Infographics (think information + graphics) are graphic visual representations of information, data, or knowledge intended to present information quickly and clearly.
- texts that rely primarily on visual language rather than alphabetical language to convey a message
- a visual representation of information, typically quantitative data but at times qualitative data, that
- tells a single story or argument in a visually appealing and interesting way
- clarifies and highlights logical relationships, trends, patterns in data, comparisons of data, and knowledge concepts
- a medium for visual communication that is informed by principles of Graphic Design, including typography, color theory, Gestalt and/or CRAAP design theory.
If you were given the choice between reading 1000 words or a picture, an infographic, which would you choose?
If you’re like most other people, you’d want the picture, the infographic, rather than the straight text–or a combination of the two. Usability studies of how people interact with texts have found people are much more likely to read a message, understand it, or forward it to others if it contains color, pictures, graphics, photographs–and other graphic design elements.
Infographics go well beyond using elements of graphic design (e.g., a table, image, graph) to exemplify an important concept: Infographics replace traditional alphabetical texts. Infographics tell a story or make an argument about complex data and concepts.
Suddenly, infographics seem to be everywhere, from viral conspiracy infographics circulating on social media,to infographics by governmental and non-governmental agencies (NGOS) that seek to present technical or scientific information to readers that don’t have scientific or technical backgrounds. Infographics are produced by
- business and industry to generate business or explain products
- activist and advocacy groups that provide background information, explain positions or promote action.
What is the difference between a data visualization and an infographic?
A data visualization presents numeric or statistical data in a visual format. You’re probably so familiar with the most common types of data visualizations — charts, tables, and graphs — that you may not even think of them as a special type of visual communication.
|Examples of Datas Visualizations|
|Information Is Beautiful’s Covid 19 Datapack page presents a series of data visualizations that make it easier for readers to make sense of facts and figures.|
|Lenger and Eppler’s Periodic Table of Data Visualization Methods includes examples of a far broader range of strategies for visualizing data.|
While a data visualization presents a particular set of data visualization to make the data more digestible, it does not — on its own — tell a story.
Infographics may include one or more data visualizations, but the aim of the infographic is not merely to represent data but to tell some kind of a story: to provide an overview of a topic, to explain something, or to advance an argument, for example. You can see the differences between data visualizations and infographics by comparing the Information Is Beautiful data visualizations to these Covid 19 infographics:
- Vanderbilt Health provides an overview of COVID 19,
- the Visual Capitalist explains the effects of the COVID 19 stock market crash on BEACH stocks, and
- the Tacoma-Pierce County Public Health Department explains why people should stay home and attempts to persuade them to do so.
Infographics are a Medium of Visual Language
Infographics are a robust medium of visual communication.
When are Infographics Useful?
Infographics are a strategic medium of communication when writers
- can simplify complex concepts and processes by using visual language
- want to clarify and highlight logical relationships, trends, patterns in data, knowledge concepts.
- hope to simplify complex concepts, show cause/effect relationships, or illustrate timelines
- aim to to engage readers’ visual senses and perhaps even enable users to interact dynamically with datasets.
Infographics are an emerging trend in the data glut environment in which we live and work. Becoming more aware of how and why such visuals work will help you become more critical evaluators of the information you include in reports and business/technical documents.
As Hal Varian, Google’s Chief Economist, points out below, visual rhetoric is a vital workforce competency:
The ability to take data—to be able to understand it, to process it, to extract value from it, to visualize it, to communicate it—that’s going to be a hugely important skill in the next decades, … So the complimentary scarce factor is the ability to understand that data and extract value from it.Hal Varian, The McKinsey Quarterly, January 2009
Writers have a great many choices when it comes to using free tools for creating infographics:
- Some infographic tools limit free use to a limited period of time–typically 30 days
- Most infographic tools, especially the ones you pay for after a trial period, have robust templates. For instance, Venngage has over 1000 templates.
- Templates are collages of features that are designed to
- Some tools are free and do not require users to submit credit card information.
The Infographics Archive lists 24 Free Infographic Tools.
Elements of Visual Design
Principles of Design
Contrast, repetition, alignment, proximity–these are the basic cornerstones of design
When it comes to choosing visual language to convey a message, writers of infographics have multiple options, including
- the use of copy (small snippets of alphabetical language)
- the use of color
- the use of shapes, arrows, pictures, tables, and graphs
- the use of white space–i.e., the parts of the page that are unmarked, including margins, columns or space between graphical elements
- the orientation of graphic elements in relation to one another
Writers have many options for integrating visual language.
Lenger and Eppler’s Periodic Table provides an inspiring array of graphs and tables that writers can use to develop infographics. Below is a screenshot of their periodic table, but to see it actually work you need to visit their site. Then you can mouse-over each block to see illustrations of different data visualizations.
Regarding copy, it is common for infographics to have a few sentences introducing the story. Copy (snippets of text) is frequently used as well to segue from one visualization to another.
- After the introductory sentences, copy should be very concise.
- When bullets are used, writers should be careful to ensure the bullets are grammatically parallel.
As you draft your infographic, give some thought to principles of design, especially contrast, repetition, alignment, proximity.
The video below illustrates the role of color, size, orientation in designing infographics.
Additionally, the Goodwill Community Foundation provides a number of excellent tutorials on data visualization:
Organizational Strategies for Infographics
People write infographics for a range of purposes, from marketing and persuasion, to informing users about trends, to telling stories about change over time. For example, consider how The World Health Organization’s array of infographics addresses different purposes:
- Communicating transmission
- Communicating: Protect Vulnerable & High Risk Groups
- Low Risk Isn’t No Risk
- Communicating mental health
- Communicating severity
- Myth busters
- For the Pacific
Just as with traditional alphabetical texts, the writer’s rhetorical situation determines what information should be presented and how it should be organized.
The video below from Vennagage, a design-consulting company, and accompanying article, What Are the 9 Types of Infographics?, identifies nine types of infographics:
- Statistical infographics
- Informational infographics
- Timeline infographics
- Process infographics
- Geographic infographics
- Comparison infographics
- Hierarchical infographics
- List infographics
- Resume infographics.
Strictly speaking, from our rhetorical stance as rhetoricians and practitioners in the field of Writing Studies, these types are distinguished from one another by how the writers organize data. In other words, we these are nine organizational strategies for composing infographics.
Types of Infographics
This infographic provides examples of 10 different types of infographics: Visual Article, Map, List-Based, Comparison, Statistical, Flowchart, Visual Resume, Timeline, Process, Interactive.