Infographics: The Good, the Bad, and the Fluffy – Part 2

Lisa Park   November 16, 2011

Navigating the landscape of infographics. (image via Supersteil)

In my September write-up on “Infographics: The Good, the Bad, and the Fluffy,” I went over the 5 things I look for to weed out a good infographic from the bad and the fluffy when running a content audit. They include:

  1. Compelling data that tell a story.
  2. An infographic that’s relevant to the brand.
  3. Simple, clean design.
  4. Rich graphics.
  5. Succinct and engaging copy.

After developing this list, I was naturally interested in finding out what the folks I rub elbows with on a daily basis think about these visual displays of information. Following is a roundup of infographics chosen and critiqued by a few of my SF colleagues along with my comments based on the criteria above.

 

Rebecca Hill, Associate Director, Social Media

Infographic: This is not my beautiful house

I like that:

  • it takes a lot of potentially complex data and creates a simple, understandable visual.
  • it’s provocative; I like that the side-by-side juxtaposition creates conversation.
  • the information itself is compelling and a reflection of our own culture.
  • it somehow creates something personal (e.g. like Tufte’s anecdote about the people and maps—you seek out the information most relevant to you).

LP: Though this infographic is mostly made of (ho hum) pie charts, I’d say they were the right choice in getting this meaningful story across in a clean and simple design that’s spot-on with Good’s mission. The headline and supporting copy are engaging and vital ingredients in this infographic. Thumbs up.

 

Gretchen Atwood, Senior UX Designer, @gretchenatwood

Infographic: The buzz vs the bulge

What I like:

  • It smartly expresses a trade-off I imagine many people think about: How many calories are my fancy coffee drinks? How can I maximize buzz while minimizing calories?
  • While being a clean design it includes rich comparisons to popular food items and what kind of activity would I have to do for 30 minutes to burn off that beverage.
  • The range of coffee drinks represented and the clever way of creating a different shape for each one. Since a big value of the chart is comparing one drink option to others, and finding lower-calorie options, having many drinks represented is important for the chart to have more meaning.

What I don’t like:

  • He uses an X and Y axis structure, but the Y axis is not set to zero but a midpoint along the X axis. I understand graphically why he did this, but he could have had the Y axis left justified and still put the calorie “pole” down the middle.

LP: I agree with Gretchen that the designer could have laid this infographic out more simply. Bonus points for the visually appealing graphics he’s employed, but one or two lines of copy to lay the framework for what’s going on—as Gretchen does so well above—would have also helped enormously.

 

Tosca Fasso, Content Strategy Lead, @toscafasso

Infographic: Approaches to web content strategy

I like this infographic. Here’s why:

  • Easy to grasp the large categories (technical, editorial, web strategy and planning) at a glance so that even if you spend no further time, you can take away that there are three primary areas of expertise.
  • Offers more specifics with a closer look.
  • Areas of overlap are easy to discern.

LP: I’ll admit that I’m biased about this infographic, but heck, what’s not to love about Richard Ingram’s simple and effective visual data buffet, with succinct supporting copy, chronicling all of what content strategists can do in the digital space.

 

Christine Bauer, UX Lead

Infographic: Inception, the architecture

My favorite infographics are those that:

  • summarize
  • provide perspective and comprehension
  • reveal a pattern or trend that wouldn’t have otherwise been noticeable

Most have seen the movie Inception. I’ll freely admit that after first watching it, I grabbed a pen and paper and tried to sketch out my own interpretation of the nested story. This infographic tackles the more complex summary. It plots the characters’ journeys across the nested dreams while keeping track of both the owner of the dream and the differences in time perception. Learn more about designer Rick Slusher’s thought process for this infographic.

LP: This infographic’s eye-catching iconography and imagery tell a very cool story. My only beef with it is that its minimalist design left me with a few questions—yes, I saw the movie—until I read Christine’s summary above. Embedding a brief explanation directly within this infographic would have made the story infinitely more accessible, and the infographic that much better.

 

I think we’re all in agreement that when an infographic tells a story simply and succinctly with imagery and copy that engage its target audience, it will succeed. Curious to know what you’ve seen lately that fits the bill—or doesn’t. Feel free to share here.

Infographics: The Good, the Bad, and the Fluffy

Lisa Park   September 14, 2011

Dissecting the modern day infographic.  (Image via Ivan Cash)

I’m sure you’ve noticed it: the flood of infographics—visual displays of information—coming through on the X number of feeds you’re signed up for. Maybe you’ve heard the buzz around start-up Visual.ly, a community of designers pumping out infographics for the likes of Ebay, CNNMoney and The Huffington Post, or checked out Fast Company’s Infographic of the Day, which debuted back in October ’09, along with a bunch of blogs spotlighting infographics far and wide.

If you’re a content strategist like me, chances are you’ve run a few through an audit as part of a client’s content inventory. If not, I’m guessing you will sooner than later as it’s clear we’re in the middle of a veritable lovefest for the almighty infographic: Folks tout its viral potential and brand-building power along with its ability to deliver information in a visually engaging one-two punch.

Admittedly, I’ve liked and shared a number of these visual data biscuits—or buffets, in some cases—when I’ve given them a cursory once-over. But I’ve passed over 100 times as many. That said, when it comes to client work, the bar goes up, way up. Infographics—just like any other content asset—need to clear several key hurdles in order to get good marks on the content strategy-cum-user experience report card.

Here are five things I look out for to distinguish a good infographic from the bad and the fluffy.

  1. Compelling data that tell a story. Does your client have a message, story, news or information that will resonate with its users? Will it help them understand a complex topic or current trend that they’ll find relevant? If so, then you’ve got a meaningful, engaging narrative that users will not only remember but will also want to share—whether by word of mouth and/or the usual online social methods (which should of course be available to them). If not, then you’ve basically got a whole lot of nothing (read: fluff). Move on.
  2. An infographic that’s relevant to the brand. No matter how cool an infographic is, if it’s not on brand, then what’s the point? Let’s say a telecom company created a fun infographic on coffee usage (Why? Because it’s trendy.) Users may like and share the infographic, but they won’t associate it in any way with the telecom company. And they’ll forget about it like yesterday’s news (see #1). The result: money, resources and a brand-building opportunity thrown down the drain—yet another fluffy infographic bites the dust. In an age of information overload, businesses need to make sure the content they create always supports and enhances their brand.
  3. Simple, clean design. Common sense tells you that clarity in the information design is key. Has the information been edited down to its most essential components? Is the infographic easy to skim? Does the layout make sense? Are the content groupings organized so as to lead the user through the infographic in a logical progression? If so, then you’ve got an infographic that users will be able to scan quickly, allowing them to access the narrative with ease.
  4. Rich graphics. A couple of pie charts and bar graphs do not a good infographic make. The one that will stand out to users and that they’ll therefore remember and tell a friend is the infograph that’s rich with visually appealing, unique iconography and imagery that effectively presents—and doesn’t get in the way of—the message.
  5. Succinct and engaging copy. No matter how compelling the data or fabulous the design or imagery, if the copy’s dull, confusing or verbose, the infographic’s dead in the water. What’s worse, it’ll reflect poorly on the brand. In some cases, you may be able to save an infographic by wordsmithing—and reorganizing—the copy. In any case, make every word count, then edit the heck out of it. And be sure the infographic contains a list or link to current data sources.

My Picks: The Good, the Bad and the Fluffy

I could easily go on (and on) about my picks for good, bad and fluffy, but I’ll limit myself to pithy explanations. And to keep the playing field level, I stuck to infographics sans animation or video.

The Good:

The Rise of the Social Food Truck – Part of Mashable’s Social-Savvy Food Truck Series, supported by the Ben & Jerry’s Scoop Truck, this infographic’s simple, spare design supports both brands involved, and the clear, concise copy delivers.

Dirty Dogs – The Local East Village, a community blog put out by NYU and The New York Times, reports on the crazy things hot dogs come stuffed with, including this straightforward, eye-catching design in its “Look out when you cook out!” write-up. (Insects, slugs and worms? You learn something new every day.)

The 10 Commandments of Steve Jobs – I give this Cult of Mac infographic an honorable mention because in context to whom and what it was made for—Newsweek and its cover story on “American Genius Steve Jobs”—it absolutely works.

The Bad and/or Fluffy:

Does Solar Really Work in My State? – Though the topic is relevant to One Block off the Grid, which gives solar group discounts, the information is poorly organized, and the sometimes superfluous and unclear copy gets a C+ at best. Plus, visually it’s a snoozefest.

Sitting Is Killing You – Why would this scare tactic of an infographic get anyone to engage with MedicalBillingandCoding.org? Not to mention the whole thing is a visual and content … ahem … nightmare.

Bachelor Pad Drama Map – I don’t have to go into how forgettably fluffy and just plain bad this garish, eyesore of an infographic is, do I?

What about you? What are some of your favorite infographics, and why do they get the nod over others? Do tell.

Content Is Beautiful

Michael Barnwell   August 11, 2010

Colorful content mapping visuals can tell a better story. (Image via mkandlez)

Let’s face it, content strategy traffics in spreadsheets. As we and our clients know, the rubber hits the road where the row meets the column. In our line of work, it just seems that the data points live for the familiar quadrants of the grid. But sometimes the traffic comes to a halt and a grid just won’t do. The music swells, the sentiment soars, and the data longs for a life outside the matrix. What does it want? — visualization.

As anyone knows, stories can be told quickly with pictures, and if you don’t need to provide exhaustive inventories for record keeping and analysis, it makes sense to consider a visual treatment of the information you need to present. It comes down to a question of what’s the best way to convey insights and make persuasive arguments, especially to an audience that has no patience for line reading. If a spreadsheet does the job, fine, but if you need to rivet attention to the telling points of your research a visual treatment may launch your audience right into the heart of the matter.

When I mention data visualization, I’m mostly talking about maps, something sorely lacking from the usual set of content strategy documents. Maps are ideal for capturing broad landscapes of information—the ecosystem—showing the breadth, hierarchies, and relationships of content.  And when you are fortunate enough to have extensive site metrics to add to the picture that show such things as user paths, volume, and frequency, you will be able to create a vivid and powerful illustration of the state of things.

A mapping of data is also ideal for showing an evolution of a site—real or projected, which is important for the strategy side of the work. A simple comparison, a before and after, will lend extra force to either a content strategy you are attempting to enact or a retrospective of how your content strategy has led to transformative results.

When is it best to use data visualization?
Anytime you think a picture would tell a more powerful story, but especially during the discovery phase when you are trying to create a graspable perspective of the current state of content. Additionally, mapping is useful if you want to move on to the next iteration of a site and to show what’s been accomplished already.

What content insights are best suited for data visualization?
•    Structural relationships: grouping similar types of content
•    Volume: what areas are the deepest in terms of pages
•    Hierarchies: what content is more important from a business perspective or from a user perspective
•    User Paths: what are the paths users are taking to and from content
•    Values: what content holds the most user interest
•    Migration paths: where is content coming from, where is it going

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