Monday, March 12, 2012

infographics...

A graphic from MetaLayer's landing page
...have been all the rage for a while now. I remember when I first heard the term "infographic". It struck me. I like the concept of mashing together data and pictures and this word seemed to capture that idea so well. But the infographic rage that has followed what has quickly become a buzz word (and lost a bit of its appeal for me in the process) has been disappointing. Too often, sexy or eye catching is valued over the actual communication of data. I find this sad. There are some good infographics out there, but the majority are eye candy at best (and misleading through false representation of data at worst).

So I find it interesting that there seems to be a race of sorts to become "the" online place for making/collecting/sharing infographics: Visual.ly launched in 2011 (related blog post), I recently heard about another start up in this space, MetaLayer, that has been in the press lately (article). And I'm sure there are others.

I have a strong (not super positive) perspective here. But I'm curious whether others have found value in these sites. What's your take on infographics and the sites that are setting out to store and share them? Am I too quick to shun them? Leave a comment with your thoughts.

7 comments:

  1. I couldn't agree with you more! I wrote something similar that berated David McCandless back in January.

    http://vizwiz.blogspot.com/2012/01/information-is-beautiful-only-if-you.html

    ReplyDelete
  2. I've got to admit that I share your feelings. The graphics were attractive and eye-catching, so I bookmarked visual.ly at first. But every time I go there, I find bright and colorful graphics that aren't particularly valluable. They always tell a story, but it's usually the story that the author wants to persuade you to agree with; it's not data presented neutrally so you can investigate and learn from it or even data presented in a "look what I discovered" format. So many are slanted that I've gotten to where I don't trust any infographic, so why bother looking at them?

    ReplyDelete
  3. I differentiate between infoposters and infographics. Infoposters are light on content, analaysis, and data - usually just a collection of factual statements. Infographics tell a story, highlight data points, include insightful charts, and provide a comprehensive look at a topic. I've been browsing Visual.ly occasionally - but mostly it's boring link-bait infoposters from cheesy lobbying groups.

    ReplyDelete
  4. In general, I don't like either pie charts or infographics, but I'm not really in the "all bad, all the time" school either. Those of us who do data analysis using visualization like to have all the information available, all the details visible, and all the hierarchies to be self-evident, or at least extract-able.

    What I've discovered, though, is that the viewer and the ultimate purpose are the most under-appreciated elements too often.

    Sometimes, all the audience needs or wants--or all that has to be conveyed to make our point--is a few points, a big call out, or the aha moment. And I must admit that on occasion, pie charts and infographics are well suited to that task.

    It's not the thing: It's how it is used.

    Even I once put 250 pies on a single chart to make a point:
    http://jonboeckenstedt.wordpress.com/2012/01/18/data-visualization-serendipity/

    ReplyDelete
  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  6. This is a great perspective Cole--I think you're on to something. I think of Edward Tufte's response to "what is the best tool to use to present data?" --whatever tool best gets the message across! Stylizing the content in trendy (and beautiful) fonts, layouts and colors won't, as if by magic, present the data better, and when the increased engagement these graphics bring wears off, we're back to where we started.

    ReplyDelete
  7. In retrospect, it still seems quite surprising how infographics suddenly popped up in the social stream and permeated almost every site you could think of. I bet even the new york social media marketing magnates didn't see those coming before.

    ReplyDelete