Infographics: Art or Porn?

InfoGraphicGraphicInfo
Infographic by Isaac Pigott

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. They convey stories in ways complex narrative content. When people try to shove 10,000 words into one infographic, pictures create headaches. And so we have the debate of whether most infographics are well-designed art or cheap info porn.

What used to be a clever art form from the likes of USA Today and the Onion (hat tip: Brian Blank) has now become the social web’s equivalent of media snacks. But Pop Chips are not hors d’ouvres as we have learned, and these infographics have become painful in length and the amount of complex data they try to convey.

Some require three, four or more screen views to convey all of their data. Others have so much information packed into the single screen view that you need reading glasses to read the fonts. These types of infographics would make any art director worth their salt scream. David Ogilvy would roll over in his grave if he could see these monstrosities. Is this too harsh? No. It’s the equivalent of admiring a beautiful painting depicting a woman versus watching cheap porn.

Yet more and more infographics are created because, frankly, they fascinate the eye attracting readers where simple text leaves content producers wanting. Complex infographics are the bad accidents of online media, sending in droves of online rubberneckers and fostering new inbound links.

Aston
Jon Aston hates infographics (Image by Devin Matthias)

That’s not to throw out the baby with the bathwater. A simple, well designed infographic can still tell an incredible story. But these types of infographics are harder and rarer to find. As Chip Heath said, “Simple is not easy.” Make sure the infographics you use are well-designed, convey information concisely and are actually useful.

What do you think of the infographic craze? Do you love them or hate them?

  • So that’s it. My 15 minutes of fame. I feel cheated somehow.

  • There’s porn and there’s erotica. The work and ethos of Edward Tufte [http://www.edwardtufte.com/tufte/] can be applied to this genre of graphic design. In his world, every element, from background color to individual glyph to empty space, serves a function. The demands of eye-candy account for all the rest of it. But if the truth is presented in an immediately perceivable way, the fluff isn’t needed. Let whoever’s hosting the infographic worry about getting eyeballs to the site.

    • I was wondering if someone would mention Tufte.  Very well done, Edward. 

  • Anonymous

    Don’t care for infographics as a whole because they are either difficult to understand or hard to read. Occasionally, one done well can add to the value of the post or article but on the whole they are annoying. Now the picture of Aston is priceless.

    • It is pretty funny.  I wonder if it will get indexed by Google?

  • I enjoy infographics but do agree that some are getting ridiculous in the amount of information they try to convey. If a graphic needs a legend it’s a map. I don’t think you’re being harsh at all.

    I’ve created a few infographics but rather than conveying data per say they convey ideas in picture – less clutter that way.

  • I really like info-graphics. I’ve found that the majority of them are just picture versions of posts or articles. They’ve just become another way to get your information in front of people. 

    A lot of people won’t take the time to read a 3000 word article but they will take a few minutes to peruse an info-graphic.I find they can be very complementary if they are clear and well laid out. Put the most important info front, centre, and large.

    • Good for you on being the contrarian of the group. It takes guts, I know. Thanks for expressing your opinion, Chris.

  • Agree that many infographics seems designed to induce seizures, cramming too much and rensering themselves useless in the process. I’ll allow for the possibility of exceptions; for example, a process flowchart for co-workers, but for the most part? blech.

    • I just pray that people don’t dive into overused stock photography to compensate. I’ll blame you and forward my medical bills. 

    • Good to see you, brother. My thing is one screen, easy to understand. Worthwhile, not painful. One can only hope, right?

  • Love ’em when they’re done well. Most of the recent ones aren’t.

    People seem to have confused infographics and posters. If these monstrosities were printed on 40″ long paper, maybe more of them would work. Might make ’em hard to download, though.

    • Yup, it’s the new advertising. Ads are great when they are done well. When. They. Are. Done. Well.

  • Anonymous

    Geoff – Some Infographics are useful, but have become the new shiny object over the past year plus. We will continue to beat the dead horse for the “cool” factor. My bet is that they become the new press release.

    • NOOOOO!  The new press release?  NOOOOO!

      • Anonymous

        Some are used just as poorly as SEO releases with no news value

  • I think the only infographic I used was from a site where you could create your own fake graphs in a Microsoft Paint-esque look.

    It rocked. And that’s how it should be: fun and useless. It’s an overused tactic that is embraced by people who have nothing to say but can say it in pictures.

    • You have to put those killer design skills to the test! I think they can be fun but when they are about 10 page widths long….you are treading on shaky ground!

    • I prefer infographics that have 7 screen views!

  • BTW, you see the infographic resume yet? My favorite.

  • I am neutral to them really. It just depends on the infograph. Some are so over the top that it is too difficult to read. OK, most are over the top, but they look “cool.” And isn’t that what most folks are going for instead of sharing good info? 

  • I have to say I like infographics, but there are some better ones and some worse ones out there, for sure. It’s not that too much content is always bad, but the creator needs to show the content in an innovative and visual way that adds meaning.

    Here’s what I mean: I was in Berlin in the early 1990s and I walked into a jazz club and saw this poster on the wall called “Highlights of the Jazz Story in USA”. With mind-blowing detail, this poster depicted the evolution of jazz music in tree form starting with the roots in popular music and Negro spirituals and moving through the trunk of blues, swing, bebop and cool. As you progress to the edges of the tree, the main genres sprout sub-genres and sub-sub-genres with each artist’s picture and biographic vitals. For lovers of jazz, this is a truly magnificent infographic work of art that reveals new connections, fills in missing pieces and presents a theory of aural heritage. This is my favorite infographic of all times. 

    A hi-res version can be found online here: http://03b1.iz.piccy.info.nyud.net:8080/i4/b1/03/46feba3977c44356173a0ca49245.jpeg

  • Anonymous

    Most infographics are overdone, but every once in a while, you run across a good one. One that takes a complex idea and uses graphics to convey it in a simple, visual fashion. 

    Most of the time though, they are awful. 

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  • I love a good infographic.

  • Meh to infographics. Sometimes useful, sometimes says “You’re too dumb for words. Look at the shiny thing. C’mon! Good doggie.” If I wanted to see pics I’d be on FB or Flickr.

  • I think you can call something an ‘art’ if the creator create that thing for no profit intention or just to kill time. ‘Porn’ is when the creator intended to get a profit out of it

  • i dont like infograph, well at least.

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