The Art of Infographics

Text is great for describing something in length, but sometimes readers need something to visualize because words alone are too confusing, too complex, not complex enough, etc. Visuals often aide understanding. Photographs can provide more information based on the content and composition (refer to “The Power of Seeing” for more on what a great visual can do for a story). A photograph alone sometimes isn’t enough, though. While some photographs can speak volumes without saying a word, sometimes the audience needs the text laid out.

Thus comes the information graphic, the marriage of text and visual.  Infographics provide the opportunity to, as their name suggests, create a visual graphic that also provides more information about a particular subject to the audience.

When Kevin Quealy from The New York Times graphics department spoke in lecture on Monday, I realized I had been limiting the idea of infographics in my mind for my entire life. When I think infographic, I usually think pie chart or bar graph with some statistics, perhaps a diagram that breaks down the different pieces of an object, maybe a popular new invention on which a story is being written.  I was surprised by how intricate his infographic about Olympic runners was.

The infographic was essentially a scatter plot in which the points were runners, but instead of just plotting some two-dimensional points and labeling them as each respective runner, Quealy and the graphics department created something much more visually appealing and highly informative. The scatter plot grid became a track, and the points became actual, three-dimensional, computer-generated runners. Quealy then voiced a video tour of the scatter-plotted runners.

I also was impressed by the range of what constitutes an infographic. I never before would have considered creating something like the mock ESPN script (even if I had the technological know-how to begin creating any sort of infographic at all). The script was written to reflect the most talked about teams/players in the NFL and the percentage of coverage they got during a certain time period. In regards to showing information statistically, it was similar to a bubble chart or word cloud, but was a much more creative and entertaining spin on the typical statistical graphic.

After Quealy spoke on Monday, I wanted to find some more great and interesting examples of infographics, which led me to the website, visual.ly.  With a Pinterest-like appearance, visual.ly focuses on “data visualization” and has created a “Visually Marketplace” to allow companies and designers to work together in creating infographics.

Some visual.ly examples:

In light of the current political times, a graphic with some interesting information about the Presidents of the United States: Did You Know This About The Presidents?

An evolution of writing–a comparison of author J.K. Rowling’s writing in the Harry Potter novels versus her writing in The Casual Vacancy: From Harry Potter to The Casual Vacancy  (Though visually, this one seems a bit complex and confusing, the concept is interesting).

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