually read the infographic, not just wander through it. If they like it and are caught by what it says, then they’ll also remember it. What I say in my book is also that starting from the visuals can be tricky: you should make sure you really have something to talk about first.
The visualization wheel you present in your book can help define the balance between each aspect of an infographic for a desired overall effect (more complex and in depth vs. clearer and more superficial). But how do you catch multiple target audiences with the same infographic?
In the book I explain that I use the wheel as a way to conceptualize, but it’s not a very accurate way to quantify. It’s just a guideline. If you want to appeal to a very broad audience with the same infographic you have to find a balance between too much simplicity (basic facts, averages, main data points) and too much complexity (a lot of text, complex graphs).
My answer is: create a higher visual key, a sequence that starts from the bottom of the topic and rises up, generating a multi section infographic. Start with a map and add a run key or a graph that shows relationship, for example. Present a story in many ways.
Beyond the slopegraph: what’s the next groundbreaking graph you see ahead and why?
The Slopegraph is not very common, but it’s getting there. We are used to see common items like bar graphs or pie charts, and less common ones haven’t been noticed even if they’ve been around for a while: scatter plots for example, display the relationship between two variables. Statisticians have used it for decades, but not so much in the media. I guess I’d like to see more small multiples, an approach that puts different graphs in line one next to each other. It’s better than overlapping 20 lines just to use one single graph, it can be used with data maps and many more elements.
In your book you say that sometimes it is not realism that we need, so the fewer the details the higher the focus on the information: how do you pair this principle to inbound marketing strategies that aim at rising brand awareness?
That’s an easy one. The fewer useless details you put in an infographic the better – so it’s not about decreasing the amount of information, it’s about changing the percentages of what you put in it. Reduce the clutter. You should apply that to any kind of infographic – because there’s no point in creating a product that is nothing but self-referential.
What is the one topic so hard to be infographed that it hasn’t yet – but that you’d like to test yourself on?
Well for example one of the most important challenges out there is climate change. There’s a huge debate whether it’s really happening or if it’s just a myth. 98% of scientists agree it’s human driven. But to convince the remaining 2%, a great infographic with straightforward information is something I’d like to see, it might do the trick. Point is not every story can be told through an infographic but almost any data driven story can – because the goal is to make it more accessible to readers. They want it only if they can understand it. And that’s precisely what infographics do.
A true infographic should be devoid of clutter and mess, leaving behind just the important information and data. We hope you keep this in mind the next time you design an infographic of your own.