How to Understand Infographics
I’ve always been intrigued by infographics. I think the creativity that goes into expressing information in a condensed, visual form is a very modern and contemporary concept that many people are appealed by in today’s day and age.
A Brief History
Infographics have been involved in daily life for a long time. They might not have their modern edge that we see and use today but icons, maps, and visual representations have been utilized for many centuries. While their main topic might not have been business, many historic figures and movements have benefited from infographics.
I’ll start with Florence Nightingale. Nightingale created infographics displaying needed improvements in hospitals during the 1850s. She persuaded Queen Victoria about the necessity of improving the conditions hospitals provided to promote well-being in hospitals. She utilized statistics in the Crimean War in a Coxcomb chart to prove how important it was to maintain clean and healthy-oriented medical spaces. Without Nightingale’s easy to visualize information, many hospitals and clinics would not have received necessary funds or financial support from the government.
Probably the most well known infographic would be Charles Joseph Minard’s depiction of Napoleon’s March to Russia, which was made in 1861. The infographic uses a spectrum of time, deaths, temperature, and location. All of these factors are difficult to use in one infographic but Minard is able to construct a 2-D model of multiple factors regarding the march in an easy to read, if you’re fluent in French that is, chart for others to decipher the information easily and in one place.
On a more recent note, Peter Sullivan brought infographics to a more forefront position by displaying them on the Sunday Times in the 1970s through the 1990s. Sullivan was able to easily create comprehensive material for the public to digest. However, Edward Tufte, an influential pioneer in the field of infographics, regarded some of the graphics shown in the Times as chartjunk, visually appealing graphics with lesser interest in the data they depict.
Types of Infographics
Infographics are divided into four categories: time, location, category and hierarchy. (Source)
You’ve probably seen your share of timelines. Whether you are focusing on a political candidate’s progress or the life of an artist, many people choose to condense information into a timeline to showcase a progression or story. Showing time within your business or career can show your growth and predict your future potential.
Location infographics are heavily influenced by maps. Take the London Underground or story maps for instance. All location based infographics rely heavily on a place and the direction in which an event or person goes. One of my favorite designs is my character map of Pride and Prejudice. Based on the locations in the movie adaptation in 2005 and the characters movement, I’m able to develop a clearer depiction of how the plot progresses compared to reading the entire novel.
You might see a categorical infographic commonly displayed for survey results and political issues. It’s easy to place these infographics because they are trying to inform the public about a certain issue depending on a predetermined group. While a wordy one, even this blog post can be separated clearly by sections and subsections.
Having a winner and a loser is an example of hierarchy. Importance matters to a lot of individuals so displaying a hierarchy of information allows the public to see, at a glance, what is the most important fixture within a set of information. Whether you are showing the best seller or the most important players on your team, hierarchy allows you to showcase your best assets to business competitors and within your company.
Notable Sources for Infographics
Henry Charles Beck was the designer behind the London’s underground. It’s revolutionary design is still inspired in today’s designs. Essentially, Beck simplified the Underground’s map into geometric lines to showcase the Tube’s direction and locations. Previous renderings of the map relied too heavily on the terrain and literal positions of the topography above. With Beck’s simplified drawing, additions to the Tube, landmarks, and subway stations were clearly labelled.
The New York Times is probably a pretty well known example for infographics when it comes to newspapers. After its debut in 1982, the paper has tried its best to be on the forefront of modern and up to date practices for newspapers and magazines alike. One way that the Times is differentiating itself is its capabilities of moving online. Not only are they 2-D, but now they are moving towards 3-D and motion graphics. The graphics department won the Missouri Honor Medal in 2012 in part for its use of infographics.
WIRED produces a lot of graphics. For me, I’d like to think it was because of the tech and pop culture elusive audiences they might run into. Using methods such as a Matrix infograph, WIRED mainly looks into complex and multi-faceted chunks of data. They combine many of the types above to showcase a wider view on their graphics. While I adore their futuristic and modern look, I also get the feeling they have their own chartjunk feeling to them sometimes. However, WIRED routinely uses effective infographics in their content to display their stories.
The LA Times is another front-runner for producing newsworthy graphics. Most of the infographics that I’ve seen come out of the LA Times are sports-based. Nothing wrong with that niche, and they certainly do it well. Being so statistically immersed in sports culture around Los Angeles has its perks. They’ve started to delve into local news with their graphics but it doesn’t hold the same modern feel that some other graphics I’ve seen.
Due to its wide range of content, National Geographic showcases a lot of infographics to save space in their magazines. Rather than allow a whole page to be printed with text, designers and writers allow small bits of information to be digested by the viewer. You can easily see and interpret the data presented to you, which is National Geographic’s main goal.
Infographics are still an evolving art form but they are becoming more prominent in a visual culture. Whether they are in news publication or a book unto themselves, infographics add another layer to a story, along with making content easy to digest for readers.