Infographics are dead - Long live information graphics!

Thursday October 10, 2013

The word "infographic" has come to connote bad design in combination with comically low or even negative data density.*

A recent blog post contrasts "infographics" with "data visualizations".** A recent xkcd expresses a similar critical sentiment, directed particularly at "tall infographics" which require scrolling through their colorful information deserts. The WTF Visualizations tumblr collects examples of bad information design, most from what would be called infographics.

The "information graphic" of Bret Victor's 2006 Magic Ink paper is the elegant product of Tufte's "information design" and the best way to conceptualize effective "information software". An information graphic is made "to display a complex set of data in a way that [the viewer] can understand it and reason about it." "Show the data." "It is for learning."

While the pejorative sense of "infographic" is dominant now, let's remain committed to the ideal of good communication through information graphics.

* Negative data density is achieved when incorrect or confusing communication leads to a net loss in human understanding.

** There are two good points in the qunb post about visual perception and increasing data-ink ratio. This is standard Tufte/Few fare. Most of the post seems to be about defining infographics as made by particular tools, like Photoshop, and specifically as static images. Upon trying out their demo product, it's clear why. If you don't attend closely to their complete definition of an infographic, you'll think that the qunb "data stories" product is... an animated slide-show of infographics.

This post was originally hosted elsewhere.