The Don’ts of Infographic Design
Written by Amy Balliett of Killer Infographics, the post in question is basically tips for how to create linkbait that doesn’t work. Or at least I hope it doesn’t.
Let’s take it from the top.
Infographics are visual representations of information, or “data viz” as the cool kids call it these days. The term “data viz” comes from “data visualization,” which implies that sets of data will be displayed in a unique way that can be seen, rather than read.
I’m not going to get into the semantics. That’s for people who are smarter (and cooler) than me, but the obsession with a visually unique result is overdone. Sure, you want your graphic to be compelling, but that comes from the data or the information. You’re just trying to make crap look like cake if you do it any other way: it looks good from far away, but as soon as you take a taste, you realize you have poop in your mouth.
Next up, which refers to the graphic above:
What’s wrong with this infographic? It breaks the first rule right out of the gate. When you have an opportunity to display information visually, take it. Here, the tweets per second could have at least been shown in a bar graph.
What? We all know the first rule of infographic design is to not talk about infographic design. I guess that’s implied. After that though, the first thing wrong is that there are numbers? What about that gauge on the left without any labels? What does it mean?
Most run-of-the-mill infographics take a few data points and make it look like a lot with big things. This is both a reflection of the data on hand and the creator’s data comprehension.
It gets worse.
Two alternatives to the above are offered. Do you choose the utterly boring, horribly regular graph A or the awesomely, cool, and round graph B?
Balliett’s suggestion was to use the speedometer, basically because it looks awesomer. Something else comes to mind.
I hope you didn’t answer graph A. If so, you’re wrong.
If you answered Graph B, you’re catching on. Of course, not all data lends itself to creative and unique graphs. Graph A might work very well if the rest of the infographic shared a similar aesthetic. Sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and produce a traditional bar graph or pie chart; nevertheless, always consider ways to dress it up […]
It’s that obsession with unique again. The problem isn’t the bar chart. It’s that there’s only five data points occupying a lot of screen space. Plus, the speedometer makes tweet rate look way more than it really is, because the method uses arc length as its visual cue.
A more useful graphic would provide more context to the events that these numbers describe. What made the Women’s World Cup Final so much more exciting than Super Bowl 2011? Which final was it? Was it really more exciting? When were these measurements taken? Are they the peaks of each event or is it a mix? Were there more tweets because there were more Twitter users at the time? Was it because the time of the day each thing happened? Tell people something — anything — more about the data.
The second half of the post covers mostly general design tips such as color and focus, so it’s less rough, but the examples aren’t any better.
Bottom line: when it comes to information graphics, it should always be data and information first, and then you design around that. For that to happen, you have to learn more about data — how to work with it, where it comes from, and what it represents in the real world.
Now how about some real dos of data and information design? Leave a DO in the comments below by the end of this Friday, and a signed copy of Visualize This goes to a randomly picked doer.
Become a member. Learn to visualize your data. Support FlowingData.Join Today
This is for people who want to learn to make and design data graphics. Your support goes directly to FlowingData, an independently run site.
Benefits of Membership
- Instant access to tutorials on how to make and design data graphics
- Source code and files to use with your own data
- Four-week course on visualization in R
- Hand-picked links and resources from around the web
More Tutorials See All →
How to Visualize Proportions in R
There are many ways to show parts of a whole. Here are quick one-liners for the more common ones.
How to Make Slopegraphs in R
Also known as specialized or custom line charts. Figure out how to draw lines with the right spacing and pointed in the right direction, and you’ve got your slopegraphs.
How to Display Text in R
Text can provide much needed context to traditional visual cues and can be used as a visual cue itself in some cases.