Why Infographics Effective Communication Tools

You know them when you see them. Complex data displayed beautifully, in a way that, when done correctly, makes you want to stare at it, absorb its carefully displayed information. A good infographic or information visualization improves on the audience’s ability to absorb, understand and recall the information displayed.

A formal definition. Infographics are data visualizations that present complex information quickly and clearly (Thatcher 2012). And I would go farther to add that infographics can also be defined in relation to the time it takes to understand the information and the space used to display that information. Infographics communicate in a smaller space than would be required to if the information were to be written up. An image is worth a thousand words and all that. 13 milliseconds is the shortest amount of time we can understand an image, according to an often cited MIT study.

While infographics are often employed as means to grab attention in saturated media and communication environments, in our experience there is a risk of making infographics that are more artistry and aesthetics than knowledge. In this, we agree with Waralak Siricharoen and Nattanun Siricharoen. The article titled “How Infographic should be evaluated?” is a bit of a hard read, and it is written with a lot of statements that feel that it could’ve done with a third round of proofreading, but in section two they say “The  infographic creators should consider the foremost structure, accuracy, reliability, depth, and functionality and then think about decoration.” Decoration, I take it, is their word for Cooked Illustration’s services: illustration, graphics, aesthetics, and all the visual goodness that gets the audience’s brain interested. We agree with the writers, any image that is communicating must, ultimately, no matter how pretty or decorated, serve that purpose.

The Illustration Triangle Concept

This is where the Triangle of Illustration could be a good tool to understand the hierarchy by which an infographic is designed. We often start by asking our clients: what’s this infographic for? Depending on the answer, then, the final visual is affected. For example, if the purpose of the infographic is to, say, “draw readers in and stand out in a social media context” then what Siricharoen describes as decorations are a must. Even more so if the context of the graphic is a visually saturated space. But if a designer is not careful the design or aesthetic mission may eclipse the knowledge and educational purposes of the infographic, muddling the data or message at best, or, at worst, miscommunicating the information. Clarity of message is king, but so is the audience and the context. Not a single aspect is more important than the others, thus they should all be considered equally.

It is a careful balance to achieve, and all three aspects of the Triangle inform one another. In this example, the context may be more important, but the audience and subject matter have equal weight.

Infographics have exploded in use in the last decade. And with such a growth in content production and use, it is within our responsibility as image makers and visual communicators to question their use. Why do they seem to be better methods of information dissemination? Why are they popular? And, most importantly, do they really work?

In our professional opinion, yes, Infographics work. And they do so amazingly. But, of course, that has to be a properly designed infographic. We’re not here to tell you how that is done, but we’d like to close this little article with some pointers that would help you make your own mind.

Why Infographics Effective Communication Tools:

  • People following directions that employ illustrations and text do 323% better than those who follow directions with text only. (Springer)
  • Users may read as little as 20% of the text on a given website. Visuals will help you retain users on the platform, increasing the time to communicate directly to them. (Nielsen)
  • The brain can easily ignore information if it is not displayed properly around the point-of-focus. Making bold, clear, colourful designs more important. (Rosenholtz)
  • Users analyse any display of information in relation to the time they have available to read the information. If the method, design or tool used to display does not meet the users’ calculations, they will move on. (Veszelszki)
  • If the audience is not used to reading infographics, they may not know how to read them. Infographic language and iconography must be considered in a cultural and linguistic context. (Veszelszki)
  • Guiding the audience through a story will help them remember information a lot easier. (Woodgate)
  • Metaphorical language and images are asking the brain to fill in an information gap. Thus, triggering the brain to model scenes with relative properties. To solve a creative puzzle of sorts. We even remember and pay attention to new metaphors more easily than old ones, even if they can be harder to remember because of how rare, and therefore how few occurrences of them, they are. (Will Storr, The Science of Storytelling, p.45)
  • Visualization of data must be novel and focus on how to break barriers, with metaphors and novelty and an emotional core. (Buntaine)