Infographics are the new PowerPoint. Kill. Kill. Kill.

Infographics are everywhere. For one reason or another they are irresistible link-bait and Pinterest is awash with them. More often than not, however, they are inaccurate, confusing or just plain poorly designed.

Edward Tufte became famous for his war on PowerPoint, citing the Boeing slide that arguably convinced NASA that it was safe to land the shuttle Colombia as an example of the extent to which data can be distorted when represented visually. It seems infographics have gone the same way, and it needs to stop.

Where it’s all gone wrong (some of this may be familiar to you)

Decoration not meaning

An infographic is not a poster. Don’t just illustrate words.

Section of infographic

The pictures are not enhancing my understanding: they are just there.

Usability fail

Use colour for highlighting important information, not for reducing readability.

Badly coloured infographic

If something is painful to look at it is not aiding understanding

Bad data

How to lie with infographics: unrepresentative datasets, selective use of scales and time series, not giving sources, false correlation etc. 

Poor data infographic

You looked at 20 out of how many million?

Apples != Oranges

If you look like you’re comparing things, use similar scales.

Poor graphics infographic

So on the left one person is one page view, on the right…?

Fake correlation

Putting data in an infographic doesn’t make it true.

Fake correlation: Internet Explorer vs Murder Rate

Too much stuff

Visualisation is meant to clarify a single point, not clutter a page

cluttered infographic

I couldn’t even bare to zoom in and try and disentangle this

Bad arithmetic

Infographics are 90% perspiration and 30% mathematics.

Bad pie chart

Understand statistics and graphs before you (mis)use them

Doing it right

When produced with thought and care, and based on accurate and substantial data, infographics can be wondrous things. A good infographic can even save lives, such as this graphic that shows the link between an infected water pump and a cholera outbreak.

One dimension against geographical (street) location. How to save lives with a diagram.

Co.Design ran an article charting some of the most influential infographics of the 19th century. As the author, Susan Schulten, points out, there are some which “are by no means intuitive or clear–some are downright chaotic–but they stand out for their attempt to integrate more than one class of information or tell a complex story in a single picture.”

Infographics are useful because (done properly) they represent a vast quantity of data in an easily digestible and logical visual format. Sometimes people still remember that, and they create amazing things that can give us all hope that Edward Tufte’s war has not yet been lost:

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  1. Why we hate infographics | Bad Language - October 28, 2013

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