Recently, I overheard a scientist say that he (and most other scientists) don’t think highly of infographics. While he wasn’t explicit in explaining why he felt this way (and I didn’t take the time to implore further), I’ve heard the complaints before: “inforgraphics dumb down information,” they “mislead audiences,” they’re all about “visual appeal, not accuracy,” and they “place statistics out of context.”
Oh, sure many infographics do those sorts of awful things. But so do many books. And TV shows, news programs, documentaries, magazines, and websites. We can’t blame the medium for the bad information–we can blame the author/designer though. But for all the possibility of communicating bad information, infographics have an amazing ability to simplify, clarify, and make memorable (and meaningful) complex information. And…they can enhance user experience, appeal, and engagement.
As an educator, though, I’ve discovered one really great thing about infographics: if done thoughtfully, they have an incredible ability to increase a person’s creativity. They require intensive research, problem solving, depth of knowledge of the subject, and creative organization of ideas. They require strategy, accuracy, ethical acumen, and a think-outside-the-box approach to visual display.
With practice, the development of good infographics has the ability to make us better thinkers, communicators, and problem solvers.
A colleague of mine recently showed me this fascinating article by Rūta Grašytė, published last week on BoredPanda.com. Two researcher artists, one in the U.S. and one in England each created a new hand-drawn infographic each week for a year. The goal? Find new ways of communicating the life data of each individual. Collect information, explore what it means, and visually represent it. See their process in the video:
What’s fascinating to me is that these infographics are not complicated in concept. They record things like the wildlife a person observes in a week or the amount of time a person checks the clock. But the collection of data, analysis, and visual representation require a kind of thinking few people take the time to do.
Regardless of the subject matter you teach, if you’re educator, there is wisdom in exploring this process with your students. And if you’re not an educator, you might try this for yourself. Take the time to explore a topic, then visually represent it in a way that is accurate, ethical, attractive, and easy to understand (then do a usability test with real people and see if they get it). Be prepared: it’s not as easy as you may think. But you’ll likely find great satisfaction in your creation if you do it well.
Don’t feel like you need to be an artist to do this: you can do this by hand with a pen and paper. See some of what the artists, Giorgia and Stefanie, came up with in their 52-week project: