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The latest edition of GOOD magazine, which has long had a thing for infographics anyway, is the Data Issue. While I feel GOOD shoulders the blame for popularizing infographics, they at least still do it well. The explosion of infographic use (and abuse) in the last few years could simply be an effect of data overload combined with too many people having Illustrator licenses. But it’s seriously getting out of hand.
What’s the big deal? Everybody’s doing it, right? If you put [Infographic] in a blog post title, people are going to click on it, because they straight up can’t get enough of that crap. Flowcharts for determining what recipe you should make for dinner tonight! Venn diagrams for nerdy jokes! Pie charts for statistics that don’t actually make any sense! I have just one question—are you trying to make Edward Tufte cry?
Information design is a noble field. But there are some ominous trends in online infographics that make me feel the whole genre is jumping the shark. Here are some reasons why you should think twice before making another infographic:
- Most infographics aren’t accessible for the visually impaired.
The point is to convey information succinctly, right? That info is lost on people who use screen readers if all the text is within an image or if your infographic is Flash-based. If your infographic is readable by low-vision assistance software, does the sequence of the content makes sense to someone who can’t see the graphic?
- Most infographics aren’t search-engine optimized.
Likewise, search engines won’t know the content of your flashy chart if it’s all just an image. Malcolm Coles suggests breaking down infographics into HTML and using text or ALT tags for both SEO and accessibility.
- Those super-long infographics are practically useless on a mobile device.
I don’t know who started that trend of making infographics approximately 400px wide by 45000px high, but it isn’t a great user experience on an iPhone, and it must stop.
- Of all online infographics, 89% contain statistics of dubious veracity.
This is a joke. But with the speed that infographics are appearing online—often about an unquantifiable subject matter and/or produced by an entity trying to make a point—the era of reliable, vetted infographics seems to be over. People might not care if the information in a graphic is correct, but you should.
- Many infographics are just plain bad.
I don’t want to name names. But sometimes I just don’t know what people were thinking—some situations just don’t call for infographics. (However infographics that are intentionally meaningless, like Chad Hagen’s, can be quite awesome.)
If you must do it, do it well
Despite all my ranting, it’s certainly possible to make infographics that are useful, beautiful and accessible, especially with HTML5. HOW’s April 2009 issue had seven tips for making responsible infographics:
- Collect good data, then get to know it. Synthesize the information—why does it matter? What are you trying to say?
- Find the appropriate form. Let the data tell the story.
- Consider every detail. Avoid what Tufte calls chartjunk by removing superfluous visual elements.
- Make the text earn its keep. If your infographic is being swallowed up by text, does it really need to be an infographic?
- Use color wisely. Color adds an extra layer of meaning, which means it isn’t always necessary.
- Get interactive. Would the data be more meaningful if the user could actually play with it?
- Test and test again. Above all, the infographic must be understood by the audience.
Here are some examples of web infographics that are setting the bar for everybody else:
The interactive timeline of the evolution of the web we mentioned earlier this week is another great example of what you can do with HTML5 and some solid data.
Please share other great infographics in the comments—there must be more out there. And if you haven’t already, get Tufte’s The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. Please.