Storytelling Through Infographics
Our brains are hardwired to receive information through stories.
Since the dawn of recorded history, we’ve turned to visual representations to help us tell them.
From cave paintings to hieroglyphs, the first tube map to interactive online graphics, the medium may have evolved, but the underlying principles of infographic storytelling remain unchanged.
What is an infographic?
Put simply, an infographic is the overlap between data and design to tell a story. They come in all shapes and sizes, from the humble bar and pie chart, to elaborate iceberg and mountain metaphors.
What makes infographics so effective?
Infographics work well because they help translate large amounts of abstract information and data into easily understandable chunks.
We can use color to show correlation, size to show quantity, or orientation to show trends. The basic visual cues allow us to identify patterns which aid in the goal of telling a story.
And it’s not just data either.
Infographics can help us better understand many things, from processes and hierarchies to anatomy and chronology. Their effectiveness and popularity are only boosted by the social media landscape today, which demands shareable nuggets of information that cater to our increasingly fleeting attention spans.
Infographics save lives
Your message is only as good as your ability to share it.
And when it comes to making a real difference in health, from getting the attention of policymakers, to influencing long term behavior change, data alone doesn’t cut it. You need to tell a story, and an infographic can go a long way to doing that effectively.
Check out this Wired piece on Global Burden of Disease (GBD) visualization tool by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. It explains how the GBD tool breaks down big data into something far easier to handle and how it has helped lawmakers better identify and tackle health issues.
Or Why Sitting Down is Killing You, which combines striking visuals and sobering statistics into a clear message with specific advice.
Infographics have their limitations
As attention spans shorten and the need to convey increasingly complex data and relationships grows, we hit the upper limit of how useful an infographic can be.
Graphics which began life as simple translations of complex data end up becoming increasingly unwieldy to the point where these visuals becomes as difficult to decipher as the raw data itself.
In the pursuit of more colorful and attention grabbing graphics, the key message or story being conveyed ends up lost. Edward Tufte, the godfather of the infographic, refers to this phenomenon as “Chart Junk”.
Infographic by Microsoft | Source: Microsoft.com
How many visual metaphors can you fit on a floating island with a booming hot air balloon industry?
With the rise of wearables and increasing advancement in computing technology, access to information about our health is growing and the need to translate that data is growing with it.
It is therefore important, that we recognize the critical role infographics as one of many tools at play helping us tell the stories behind the data.
Ozzy Amir is a Graphic Designer at JPA Health Communications