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The rise of the infographic

Published: 24 April 2012

Lately, infographics are everywhere you look. Click through to any popular website or blog like Mashable and you’re likely to find an image featuring fancy fonts, tiny images and boxed statistics that work together to illustrate a larger theme overall. Simply put, it’s information displayed in graphic form. But are infographics effective? This week, Leigh Andrews investigates.

By Leigh Andrews

Twitter has become my go-to source for all media-related information these days and I had to laugh when I tweeted about infographics and received an instant follow from an infographic-creation site. It’s no surprise that consumers are increasingly doing everything online and thus having an impact on almost everything, leading to author Brian Solis dubbing them 'Generation C' (connected). However, he cautions that the sudden proliferation of social media options hasn’t caused this shift - it’s actually because “consumer expectations are evolving”. We’re time-pressured, things are happening faster than ever before and there is an overwhelming amount of information to take in, so why not present information in an easy snapshot, which shows all the pertinent facts grouped together? Gavin Coetzee, Newsclip’s digital monitoring researcher, agrees, saying, “Essentially to my mind, the rise of the infographic can be directly attributed to the digital generation. No longer are these digital natives willing to read reams of text, they scan information to quickly establish salient points. Infographics and kinetic typography are uniquely suited to provide this information in a quick, easy to interpret manner.”

So, much like the ‘make a viral video’ debate, you can’t just clump together a few facts on a page and present that as an effective infographic. It has to be clever, eye-catching and factually correct, as it’s all about making it easier to visualise the data. As for how to make a good infographic with viral reach, Coetzee says that it’s a more difficult proposition. “Really, I think it has a lot to do with the content of the infographic – whether it’s of interest to people and the info is distilled into something they find to be accurate and valuable. Of course, the look of the infographic is important - after all, this is a visual medium.”

He adds that it’s also important to know the difference between an infographic and kinetic typography. Wikipedia, the group fact-curation site, defines kinetic typography as “the technical name for ‘moving text’, an animation technique mixing motion and text to express ideas using video animation.” It’s often used in movie title sequences and graphic animation. So this is more about the ‘action’ than the ‘appearance’ of text or information, which is what infographics focus on.

Moving on from this distinction to things that can go wrong when creating an infographic (such as sharing a bland diagram as an infographic), my research into ‘infographic pet hates’ drew out the following answers repeatedly – when it’s so long you have to scroll through reams of text to reach the end, when the font size is too small to read without having to squint and, importantly, when the information is inaccurate. If you state ‘eight’ tortoises in the facts but only illustrate three of them? Beware - people are sticklers for detail. Added to this, the Econsultancy site recently posted about ‘mistakes to avoid’ when creating an infographic. Key among these are overuse of a certain shape that has no link to the topic illustrated, coming across as overly promotional, having a biased agenda, not enough illustration or relying too heavily on graphs (it’s a hugely entertaining post, have a look: http://econsultancy.com/us/blog/9653-how-not-to-make-an-infographic-four-examples-to-avoid).

Roxy Kairuz, based in Dubai, responded to my comment by stating: “I think [infographics] are brilliant! I couldn't be arsed to read something that is purely text based – it doesn't grab my attention and it's certainly not visually appealing. Not only am I much more inclined to read something with images, I'm more likely to remember the facts. Can you tell I'm the type of person who ‘reads’ magazines for the pictures?”

So clearly it’s a delicate balance of getting across all the points you intend to, pleasing your client and still having an intriguing end result. What are your thoughts? Share them on our blog.
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