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The End of Infographics?

Simon Tyler
Written By
Simon Tyler
The End of Infographics?
Artwork by Louise Pau

Another day, another COVID infographic. Another chart detailing 5.27 million deaths, and on you scroll...

Infographic design has always been a means to an end. The best of these visualisations are incredibly powerful tools for communicating concepts that pique interest, provoke a response, and increase engagement.

But we have an issue. What was once unexpected has become predictable and formulaic.

It is now expected across the full spectrum of media that any message concerning data or an assembly of raw information should be presented in a graphical format. What happens next is where things often go wrong.

Some designers might seek out the reassurance of an old-fashioned graph, which they’ll decorate with what Edward Tufte (the Da Vinci of infographics) disdainfully referred to as chartjunk. Others scroll through Dribble, looking for a spark of inspiration. This has led to lazy, unimagined, and cookie-cutter graphics.

At the other end of the scale, more experienced practitioners have a different set of hazards to avoid. Deep inside, they know that communication is about creating a message which will cause action, and clarity is what will best help achieve that. But the nature of infographic design is that complication and cleverness are very tempting. Books such as Raw Data are full of beautiful and incredibly intricate infographics – such as Jan Hartwig’s amazing Guantanamo visualisations, but standing back aren’t the most efficient route to telling the story of those subjects.

COVID – a pandemic whose narrative has been led by data – has driven an infographic explosion. The Guardian site is now permanently adorned with graphs detailing daily cases, hospital cases, and daily deaths. While these data visualisations are well-considered, they reinforce the idea that infographics are the only way to tell these stories.

Here’s an example. The European migrant crisis has been presented in countless visualisations, comparing annual numbers, countries of origin, lives lost, and so on. Yet none of these possess a fraction of the sense of tragedy and hopelessness that was represented by the image of the body of baby Alan Kurdi on the shore at Bodrum, Turkey.

For visual communication to work effectively, bear these thoughts in mind:

  • There needs to be a degree of humanity in your response. Ignore that, or copy something without fully embracing it, and the result will likely be dry, uninviting and ineffective.
  • Don’t show off - communicate the message, not your design CV
  • Focus on the message, talk to the recipient’s intelligence, imbue your work with exuberance and personality, and your infographics will get the point across