It’s a phenomenon that plagues many on the Internet: TL;DR. This stands for “too long; didn’t read,” and it means that if at a glance, a reader sees a whole bunch of text that keeps going after one or two scrolls down the page, they’re going to skip over it and move to something simpler. Here’s one way you can combat this: information graphics–or, as they’re more widely called, infographics.
With so much material yelling for our attention in this Information Age, it can be hard for your audience to gather the bits that work best for them, or even to want to begin that struggle. An infographic is one approach to visualizing bunches of data in a smart, eye-catching and readable way. Want to prod your readers into activism to reduce their carbon footprint without losing their interest with raw data? Infographic! Is your audience a bunch of language enthusiasts who are fascinated by how human describe emotion and who need a source for that research? You’ve got it covered. Want to give people an existential meltdown over how we’re all just a tiny twig in the vast tree of life? Done. A lot of research and data can benefit from being made into an infographic that’s decipherable by people other than PhDs. With visual media currently being one of the most effective ways of sharing information, companies and organizations need to learn how to present their material in a manner that gets their audience’s attention.
Surprisingly (or maybe not to some people), infographics have been around for a long time–there have been some examples found from the 1800s. Remarkably, it was one of these early graphics that sparked the abolitionist movement into action. While this was only organized into visual form for a select few people and is more of a diagram, it shows the value of giving people a way to see data, which will make more sense to them and elicit some kind of emotion. It’s hard to imagine any kind of impact when you read that the ship would carry 454 slaves, but seeing the engraving of slaves covering literally every available area not occupied by the crew is much more heart-crushing.
Naturally, all of this should come with a word of caution–a very large word, in bold type. You must be extremely careful of how you present your data. While in many instances you want the interpretation of your data to lean a certain way, intentionally misleading readers is going to backfire enormously. (Don’t do it.) In other instances, you have an excellent purpose and your data speaks for itself, but your infographic doesn’t get looked over carefully enough (or something of the sort) and the visuals are accidentally misleading. That’s what happened to the Enliven Project–a campaign that works to increase awareness of and put an end to sexual violence–when they created an infographic to put the concern about false rape accusations into perspective. While they were, of course, well-intentioned, there were some unintentional over-estimations in the visuals. (Here’s the full story, which you really should read.) Definitely watch what you’re doing at all times. Here are some examples of bad infographics–watch out!
To recap: infographics are an excellent technique to give your audience a way to more easily understand research or a set of data, but you should be very careful with how your visuals represent that data. You want to engage your readers, and infographics are a fabulous method to add to your arsenal!
*For Brand Engagement, Visuals Rule
*Beyond Infographics: 12 Ways to Visualize Data
*Fast Company Design’s Infographic of the Day
*The Amazing Morphing Campaign Money Map