Open thread: What’s the difference between a visualization and an infographic?

January 3, 2011  |  Discussion

Interesting thread on Quora. I never gave it much thought, although I do have an infographics category, along with a few visualization categories. If I were to take a stab with a sentence I'd say: a visualization is the representation of data via geometry and math while infographics are a subset of visualization, where an actual human being had a hand in explaining the (hopefully interesting) points in the data in question.

Your turn. Sound off in the comments below.

38 Comments

  • To me, visualizations are interactive and infographics are static.

  • I agree with David but will also say that infographics often contain several visualization methods where as “visualizations” usually stick with one method.

  • I’d say that visualization is a form of knowledge compression set to amplify cognition and create new understanding, often in digital, interactive format. I’d also define information graphics as a visualization subset, though they’re not interactive and inherit a lot from graphic design.

    Actually, one of the most interesting things about visualization (and its subsets) is that it’s still hard to measure and identify its boundaries and nearly impossible to define without looking at computer graphics, design and the rising of highly complex graphical systems. As I heard some weeks ago, visualization is the convergence point between way too many disciplines and sciences.

  • I definitely agree that an infographic is a subset of data visualization. I would say, generally, data visualization is the discipline and infographic is one type of deliverable.

    In my thinking, if you had something clearly designated as data visualization it would be something clearly representing the data itself (i.e. a traditional type of chart that anyone can immediately grasp). While an infographic is much more interpretive. Often taking the form of something related to the data but conveying quantities or qualities of the data.

  • I’ve found that data visualizations are accurate representations of the data in chart or table format, while infographics tend to be creative, but not necessarily accurate, representations of the data.

  • I agree that infographics are a subset of data visualization. I disagree with Jess. Our data visualizations always use many methods to convey the information.

    To me, infographics are a static type of data visualization. Data visualization encompasses the spectrum of data communication. Interactive data visualizations are also a subset of data visualization.

  • I think I could agree with that. To me visualization, specifically scientific visualization, uses spatial data and multiple dimensions of data, often from simulations, to “draw a picture”. On the other hand, infovis is more about data layout and presentation for informative purposes.

    In my opinion, both approaches are equally important in data analysis.

    An article I came across from a quick search: http://www.americanscientist.org/issues/pub/a-little-space-please/1

  • Hugh Harris January 3, 2011 at 10:13 am

    Data visualisation is the discipline; infographics are the deliverables

  • Benjamin has put in some good points in the thread on Quora. Adding on to them, here are my pointers:

    1. Infographics not only present data, they also bring forth a concrete conclusion on the data. Data visualization on the other hand just presents the data – the job of analyzing it and coming to a conclusion is left to the viewer.
    2. Infographics contain pre-defined data sets, i.e they are static in nature. Data visualization on the other hand is mostly pulling data from databases, CSV files and the like.
    3. Infographics use all sorts of shapes and icons to drive home the point. Data visualization only uses geometric shapes like bars, columns, lines and pies to present the data.
    4. Infographics are non-interactive while data visualization is typically interactive.
    5. Infographics are used mostly in newspapers and magazines (and on blogs these days to get more traffic :) ) while data visualization is widely used in internal reporting, websites, products and presentations.

    On the whole, infographics are a small subset of data visualization and are limited in their purpose.

  • The question is asking about “a visualization” as opposed to visualization as a field or discipline so I’d have to agree with Jess. Infographics use one or more visualizations to communicate a message whereas each visualization is a specific way of presenting data.

    In this context, we might even substitute the word “visualization” for “chart.”

  • As this ngram (http://twitpic.com/3mqsm3/full) shows, the term “infographic” or “information graphic” was used before the term “visualization” became popular. Many of you have called infographics a subset of visualization. However, a book I have on infographics includes illustrations and signage as well as charts and graphs as forms of infographics. As Sanket says, the term is associated with journalism. The book calls them newspaper graphics. Unfortunately, the term visualization is a catch-all phrase that has many meanings. It is used for statistical graphics as well as data art. It is used for both static and interactive displays.

    I’ve seen blogs that give specific meanings to these terms but the terms were used for many years before the bloggers redefined them.

  • Our view is that info graphics are hand crafted to a single set of data, non interactive visual representations of a static dataset whereas a data visualization is interactive, adapts to the data as it changes can be contain multiple media, and can represent more than one set of data.

    That all said there are many visualizations that blend across both areas.

  • Robert Kosara wrote some months ago a nice article about “The Difference Between Infographics and Visualization” http://bit.ly/dvGlT8

  • Andrew Marritt January 3, 2011 at 12:51 pm

    For me a good visualisation will enable clarity and understanding to the data regardless of the actual values, whereas an infographic depends on the values at the time of production. given this many good visualisations can be designed in advance then automatically generated multiple times whereas an infographic is likely to be hand-crafted.

  • Its an interesting debate. I’ve always thought of infographics as being designed to “get a message across” and a visualisation to be more something that you can play with and come up with your own conclusions…

    So, for example, I called this…
    http://jimanning.com/2010/12/visualising-the-iraq-war-logs/
    … a visualisation, but given some of the comments above I’d be interested to see whether people felt it fell into the infographics category.

  • A visualization is more specific and focused and is less concerned with style. An infographic is a collection of data visualization components arranged in a more stylish way. An info-graphic is more about telling a larger story or narrative.

  • I’d reckon that visualisation can be seen as a form of visual language which is open for composition, for instance, in the form of an infographic.

  • I find this article helpful via Smashng Magazine / Vitaly Friedman
    http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2008/01/14/monday-inspiration-data-visualization-and-infographics/

    “The main goal of data visualization is its ability to visualize data, communicating information clearly and effectivelty. It doesn’t mean that data visualization needs to look boring to be functional or extremely sophisticated to look beautiful. To convey ideas effectively, both aesthetic form and functionality need to go hand in hand, providing insights into a rather sparse and complex data set by communicating its key-aspects in a more intuitive way. Yet designers often tend to discard the balance between design and function, creating gorgeous data visualizations which fail to serve its main purpose — communicate information.

    In both print and web design infographics — visual representations of information, data or knowledge — are often used to support information, strengthen it and present it within a provoking and sensitive context, depending on designer’s creativity.”

  • A visualization is a graphic of a subject the viewer already understands. An infographic should explain what text can’t because given information is too complex or comprehensive to understand. It’s main purpose is to explain, rather than to attract. A perfect infographic however, does both at the same time of course.

  • As the debate shows, there is no clear distinction. Yet we all seem to have some sort of – somewhat personal – feeling for what is an infographic and what is a data visualization.

    Here’s mine:
    A data visualization is a graphical representation of quantifiable data, usually by means of well-known chart, graph or map types. Although they can be created by hand, they can always be generated by applying automated methods on top of the data.

    An infographic is a graphical representation that combines one or more data visualizations with other non-data elements – such as graphics or text – to point out relationships, show a process or tell a story that cannot be automatically discerned from the data alone. An infographic requires the application of a creative process with some understanding of the underlying data and its context.

  • I agree with the sentiment that infographics are a subset of visualisations. Speaking purely for myself, I’ve always found that visualisations help people get a grasp on raw data sets, and that transformation can be in any form. The distinguishing factor is that infographics tell a story and usually seem to employ more than one form of visualisation.

  • Not sure where the idea that information graphics are only static comes from. If information graphics can’t be animated, then what are animated visual explanations of complex ideas called? And why do we need to call it something other than an animated infographic?

    In some ways I identify a lot with Naomi. Having been a graphic artist specializing in information design with a particular emphasis on information graphics for over 20 years, I see the meaning of terms that have been used in the industry for a long time being twisted an massaged somewhat as the popularity of the medium grows.

    That’s not a bad thing, and it’s probably necessary to help clarify and bring greater understanding and definition. Sounds a lot like information design itself!

    I always find discussions like this somewhat tedious, though. Maybe I’m just getting old.

    I like Mikev’s definition, for what it’s worth.

  • I share the same thought as Ben Hosken.

  • I always thought infographics included depictions of concepts and relationships so data visualization was mostly its subset with a more technical/precise/numerical slant. The various interesting views here and in the referenced sources have definitely confused me :-(

  • I tend to think of data visualization as an exploratory tool for seeking patterns in data, and an infographic as a tool for explaining data in an editorial context. It seems we often feed data into visualizations without being quite sure what we’re going to get as a result, whereas an infographic is a carefully crafted communication tool, often with an editorial bent.

  • in my opinion infographics is not a subset of visualization but an upper set of visualizations: cause infographics (should) create a link between different visualizations – visualization is to “word” where infographics is to “frase”, pointing out their syntactic connections.

  • It appears to me that there is a general theme here… that is, that an Infographic has an intent/objective to communicate a specifc idea or concept, while Data Visualization is simply the presentation of data in a visual form.

    Both Infographics and Data Visualizations can be interactive, they can both use current data (even real-time data), they can both combine one or more graphic forms (including text)… it’s just that an Infographic has a specific message and/or a point of view, while a Data Visualization is simply a presentation of data in a graphc form.

    One final thought… because they are so closely related it seems very easy to transition from a Data Visualization to an Infographic (or visa versa). All you need to do is start with any Data Visualization, then simply draw a conclusion and add that information to the output (in whatever form you chose)… and instantly it transitions to an Infographic (remove the conclusion and you’re back again).

  • An infographic is an artist’s rendition of a visualization.

  • you can visualization everything, say write a book without using a single word, I agree infographic is a subset of that which is to visualize data and make a story out of that.

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