What is an infographic?

By Dianne Miller

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It would be easier to explain this to you in pictures , right ? Well that’s exactly what an infographic does.. It’s a tool used to explain a concept, product , knowledge or data using pictures or icons.  They are specifically aimed at cutting down on reading tons of explanations by using the human visual system to piece together patterns and trends.

This concept is termed data visualization, information design and some refer to it as information architecture.

Infographics have actually been around for a number of years but recently, as computer users have gotten more used to quick bite-sized information feed, the have become increasingly popular.  Today there are a number of applications and free tools you can download to make these infographics for all sorts of branding and even in educational institutions.

Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter are among some of the networks which have facilitated the amazing growth and spread of this trend to people around the world.

In print media and online the infographics are familiar to all of us to show the weather, for maps and site plans and even for statistical data.

If you are on an underground train then you have been looking at an infographic  transit map which has colours to show lines and transfer points. Local landmarks will usually be shown in a format which is instantly recognizable.. for example a landmark church monument will have a small church with a steeple and everyone will know what that refers to instantly.

Public places also make use of infographics with standardized icons like the bathrooms for male and female patrons, or a picture of a garbage bin which is easy to read, spot and understand without any words.

There are three steps which all infographics should fulfill.  These point to visual pictures or icons, content and knowledge, either new or existing.  The visual side is simple to explain. It consists of a colour and a picture.  Theme reference is quite important here and often are very obvious pointers to particular data.  Statistics and facts are found in the content of infographics and can be gathered from any source.  The most valid point of an infographic is it should show some insight into the data this is representing.. in other words the knowledge or information it is trying to convey.

These “stories” are effective mostly because they are visual.  Humans receive input from all five senses but 50% of the brain is dedicated to visual functions and so the seen data is processed much faster than the written word. The brain takes in a picture all at one glance whereas text is processed in a linear mode and takes much longer to be absorbed. It is also thought that 65% of the world learns visually so this would appeal to a large number of people.  An entire business theme, product or system can be set out in a mind – map visual presentation and this saves a lot of time and explanation and it so much more accessible in one clear page or document.

How can you design an effective infographic?  There are a number of things to keep in mind to optimize your presentation.

There are three basic provisions of communicating your ideas and data that need to be assessed when designing an infographic – appeal, comprehension, and retention.

Appeal is essentially referring to the fact that the communication needs to engage its audience. Comprehension implies that the viewer should be able to easily understand the information that is presented to them at one glance and follow the normal movement of the eye without jumping around too much. And finally, retention means that the viewer should remember the data presented by the infographic.

The order of importance of these provisions depends on the purpose of the infographic. If the infographic is meant to convey information in an unbiased way, such as in the domains of academia or science, comprehension should be considered first, then retention, and finally appeal. But if the infographic is being used for commercial purposes, then appeal becomes most important, followed by retention and comprehension. When infographics are being used for editorial purposes, such as in a newspaper, appeal is again most important, but is followed first by comprehension and then retention. You will need to adapt to the purpose and need of the information you wish to share

Several on-line infographics creators, such as Infogr.am, Piktochart and Easel.ly  have been launched in the last year. Most of these  sites allow users to create infographics from pre-designed templates, add custom data and share infographics and charts on the web or download as pictures for placing in presentations.

Give it a try. It’s really rewarding and a fun way to learn and present knowledge in a quick and easy manner.

Dianne Miller is CEO of Imaginet.  Join her on Google Plus.

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