Info-graphics & Data Visualization: Old Art in New Manifesto. Presto!

Infographics is all the rage there is. To catch the attention of the increasingly fleeting reader we have moved on from the black and white eyesore. It's easy to pack in data, it can be made very intuitive and all in all make your pitch a lot less boring and effective. Those who already know about Infographics are welcome to start a discussion here. Those who are keen on learning about infographics and understand the concept, we'll talk the lot here with where did the idea of infographic come from, why is it increasingly becoming a succesful communicating tool, world's few best infographics, whether you should infographic your ideas, the do's and don'ts and ofcourse how you can cut a long story A4 size.

by Rukmini Roy
1 year, 9 months ago

Because humans are visual creatures who are also very easily bored. We are suffering from infobesity. Long paragraphs, quotes, boring charts, faff-faff-faff: the writer is getting paid for it, alright, but its not necessary to turn info into a wordy heyday. Too much effort to interpret, too little time and the pain of reading online is giving long articles a serious backseat. In a scenario as such, why wouldn't data visualization or info-graphics make it big time?Our ability to interpret visual information is far greater than that of text or written words. By giving your information the necessary visualization you are making complex information easier to understand. The wittier and crisp your infographic, the better the communication!

So how about we begin with an Infographic on Infographic:

Let's come to a common day mendicant's equally common problem. Most of us in a coffee shop are like magpies in front of a glass window. The menu is always fantastic but confusion rules the roost. How many of us really know the difference between a cappuccino and a latte? I for sure, don't. I blindly order cappuccino because I don't remember the difference between a latte and the former. That is until I chanced upon this: 

So basically cappuccino is stronger- see the equal quantities of milk, espresso and milk foam as opposed to a lot of milk in latte! Okay, now I order for "hot latte". No wonder my coffee was always too strong. Half knowledge is a dangerous thing. 

On another note, the image below would have saved me all the above words!

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Google Maps, GIS, animated maps, visual data- infographic surrounds us everywhere. Living in a world steeped with graphical information, its common for us to think that info-graphics is a new development. While we may think so, fact is they actually are rooted deep in the 19th century.
                                Emma Williard's "Picture of Nations"- 1835

"Two major developments led to a breakthrough in infographics: advances in lithography and chromolithography, which made it possible to experiment with different types of visual representations, and the availability of vast amounts of data, including from the American Census as well as natural scientists, who faced heaps of information about the natural world, such as daily readings of wind, rainfall, and temperature spanning decades.But such data was really only useful to the extent that it could be rendered in visual form. And this is why innovation in cartography and graphic visualization mattered so greatly."- says Susan Schulten, author and educator

Further, early information mainly contained examples that were by no means intuitive or clear. Some of them were as a matter of fact quite 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." They are the forefathers of the Infographics we talk about today  as they "skim the surface of a much larger reorientation toward visual and graphic knowledge that has become all but assumed today."

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If you are into infographics and data visualization, you've possibly heard about Charles Joseph Minard. Still hailed for by Edward Tufte for his stunning visual depiction of Napoleon’s campaign to Russia in 1812, its found that prior to his famous "carte Figurative Et Approximative Des Quantites De Coton Brut", he used similar techniques to represent the dramatic shift of the cotton trade from the American South to India and Egypt during the Civil War.

Charles joseph Minard’s “Carte Figurative Et Approximative Des Quantites De Coton Brut” (1866) [Library Of Congress]

With the United States’ centennial in 1876, a lot were inspired to look back on the nation’s first century. A Midwestern educator constructed this elaborate history of political parties in 1880.

Walter Houghton’s “Conspectus Of The History Of Political Parties And The Federal Government” (1880)

The work of the chromolithographer Julius Bien is nowhere more appreciated than in his execution of the geology of the United States. Not the first geological map, it persists to this day in glorious color, mapping the unseen strata below our feet.

Charles Hitchcock And William Blake, “Geological Map Of The United States” (1872)

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If your Infographic is misleading, stick to text. Just because you are communicating via Infographics and data visualization doesn't mean it will work. While Infographic is the hot cake of modern communication, on the flip side bad data visualization can be misleading, confusing and an idea gone completely wrong. 

Here's a bit on whether or not to make an infographic!

If you fit the bill, hang on! If you don't write it down. 

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If you have decided that your organization is going to use an infographic, figure out your goal. If you are a profit organization, it may be marketing; if you are into education- it might be a social issue you want to address, a campaign, a report for stakeholders on key performance metrics or yes, even an invitation card for wedding. Infographic designer Beth Kanter Pinterest page is full of such brilliant infographic ideas. This one for example is specially catchy:

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Attention! Very funny stuff coming up. If you dont know who Kurt Vonnegut is (and he is not by any means related to Curt Cobain) is a 20th century American writer who is known for his satire, gallows humor and science fiction. A humanist at heart and honorary president of the American Humanist Association, Vonnegut is a novelist and has given many a great speeches in his life. 

One of his recent speeches give us romantic story reader a classic umbilical whiplash: From the very moment we are born to the time we pass our stories to our grandchildren, we just listen to 3 stories, all in all. The method of storytelling maybe grand or gussy but the underlying plot simply do not cease to be the same. 

Okay, here's a classic comparison for you. "For instance, one wouldn’t normally draw comparisons between Jane Eyre and Avatar, but the two actually share the same trope. You know the one: “boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back.” Most literary folk agree that there are common plots on which all literature is built, though they quibble over the exact number. In this video relic, the late Kurt Vonnegut boils them down to three, which he charts on just two axes. What you get is an old-school infographic of the shapes stories take." - Belinda Lanks

Enjoy your lifelong supply of stories in an infographic! This is ultra funny and the sarcasm lover lot would dig this.

Short lecture by Kurt Vonnegut on the 'simple shapes of stories.'
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Whether you decide to DYI or hire a graphic designer, its advisable that you use best practices in designing your infographic. Start with a story board, have a goal of communication and a probable theme in mind. It's not very different than writing a piece. You need to be clear on where you are heading with Infographics unlike modern art.  If you lack graphic design skills, you should sketch out your insights and main ideas. To top, keep your clients business segment, color codes of the client's business or brief handy to have that perfect pitch.  Here’s one of the best guides on the topic, and 100 tools for you to try on. You'd find a lot of them free as well!

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1. Set your goal: Who are you appealing to? Are they youth? is it for a non-profit? Is it a social cause that you are addressing? Who is your target audience? Ask yourself before you start on your graphic

2. Tell a story: "To communicate the meaning of data, infographics must tell a compelling story. Before producing the art for an infographic, designers should work with other content creators to determine which patterns and trends should be represented."

3. Facilitate sharing

To cut a long story, well short, here's what

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1. Why Infographics
2. Info-graphic is not a recent development
3. 3 Most Influential Infographics of the 19th century
4. Infographic- Should you or should you stick to TEXT
5. Before making an infographic, set your goal
6. Kurt Vonnegut's info-graphics on the shape of stories!
7. The Do's and Don'ts of Infographics
8. The 3 golden rules of infographic
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