Can we please talk about Infographics?

I’m getting kind of tired of infographics. There. I’ve said it. It may be an unpopular opinion, but it’s mine.

Infographics are a pretty big trend these days. Google “why infographics” and you get a list of sites all expounding on the benefits of infographics, largely graphic design and advertising firms, and articles such as this one in Forbes magazine talking about how to make your infographic “go viral”.

I know I’m supposed to like infographics. I should, really… I’m definitely a visual learner (charts and tables feature regularly in memos and plans that I’m involved in writing…so I know I “see” information in a spatial way). I’m a photographer and I even worked in advertising for a year. So why don’t they work for me?

There are certainly positives about infographics:

  • They make information visible. Many of us are visual learners and data visualized can be understood differently. Infographics allow us to do this.
  • We now have tools available on the web that will let anyone create infographics. Once the purview of graphic artists and magazines, infographics have become a communications tool for all of us.
  • Infographics make us think as we look at the data, draw some conclusions, and maybe even pose some questions.
  • So, why don’t infographics “click” for me?

    For starters, sometimes the visuals chosen and the arrangement of the infographic can actually hinder the reader. They can be cluttered, the font chosen can be too small or too difficult to read, and sometimes they just contain too many data points…you feel like you’re scrolling forever to find the bottom. Perhaps this is all a result of not having experts (graphic artists) creating all the infographics we see. Just because we’ve all seen good infographics doesn’t mean we all have the skills to create them. In the end, I sometimes find myself just wishing for a plain old bar, line, or pie graph.

    Further, there are times when the graphic elements chosen don’t really add anything to the meaning. They are on theme but don’t add another layer. In some ways, they remind of the theme units that were around in my early teaching days. Just because the math sheet had apples on it, students didn’t gain any deeper understanding about apples. They just did addition problems.

    Reading Jeff Dunn writing about infographics on edudemic helped me start to get a handle on what it is that irks me. He wrote:

    We live in a world of quick consumption, bite-size morsels of information, and visualizations of just about everything. All of this has become boiled down into the uber-popular infographic.

    I think this gets at the heart of the matter for me. It has to do with those “bite-sized morsels”.

    Data is never objective; what we choose to share and what we choose to leave out says a lot about our beliefs. We also make choices with the data we do share: which scale do we choose? what representation (pie, bar, picto)? We make these choices coloured by what we think the data says or what we want others to see in the data. In the classroom, having students identify the point of view of the infographics’ authors would be a powerful discussion.

    So, if we accept that whenever we present data, we filter it through our point of view, then why not be upfront about it? Infographics appear to let you draw your own conclusions, but do they really? Or do the authors still try to lead you to an idea? It’s implicit but it’s still there. So if there’s going to be a point of view, then I would rather read that analysis. And once I have, the questions I’ll be asking will be so much better informed and more thoughtful.

    In the end, I’ve realized that infographics leave me hungry for more. Those “bite-sized morsels” don’t satisfy my appetite. What I’d like is for authors to show me the data they want me to examine in a simple format and then tell me what they think about it. And finally, take the time to tell me what the next steps could be. It’s that analysis and prescription that will get me thinking deeply and asking my own questions.

    One thought on “Can we please talk about Infographics?

    1. Thanks for writing this reflection on infographics!

      I’m a bit like you with infographics in blog posts but like the idea of using some for displays in class rooms. I did share a link to your post via my personal twitter account and Edublogs twitter account and there was some interesting feedback. I hadn’t considered how educators might use them with students.

      One educator explained how their 4th Grade students are loving them as an option for a book report. They use easl.ly to create them.

      Another shared a link to a resume creator that allows you to use visuals. You can check out an example here – http://re.vu/breeberman

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