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The Trouble with Infographics

by Elisabetta Bruno on November 14, 2013

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There was once a graphic. It wasn’t just a graphic. It was an infographic.

Such a beautiful thing it was, she always explained everything so clearly. She visualised data like nothing else. At the same time she was very direct – she gave you straight facts, unequivocal statistics and raw numbers. You could always figure things out.

She boldly went where no one went before. So beautiful yet so clear minded, who wouldn’t aspire to reach such perfection? So others tried to emulate her – maybe out of envy, maybe out of admiration, it doesn’t matter, emulation is the best form of flattery. And so it multiplied.

Like tribbles.

Infographic became troubled. Her facts were skewed. Her statistics were being manipulated. And the numbers… nobody could figure those out. Soon everyone went where everyone else had gone before.

She looked quizzically at the many drones that kept destroying her canny beauty, something that apparently wasn’t so easy to emulate. They destroyed her trustworthiness. They even stopped to give real statistics and filled the internet with graphics that weren’t more than mere digital posters promoting their own benefits.

More and more people were assimilated, resistance was futile. They all started to create ‘infographics’ with no facts, no figures. Because they called them ‘infographics’, they figured the search engines would index them because they are valuable. Their users would surely read them, even though they were more complicated than normal text – all in the name of looking perdy. And if those confused ordinary people, what about those who needed a visual assist?

Before Google decides to suck everything into an enormous black hole and calls it a day, think before you create an infographic.

When Should You Make an Infographic?

As it often happens in the business of online marketing, once someone finds a good way to get the attention of search engines, a lot of other marketers follow suit. Unfortunately it is very easy to then flood the market with more of the same, which then devalues the initial idea.

“When creating an infographic you have to ask yourself what added value it brings to the web site.”

The devaluing is even stronger if the initial idea is then distorted to the point where there is nothing left of it, replaced by shoddy substitutes. It’s a bit like being sold fake designer sunglasses for the price of the real thing.

Let’s put yourself in the shoes of readers and search engines for a moment. What would you do if someone kept coming to you with those fake sunglasses, and you couldn’t really tell the difference? And what if you later found out that they were all fake?

Surely that person’s cheap way of making a buck out of you would come to an end.

That’s what will happen if you keep spamming ‘infographics.’ Matt Cutts already mentioned this ages ago.

When creating an infographic you have to ask yourself what added value it brings to the web site. Is it actually adding value anyway? Or is it just making things more complicated for the reader? Will it make it harder for search engines to index your content?

If it’s a list of reasons why people should choose you, wouldn’t it be best in a form of a web page that can be read by a search engine?

Remember what infographics are supposed to be about – data visualisation. They are supposed to drive a point home to the readers and/or they are supposed to break it down for them.

Image Source: http://xkcd.com/1273/

As shown in this humorous example, some infographics are just trying too hard to be interesting. Some things need to be visualised. Others just need to be said. There is also a thing called ‘too much information.’

I was talking to some friends about some video tutorials and I was surprised to hear this from several people, “I get information overload from videos, so I don’t watch them.” While this is hardly a survey on a widespread range of individuals across multiple demographics, it does tell you that embellishing info too much does the opposite of what you were trying to do with the infographic in the first place.

“But, but web pages are boring! We need to stick to the client’s template. And… and the client’s template is boring. Plus it would be just text. And just text is boring.”

This is a really interesting misconception: if you make a web page you have to stick to the client template, however if you produce the same thing in JPG format you don’t have to.

Image Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Leonard_Nimoy_Mr._Spock_Star_Trek.JPG

If branding is important to you then it’s important no matter what format you are using.

If you are not delivering data, facts, statistics, things that are quantifiable or things that can be visualised, don’t bother making an infographic. Don’t turn text into a JPG, PNG, [your favourite graphic format here] and then label it ‘infographic’.

Try to leave text as text. Allow search engines to index it, people to read it, and those who are visually impaired to use their equipment to understand it. Yes, accessibility is important.

Illustration work that represents a concept isn’t necessarily an infographic and it should go with the accompanying text. Repeat after me: TEXT. Not an image that has text, But actual text.

It also makes it easier to create a responsive layout if the content isn’t a huge graphic, which is harder to navigate on a mobile device.

Web coding techniques have made great strides and it is possible to make something look visually appealing even if it’s “just a web page”. The use of Google Fonts, @font-face, et al, for example, allows you to use more than the limited selection of fonts of years ago.

You can have fancy effects and animations without the use of images or flash. Don’t get me wrong though, you can use graphics to aid your text and make it all look even snazzier.

Add Interactivity

There is another thing in favour of developing proper web pages rather than having a huge graphic in their stead: you can add interactivity, making the page look really interesting while keeping the text as indexable good ol’ text. And if you can’t do it, employ someone who can.

It also works for infographics. Here are some examples.

And if you are now worrying about shareability, keep in mind that links can be shared, and if you really want something to appear on people’s blogs, well, look at the page I just linked, you only need a cover graphic and an embed code. Then people click on them and they get sent to your grandiose interactive graphic.

This isn’t the panacea of graphic visualisation, if you are not careful some of these interactive goodies can be a problem on mobile devices, so again choose wisely.

The Moral of the Story

Infographic was beautiful, clear and concise. Then it got copied over and over, to the point where its concept was distorted and strayed light years away from its original purpose: to boldly create visually appealing content that was easy to understand and made facts and figures interesting. Its added value was lot in subspace.

So when do you use an infographic? It shouldn’t take a warp theorist to figure it out.

Ask yourself this question: does my infographic do any of the above, or does it make things more complicated for search engines and users? If the answer is “Yes” the latter part, rethink your project.

Featured Image Source: X-Ray Delta One

All Star Trek image copyrights are owned by Paramount Pictures.

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About the Author

Elisabetta Bruno is a creative designer curating design content from infographics to flyers for our clients. Working with our developers she coordinates and executes the design side of our creative projects so that clients can offer a better online experience to their customers.

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