Infographics is the latest buzzword in the online community. Infographics—a term short for information graphics—are a form of visual communication that allows readers to quickly and easily grasp the data being presented. While the concept is nothing new, infographics have recently gained popularity as a reprieve from the information overload that so many of us are faced with. Instead of wading through an article packed with statistics and facts, infographics are designed to pique our interest and allow us to grasp a concept at a glance. Social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter have also added to the proliferation of infographics.
Infographics in the Past
It could be argued that early caveman actually invented infographics. Their caves contained countless paintings and maps used to visually communicate a message. It wasn’t until 1626, however, that infographics were published in the book Rosa Ursina Sive Sol by Christoph Scheiner. His illustrations clearly and concisely demonstrated the rotation patterns of the Sun. After that, infographics appeared regularly in a variety of other publications.
In the 1970’s, The Sunday Times, an award-winning British newspaper, began using infographics to make the news more interesting. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, other newspapers began following suit. The USA Today is one of the most recognizable papers in the industry that uses infographics to make the content easier to understand—whether it is something as simple as the weather forecast or something more complex such as the Affordable Health Care Act.
By the turn of the 21st century, new technologies emerged that enabled a host of companies to create infographics quickly and easily. Infographics slowly began making their way onto websites, in magazines, products and games.
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Today, these easy-to-read pictograms referred to as infographics are used for a variety of purposes.
- Political campaigns
- Social awareness
- News stories
- Classroom use
It seems that everyone if finding a way to use infographics to their advantage. In fact, they have become so popular that the search term “infographic” has increase 100-fold—or 10,000 percent—over the past 5 years!
The Future of Infographics
Some people wonder if the overwhelming use of infographics right now indicates an over-saturation that will ultimately lead the demise of the popular pictogram. This likely will not happen; rather, as technologies become more sophisticated, so will infographics. While most of the previous infographics have been static images, more and more designers are using motion and animation techniques to visually communicate the message. Another trend to look for in the future is the use of infographics in real-time settings. With the proliferation of social media and the growing number of mobile devices on the market, data visualization in real-time could be the next big thing. The use of interactive infographics is also on the rise.
Effectiveness of Infographics
It doesn’t matter if you are using static or dynamic infographics, they should be well designed so that they remain an effective form of visual communication. If the information is oversimplified you will lose your credibility. Oversimplification can also make the graphics look boring, resembling basic chart and line graphs. Infographics that are too complex, on the other hand, can also lose their effectiveness and become “chart junk” as they are referred to in the industry. The goal is to find the right balance between clean and cluttered that will grab the viewer’s attention, stop them from scrolling and convey your message in a meaningful and memorable way. Edward Tufte, one of the leading experts in data visualization, says that quality infographics should “represent every data point accurately and enable a viewer to see trends and patterns in the data.” Here are a few design tips that can help you do just that.
- Focus on a single topic
- Make sure all of your data is accurate
- Keep text minimal (Show, don’t tell)
- Use typeface to emphasize key points
- Choose appropriate colors and images
- Keep the file size small
- Make it easy to share
These examples of a well-designed infographics showcase these design principles in action.
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Generally speaking, you don’t want to use full-color photographs when designing infographics. They tend to add to the visual clutter and distract the viewer. In this instance, however, the picture adds to value of the overall message. Photographs can also be used sparingly when designing an infographic in timeline form.
If you keep these things in mind when designing infographics for your own application, you will be able to effectively communicate your message and see numerous benefits. There are many natural uses for data visualization in both the present and the future.