Monday, November 05, 2012
My fascination with infographics started 18 months ago, when I met Jennifer Windsor, an art director from Edmonton, at the Alberta Magazines Conference. She mentioned that she wanted to do some post-graduate studies on infographics. Since then, I have been keeping a watchful eye on the usage of infographics as a creative form of expression in the digital world.

What I have learned is that its foundation is “a picture is worth a 1,000 words". Infographics is not a new concept, but today in the world of info-overload it is most likely "a picture is worth 5,000 words" with infographics. The web was thought as a bite size medium where a 300 word posting was the norm. I challenge some of that thinking of the early pioneers. Now, we need to consume a mountain of data in a very short period of time. Today, infographics are the new “digital fast-food” as they appear as a static page or an animated file on the web.

Florence Nightingale in 1887 created one of the first Infographics to demonstrate mortality rates  - “Diagram of the Causes of Mortality in the Army in the East”. Sent to Queen Victoria as a plea for more medical and sanitation supplies, the graphic told a story of preventable deaths during the Crimean War by literally drawing a comparison between the number of deaths due to infection and those due to injuries. It highlighted the effect of sanitation supply deliveries and a reduction of mortality after each delivery.

Florence Nightingale's infographic showing mortality rates
Florence Nightingale's infographic showing mortality rates

I chatted with some senior executives in the magazine industry about the use of infographics in their publications. This is what Lynn Chambers, VP, Group Publisher at TC Media had to say:

"Infographics are an appealing way to present complex information. The creativity of the graphic helps readers digest facts in an engaging, more visual, attention-getting way."

Her team created an infographic about hot dogs for Fresh Juice magazine. According to Crys Stewart, the magazine's content director, they wanted a shopping guide on hot dogs to be as fun as the food itself. You can read this infographic from top to bottom or you can dive into the information at any point for help in choosing products, cooking methods and serving suggestions. This style of infographic allowed us to convey a lot of information with an over-arching message that hot-dogs are surprisingly varied and versatile.

Hot Dog infographic from Juice magazine
Hot Dog infographic from Juice magazine

I then asked Arjun Basu, Content Director at Spafax, who publishes enRoute magazine about infographics in their magazine. He says:

“Infographics are descended from a long line of visually-based attempts to convey complex information. Given the sheer amount of content that the average person must navigate through on a daily basis, a well-done infographic is an attempt to cut through that clutter and deliver content successfully, quickly and efficiently."

Arjun provides an example of an infographic that appeared in enRoute’s September 2012 issue. He said many complex ideas go into this; technology, history, distance, and geography are neatly summed up in a kind of route map.

 
Infographic from enRoute magazine

When is a good time to use an infographic? I asked Jennifer Windsor to provide some advice. She says, ideally, spotting infographic potential should take place as the story is developing rather than after it's written. Look for cues in the story to answer the following questions:

-Am I getting too bogged down with explanations?
-Am I trying to identify a pattern (or deviation from a pattern), a connection, or a comparison?
-Are the answers to the what, where, when or how’s in this story visual in nature?
-Are there a lot of dates or events happening over time?
-Are there a number of identifiable locations?
-Are there a lot of amounts or measurements?
-Are there holes in the story because the missing piece didn’t lend itself well to text or photos?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, it might be worth considering a graph, diagram, map, table or a chart (or a hybrid of these) to better tell your story. Arjun states that the best design is the result of a perfect marriage between the editor and the designer. Sometimes, that’s the same person. An infographic is about getting at the essence of the information you want to convey and then illustrating that essence. It’s an aesthetic platform married to hard data.

From an ad perspective my experience are that infographics get a better response, as infographics are like eye candy for the reader through the use of great design. While infographics have started on the editorial side, I see a big role for them on the ad side too in the future. But in any scenario, it is a great fast-food meal of content in digital or print.
About Me
Martin Seto

 
Martin Seto is the principal of Reflex Media, a media consultancy practice offering media owners online publishing, ad sales and acquisition/selling brokerage services. His media services also include working with ad agencies as a media buyer/planner for tv, radio, print, outdoor and online. He has been in the advertising and media industry for 25+ years and he has been an instructor/speaker with Centennial College and at magazine conferences across Canada. He also moonlights as a pro goalie as a "rent a goalie" at mypuck.com.
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