We Should Be Teaching Infographics


A couple decades ago or so USA Today did something monumental in the world of news: they made information much more visual. In an effort to boost readership (and sales) they did something that, at the time, seemed entirely radical: increase the size of the images to make the news much more picture-heavy. Reduce textual content, in other words, and increase visualization. It seemed ridiculous: reduce the amount of news in order to sell the news.

Clearly, the effects are obvious. 20 years later, and our news is so visualized you probably can’t imagine it any other way. Recently, in juxtaposition with the image, infographics have resurfaced (they’ve been around forever, but haven’t really picked up steam in the media until the last decade or so). As the internet has become the number one source for information, infographics have found a new popular home: on news blogs and digital magazines. They’re also a very popular insert in magazines like Time  and Newsweek.

So what are they? If you don’t already know, infographics are the technical term for visualized data. They are often fun, metaphorical, and interactive ways of making complex data make sense. If you haven’t heard of them, you might just check out CoolInfographics.com. (Or, just Google “Infographics” and you’ll see dozens of great websites).

The crazy thing is, as pervasive as they are, I wonder: why aren’t we teaching infographics in school? Especially for students graduating in communication, journalism, professional communication, and business, it seems like an obvious and important communication tool. Infographics are really good for marketing ideas and sharing data. They are wonderful for presentations. But there’s more to infographics than just making data look cool. People actually comprehend and remember data in infographics far better than through text or audio. But don’t take it from me. Check out the stats on this very cool infographic about infographics on neomam.com.

Several writers and researchers have addressed the effectiveness of infographics. In fact, I just read a pretty good book about them (see my review) that explains the “power” of their “visual storytelling.”

After seeing the (downright near) explosion in infographics in the media, I’m convinced we should be teaching how to do them in schools. That being said, a quick word of caution: they’re kind of tricky to make. So, as visual communicators, let’s start practicing! And then, let’s start getting spreading the word to our instructors!