It’s time for visual geeks to band together and take a stand. People are incorrectly using the term infographics all over the web and I think we need to put a stop to this practice. Don’t they understand the emotional upheaval we experience upon clicking an infographic link with great expectations only to discover it’s an infoposter? Infoposters are typically not infographics. There really are important differences.
The infographic or information graphic is a visual representation of information, data or knowledge. In an infographic, a mark, a symbol or visual element typically stands for quantitative information. Color, size and shape usually provide the qualitative aspect. Infographics use text as labels and for short explanations to make the data useful. Think of charts, diagrams, graphs, maps, timelines and modern visualizations that aren’t yet named.
Other than the illustrated diagram, infographics tend to be abstract visuals. They compress information and make it manageable, so our small working memories can manipulate it and ponder it. They help us see information in new ways, which gives us greater insight for understanding and problem solving. A viewer doesn’t quite read an abstract infographic, as much as study, analyze and explore it. The best infographics can feel as though they are dynamic, even though they are static. That’s because the mind is zooming in, measuring and manipulating the visual information.
For example, the flow graphic below about politics in Portugal by Ivan Kemp, depicts the distribution of public money to the different political parties. Although it would be difficult to mentally encompass all of this information at once, the infographic helps us see the five ways they receive money, how much of each they receive and the total each party receives all at once. Viewers get both a big picture understanding and can zoom in for details.
The infoposter, a category name that seems to fit this type of graphic, is not yet defined in Wikipedia. Yet it is probably safe to say that the infoposter is a graphic that conveys multiple segments of information typically using words and numbers to represent quantitative data. Infoposters generally use iconic-type graphic elements for visual design appeal and are typically vertical in orientation, similar to a wall poster. They are meant to be read, usually from top to bottom. Infoposters may incorporate simple infographic elements, but this does not change their purpose. They are created to collect a variety of facts and figures about a topic in one place and to communicate it in an interesting and easy-to-read format.
As you can see, the infographic and infoposter are quite different in design and purpose. So please, let’s get our terms straight. It will save some of us years of therapy.