Telling better stories with data

Posted on 20/01/2014

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bad infographic examples

Sometimes it feels like we live in the age of the infographic. One hundred years from now, when cyber historians look back through the cloud, they will judge us by our addiction to creating colourful image and typography based layouts.

I hope it’s just a phase that we’ll grow out of. But before I lay in with the criticism, they have a few decent features.

  • Another information sharing tool. Before infographics, companies relied heavily on MS Excel and PowerPoint to share information, statistics and data. Slides are still the currency which consultants and businesses work in, but at least infographics have given people another option.
  • Simplified layouts. Infographics encourage people to gather less information, focusing on the most important messages and data. They can still be overloaded, but it’s a touch more difficult.
  • An overarching narrative. Images on screen work in two directions: left-right or top to bottom. To fit onto the screen, the infographic has to spread over multiple screens. Tall, narrow info graphics force us to tell a story with the information.

There is some good to have come from this crazy, but I still have some objections.

Like a poster, but online?!

The whole format and layout of infographics is more geared for a time when we printed information. Infographics resemble posters, because they’re designed and thought about like posters. Essentially they’re skeumorphic without needing to be. We’ve got to a stage where we should be pushing ourselves beyond this and using adaptable, layered, non-linear ways of sharing information. Tools like Ceros.com make it easy to tell stories and share data points online. We’ve really no excuse not to go beyond this.

Using text in images

Like the early generations of marketing emails, people got lazy and decided not to fully code the information. Instead we have an image, within which is locked all of the (useful) content and information, which is largely unreadable by machines. Machine unreadable means people searching for your data won’t find it in your infographic / website. And that’s shame.

In 100 years, I hope we’ll have evolved beyond this. Only time will tell.

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Posted in: Communication, Design