Holy Infographics, Batman!
Superheroes are a big deal in my house, but I never thought they would (or could) collide with my professional life. On one fateful day, however, I witnessed the communicative power of infographics through none other than the Caped Crusader himself, Batman.
Batman and Infographics
While attending a conference, I had received a book of infographics by Kadence International. My five-year old twins were flipping through it at home. Amidst all the pages of graphics on various topics, two precious pages were dedicated to the Batman, from his first appearance in a 1939 comic all the way to present day. One of the graphics was a bar chart showing the total earnings (in millions) for Batman movies, beginning with Batman in 1989 to The Dark Knight Rises (2012).
What struck me was that the boys, without being able to read most of the words on the page, when asked, knew which movie made the most money and which made the least.
Why infographics are effective
Isn’t that what a great infographic should be? Shouldn’t it convey a message, regardless of language, education, or age (within reason), so simple that a kindergartner can understand it? I’m not sure that catch phrase is appropriate, but I do think the concept is important.
The occipital lobe, the brain’s visual processing center, is much more developed than our prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain primarily responsible for analysis. This means that, generally – though not universally – we are better equipped to process/ learn from images rather than from text.
That does not mean that we should overuse infographics. Like anything else, there is are times and a places where data visualization is appropriate and warranted. But there are also times and places when plain old text or a data table is the perfect medium.
There are methods for making information, in whatever form, easier to digest and understand. (In fact, this GIF does a great job illustrating how applying a simple format to a data table can make it more impactful).
Best practices for displaying infographics
While there is no denying the impact a well-designed graphic can have, it’s important to make sure that it:
- Is accurate. There is absolutely no value in a pretty picture that does not accurately portray the data. Keep your graphics honest.
- Is not forced. Some things cannot, and should not, be translated in to an image (think “list”). Use graphics judiciously. As with almost everything else, don’t go overboard. Think “simple and balanced.”
- Has both style and substance. Infographics should summarize the overall story to help the audience quickly and easily understand individual storylines. Therefore, avoid complex graphics that are difficult to interpret or understand. No matter how beautiful they might be, the more complicated they are, the more likely you are to lose your audience.
- Is polished. Let’s say your graphics meet the above criteria. The final consideration is how they look – is it obvious that you used Clip Art or hacked another graphic so it fit with your color scheme? Get the help of a professional to achieve a polished look. It will be well worth the time and money.
There are numerous data visualization techniques. What are some that have worked for you?
Photo Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/springfieldhomer/