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Why I Don't Like Infographics

By Ryan Lambert -- Published January 07, 2014

For almost 6 years, one of my primary roles at work has been data visualization. I like data visualization for a lot of reasons, but the primary reason is because if done right, the end user will actually look at the data, think about the data, and use the data. One form of data visualization that I have tried to not hate is the ever-more common "Infographic." To be fair, I have seen good infographics but they are few and far between. So rare in fact, that I can't even find one that I liked again. Bummer.

Why Hate on Infographics?

One of the updates on my iPhone 5 compared to my old iPhone 3GS is the ability to take panoramic pictures. It's a feature I've never seriously used and probably never will (I used it as a joke once...). Why? Because panoramic pictures are not easily viewable with any sort of quality on any device I own. Sure, I guess I could stretch the picture across my two 21" wide-screen monitors to look at it, but that means there's only 1 computer I access that has this ability, and that seems silly.

How does this relate to infographics you might ask? Well, take this infographic on cyber-security as an example. Go ahead and check it out for a bit, I'll wait. The dimensions on that infographic are 2,550 x 11,228 pixels. That means if I view the image in full resolution on my monitor with the resolution set at 1680 x 1050, it is 1.5 monitors wide and almost 11 monitors tall. Then if you figure that most people get to this image by using a browser, they won't be using even close to the full screen's real estate to view it, especially if the user is one who has installed "a few" tool bars into their browser! Even with tool bars aside, I never run my browser in full screen anyway.

Ok, so what?

With the world going mobile and devices getting smaller, why make the data visualization BIGGER? So many web developers are working at minimizing their CSS, optimizing images, and so on, but yet infographics are acceptable having 5 digit dimensions? Where did this idea come from? It seems that someone isn't paying attention to the global trends of smaller, mobile devices connected to the internet via cell phone. Unfortunately for infographics, they don't fit with the changes that are happening.

Outside of those reasons, going back to my main benefit for data visualizations:

"...the end user will actually look at the data, think about the data, and use the data."

Thinking about the infographic I linked to above, I didn't learn anything from it because I didn't read it. So, because I didn't look at the data, I can't think about it OR use it. I assume a lot of good data and insight went into its creation, but I just can't look at it.

New Year's Resolution

I'm going to do something I've never done before, and I'm only a week late to decide to do this... I'm going to make a New Year's resolution for 2014. I will not attempt to read, view, or otherwise decipher infographics. Maybe if I ignore them long enough they will go away.

Do you have an example of a human friendly, monitor friendly infographic? Please share in the comments!

By Ryan Lambert
Published January 07, 2014
Last Updated January 07, 2014