Why Your Infographic Is Evil (And Three Ways To Fix It)


Blogger's confession: I can spend a couple of hours interviewing sources and crafting a post several hundred words long and get a couple of thousand hits.

Or I can write a pithy introduction, repurpose an infographic that has already appeared on several other sites and most likely was created by a public relations firm or a company looking to push a product and service and end up doubling or tripling those traffic numbers.

I've done both. But I'm not necessarily proud of succumbing to the infographic trend. I'm not bashing infographics. Some of my best friends are graphic artists who design infographics that are eye catching, smart and tell stories better than my words ever could. But this latest visual Internet fad of telling almost every story with a dense infographic is something that I'm hoping will soon be played out.

"We are becoming a society of hyperactive, yammering idiots." - Gail Granger
And, barring that, I hope it will at least be done better.

"We are becoming numb to infographics. Not long ago, I saw infographics in my newsfeed as an informational 'treat' because I knew the author had used the medium only because it most effectively displayed the information," said Jasmine Bina of JB Communications in New York and Los Angeles. "But now that people have realized the traffic-generating powers of these things, every dumb report with an ounce of usable info is puffed into these massive images."

Gail Granger, who runs a communications firm in Winnipeg, was more blunt in her assessment of the infographic craze.

"We used to have an attention span of about 30-seconds - the length of a commercial. Now it's down to about five," she said. "We are becoming a society of hyperactive, yammering idiots."

Making Informed Infographic Decisions

Stephanie Yonus of Big Red Pin in Edison, N.J. "hates" infographics but still gets her team to work on creating them.

"I can understand why readers like them so much, and in my position I have to follow the trends," she said. "Even when I can't stand them."

So until the trend dies, we've compiled a list of do's, don'ts and best practices for creating and using infographics, whether you're a blogger looking for content or a public relations firm looking to get your client's message out.

Accuracy Counts

Like many readers who have gotten used to seeing lots of infographics on the Web, Yonus said the first thing she does when she sees one now is scan to the bottom and check the source. By habit, bloggers and journalists should do this, and if they can't verify the information, they should hold off publication until they can.

But readers need to be cautious too, because not every person who publishes an infographic will do that, and many can be loaded with outdated information or information taken out of context.

"The biggest con is the ability to make an accurate representation of the data. I've seen visualizations that are pretty but not accurate which is never a good thing," said Ali Asage, CEO of Boost Labs, a company that specializes in data visualization. "The other con is not being clear with visualization which can lead to too many interpretations of the data."

A Picture May Be Worth 1,000 words, But Sometimes That's Too Many

Bina says people are too often using infographics to turn nothing into something. Padding content may hook readers in initially, but it won't keep them on your page once they realize there's no depth there.

"Sometimes things are better left said, as in words," Bina said. "If you're a writer, don't succumb to the allure of an infographic when you know deep down inside that one or two sentences will convey the message just as well, if not better."

Bite Size Portions

Increasingly, firms take a topic, find loads of data supporting their point of view on that topic, and then cram it all into a single inforgraphic that stretches like a skyscraper across a blog post or Web page.

"The best infographics condense their data points into a digestible size, or into separate 'chunks' of graphical data," said Todd Defren, principal of SHIFT Communications. "It would be nice to see infographics served up in separate chunks of 3-5 graphics, so journalists and bloggers can decide what aspects of the data best suit their readership."