UK Web Focus

Innovation and best practices for the Web

The Growing Importance of Infographics

Posted by Brian Kelly on 13 February 2012

Last week Liz Lyon, UKOLN Director gave a talk on “The informatics transform : re-engineering libraries for the Data Decade” at the VALA 2012 conference held in Melbourne, Australia. If you weren’t there and are interested in Liz’s thoughts of the implications of the growth of data for the research community in general and research librarians in particular you can view the video recording of Liz’s talk.

I was particularly interested in the infographic on the volume of tweets which are currently being produced, which, as shown below, Liz included in her slides.

The Twitter infographic was produced by Touchagency.com and the infographic is free for reuse. I think it succeeds in putting across the importance of Twitter in a very succinct way – although, of course, the volume of tweets should not be regarding as providing an indicator of its value and, beneath the surface, there will be a need to question the figures presented – for example, is 5pm the best time to get retweeted if you have an international following or will you need to take into account these numbers of international followers and their time zone?

But I feel that people will be aware that infographics will only provide a summary, and not the full picture. Or, as Wikipedia puts itInformation graphics or infographics are graphic visual representations of information, data or knowledge. These graphics present complex information quickly and clearly“.

The need to be able to put across complex information quickly and clearly is becoming increasingly important in today’s environment in which, as Liz states in her slides “A single sequencer can now generate in a day what it took 10 years to collect for the Human Genome Project”  (see reference).

I’m therefore pleased to see that a recent JISC Call on Activity Data: Analytics and Metrics is inviting submissions for a report on Activity Data: Analytics and Metrics which will be one of a series of high profile reports JISC is commissioning to inform the UK FE/HE sector on key issues relating to digital infrastructure which states that:

It is intended that this Report will be made available in a web format, and that it will contain a lot of visuals, including “infographics” where appropriate. 

I’m aware, however, that some people feel that infographics ‘dumb down’ complex issues. But for me this is simply restating the aims of infographics in a negative way: what is the difference between “infographics present complex information quickly and clearly” and “infographics present complex information is a trivial and superficial way“? You may make the second point if you disagree with the arguments being presented in an infographic rather than responding to the points being made.

Which isn’t to say that there can’t be bad infographics as well as good infographics. For me it will be important that the sources of information used to provide an infographic are readily available, so that if you disagree with the arguments being presented in an infographic you are able to provide a different interpretations from the same source.

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2 Responses to “The Growing Importance of Infographics”

  1. Paul Kelly said

    I think the big problem is that a lot of things that get badged as infographics aren’t actually infographics.

    The Twitter infographic is a good example of that. The information isn’t any easier to understand or memorable than it would have been as a list of plain text. There’s virtually no graphical representation of the data (it’s mostly a lot of numbers that have been placed in arbritarily coloured circles that have no scale to show any relationships between them), according to the definition, it’s not an infographic.

    For some examples of infographics done well I’d recommend the book / website “Information is Beautiful” by David McCandless – http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/

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