I’ve been out and about meeting people this week. And like the proverbial fish that fails to perceive the water in which it exists, I am still surprised when I meet people who have no idea what an infographic is.
I shouldn’t be. I realise that not everyone shares my interests. Nor have they built a social network that relentlessly bombards them with visual information. But it made me wonder if my explanation was adequate. So I consulted the web, only to find explanations either too wordy for an initial definition or else missing important information.
The Cambridge English Dictionary defines an infographic as: “a picture or diagram or a group of pictures or diagrams showing or explaining information…”
Now that ignores some of the specifics around data visualisation, but it’s good enough to set the scene for for a conversation opener. Maybe we can turn it into an infographic…
Meeting with some of my peers earlier in the week, I encountered a more robust challenge. Alcohol had been consumed and everyone was feeling pretty relaxed when the comment above was thrown out.
In truth, I barely registered it at the time – certainly no more than if someone dismissed an entire genre of cinema or music – and my attention was instead consumed by a previously posed question about the accessibility problems posed by the use of infographics.
It wasn’t until I was travelling home that this statement came back to me and I started wondering where it might have originated. It’s a more extreme form of Sturgeon’s revelation (as orignally expounded by Theodore Sturgeon), commonly known as Sturgeon’s Law: “Ninety percent of everything is crap.”
The story, which I first encountered in the 1980s, goes that science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon was confronted by a student who declared “…ninety percent of science fiction is crap”. “My dear boy…” (my mind may have embellished his response somewhat in the intervening years) “…ninety percent of everything is crap.”
Now most of my peers are extremely data literate. They don’t struggle to see meaning in tables of information and though they may find charts useful, pretty colours and explanatory text aren’t required for understanding. Indeed, they can sometimes be seen as patronising.
Add to this the modern proliferation of tools which allows anyone to create an infographic without understanding storytelling, the use of visuals and the most basic graphic design principles, and you can see infographics heading the way of presentation graphics.
Happily, as with all fields of endeavour, there is that top five percent that exists to inspire, impress and motivate us to do better. And the right combination of data, design and story will set you in the right direction.