July 17, 2012

Death by infographic?

There is no doubt that infographics are the hot new thing. Want to get your message across in a fun, snappy, visual way? Make it an infographic. A simple explanation of infographics comes from Mashable: "They illustrate information that would be unwieldy in text form, and act as a visual shorthand for everyday concepts such as stop and go."

Unfortunately, infographics are quickly going the way of bad PowerPoint. In an effort to cram ALL of the information into the graphic, designers are delivering images that are no more helpful than the 500-page report they are based on.

Like PowerPoint, an infographic is supposed to make the content easier to grasp, not harder.

I picked two random infographics I've seen in the past week to illustrate the issue.

The first one is supposed to be a cheat sheet to help you remember when particular fruits are in season (there's a companion graphic for vegetables):

I find this incredibly difficult to view. A simple chart would have been more clear to me, or even *gasp* text! Not everything needs to be made into a graphic, and this is a perfect example of too much information trying to squeeze itself into a pretty visual.

Now here's a graphic that explains the best days and times to post to Twitter and Facebook:

This one is absolutely clear, with a simple color scheme that's easy to understand, and a minimum of explanatory text or directional arrows or other tricks that designers use to get you to look where your eyes are not naturally drawn. This graphic doesn't try to tell you everything in bit.ly's original report, just the most critical points.

Interestingly, bitly's original graphic on their blog is even more austere and (once you get the idea of how the days and hours are labeled) easy to follow. Click on the images to see the axes better.

There are hundreds of examples like this on the Web, and the appeal and usefulness of infographics is valid. Just remember: Whether it's a graphic or a PowerPoint slide, its purpose should be to make communication MORE clear, not less. To make your message MORE accessible, not less.

Share your favorite infographics in the comments below!

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