Infographics and Information Development: inform and entertain

Have you ever considered using infographics to communicate technical information to your audience?

In a world of multiple gadgets and social media, we have no time for lengthy content. Digital revolution has had its impact on our cognitive abilities, making us quick consumers of short chunks of information. This is where infographics comes into play, being able to inform while entertaining.

In the beginning, pictures ruled as a way to communicate ideas. They still do.

Guy Kawasaki

Infographics has become a buzzword in modern media. Infographics is seen more and more often on websites, in newspapers, magazines, and blogs. Users repost, like, and share infographics in social networks.

According to the Google Trends statistics, the popularity of infographics began to increase in 2010 and has been growing steadily ever since.

GoogleTrendsWikipedia describes infographics as “graphic visual representations of information, data, or knowledge intended to present information quickly and clearly”.

Mark Smiciklas, author of the book The Power of Infographics, defines an infographic as a visualization of data or complex ideas in a way that can be quickly consumed and easily understood. Personally, I like the definition of infographics as “crystallized communication”, suggested by Jay Baer, social media strategy consultant.

In my experience, very often infographics are the best way to present lengthy and complicated data. This point is very well illustrated by the White House infographics on US policy, laws, and national statistics.

Modern battle for attention

Science can explain what makes infographics much more effective than text alone.

A recent study “How does digital affect Canadian attention spans?” by Microsoft suggests that the attention span of people nowadays is getting shorter because of growing media consumption and active use of various gadgets. The respondents were Canadians who actively used multiple gadgets. Generally, the aim of this research was to analyze the changing nature of human attention in the increasingly digital reality.

The report says that the average attention span has fallen from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8 seconds in 2013. The number is even more striking if we compare it to the attention span of a goldfish, which is nine seconds. Microsoft’s study found that due to the digital lifestyle people get distracted easily and find it hard to concentrate in situations when “prolonged attention is needed”. Specifically, 44% of respondents admitted they had to try hard to stay focused on their tasks at work or school.

untitled-infographic_1438596168499_block_1As a result, the modern readers tend to scan the content rather than examine it word for word. Microsoft researchers conclude that the audience should be attracted “right off the bat with clear and concise messaging that’s communicated as early as possible”.

On the other hand, psychologist Albert Mehrabian in his works demonstrated that 93% of communication is nonverbal. According to the Visual Teaching Alliance, after three days, our memory retains only 10-20% of written or spoken information, but almost 65% of visual information. Additionally, visuals are processed 60,000 times faster in the brain than text.

untitled-infographic_1438607136407_block_2Therefore, the imagery and bright colors of an infographic can quickly draw readers’ attention and help communicate a message more effectively than a paragraph of words. A good infographic has the ability to overcome the barriers our mind builds around lengthy and monotonous data. In this respect, I think the statement of David McCandless, designer and writer, is very accurate: “Visual information is effortless”.

What’s in it for us?

In my opinion, many of us are used to perceive infographics as a web-specific and rather informal type of visualization, because it is, after all, entertaining. But does the content that we, Information Developers, deliver to our audience, have to be boring? Perhaps, we should acknowledge that information does not have to be dull and lifeless. I am convinced that we should benefit from a very powerful aspect of infographics: its effectiveness in explaining complex things easily and quickly. After all, we deal with information, and infographics is a beautiful and meaningful way to present it.

From this perspective, infographics can be used to illustrate the following:

  • instructions
  • processes
  • timelines
  • trends
  • cheat sheets
  • roadmaps
  • ideas
  • chronology
  • hierarchy
  • relationships
  • comparisons
  • maps

Additionally, an infographic serves the goal of any minimalistic writing: it does not overwhelm a reader with information, but presents the structured mental map that makes understanding and remembering much easier. According to Leah Guren, Associate Fellow of the Society for Technical Communication, good design leads to intuitive, natural, and instant use, which is fully applicable to infographics.

To conclude, this engaging way of data presentation has become an important tool that any Information Developer should use. With such websites as visual.lyinfogr.am, piktochart.com, easel.ly, and canva.com, you can quickly get started with creating infographics either from scratch or using free templates.

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