Infographics serve to simplify the communication of complexity by showing shapes, relationships, metaphors, hues, flows and symbols to represent values. A visually clean and attractive layout is common. We are more quickly able to compare visual values such as areas than numbers. Numbers and words require a more steps: deciphering (reading), translating to meaning and finally absorption. Visual symbols are directly absorbed.
Last year I purchased the book Information is Beautiful (IiB) by David McCandless. Its premise made me add it to my virtual shopping cart instantly. The book is strictly infographics about all sorts of serious, curious and funny topics. I was rather disappointed when reading it and discovered many incomplete pages. I became frustrated with the book and glossed over it a little quickly after that, admiring more the designs than the actual data. McCandless calls it a “freak printing error” but I wonder if it wasn’t partially from the last minute rush. I’ve watched his TED talk and I feel he may be a bit full of himself.
Infographics can fail at many stages. There can be an error in the research as in McCandless’ vitamin supplements graphic. These require you to know well the data to detect errors. There are also representational errors where the values researched are not represented correctly relative to other values. These are easier to detect if the author/artist also displays the values that the graphics are trying to represent. I browsed through IiB a few months back and looked at the data theft infographic. I quickly saw many representation and design errors. I admire his listed source materials / bibliography but I do not think he took to heart Tufte’s lessons.
I’ve spoken before about the great cartographic course I took during my undergrad that referred to the book How to Lie with Maps. Many of the lectures (and examples in the book) contained examples of chart and map errors/propaganda/lies. Since then I have kept an eye out for other examples. I am often rewarded with examples such as this:
There’s an interesting 2007 interview with Steve Jobs and Bill Gates together on Youtube. It was posted by the user kenzoki as 11 parts. What I found interesting, besides the interview, is the fluctuation and general decline in views throughout the 11 parts. I was surprised by the decline – sad even that people couldn’t appreciate something that I thought was good enough to watch all the way through.