Data Visualizations vs. Infographics

Data visualizations and infographics are very similar, leading to a lot of confusion and debate over which is which, and what graphic belongs where. If you’re feeling a bit flummoxed, you’re not alone. Though related, infographics and data visualizations are not one and the same. It’s important to understand the strengths of each option so you can choose the best approach for your information.

What Is a Data Visualization?

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A data visualization is a representation of a specific set of numerical data. It presents objective, quantifiable information. Data visualizations typically focus on a small and specific data set. They make what might otherwise be a complicated collection of numbers into something that’s easily understood at a glance. Data visualizations take full advantage of the fact that the human brain processes images 60,000 times faster than it processes text.

Data visualizations are fairly simple, as they focus on a single set of statistics or answer one question with the compiled information. They’re often generated automatically in the form of charts, plots, and graphs using the appropriate computer programs, requiring minimal customization for a sleek and finished look. They take a certain set of numbers and translate them into an image for more effective communication of a topic and quick translation of a limited dataset.

What Is an Infographic?

An infographic is a visual representation of a large collection of information. It tells a more comprehensive story than a single data visualization and often offers subjectivity. While an infographic can cover a data-heavy topic, it can just as easily explore a highly subjective one, such as the best beach vacations or most effective cleaning methods.

An infographic can contain one or more data visualizations. These are often accompanied by short blurbs, quotes, or other pieces of text that elaborate on the topic or tie a collection of visualizations together. The primary purpose of an infographic is to explore a complex and comprehensive topic. While the infographic will usually offer several pieces of quantifiable and statistical data, it doesn’t always carry the viewer through to a single conclusion. Infographics often educate viewers on a topic so they can ultimately come to their own final conclusion about it.

Where to Use Data Visualizations

Data visualizations are effective in a variety of places. One of their primary uses is in dashboards. Apps, computer programs, and online portals often rely heavily on a series of data visualizations that present up-to-date information. In a money management app, data visualizations might illustrate what percentage of your paycheck went to gas, groceries, rent, and entertainment. A quick visualization makes it much easier to digest your allocation of funds than simply looking at the numbers would.

Data visualizations are also ideal for breaking up long blocks of text and effectively highlighting important statistics. You might use this type of graphic in some of these settings:

  • Business reports
  • Newsletters
  • Emails

Where to Use Infographics

Infographics are comprehensive enough to stand on their own. Though they’re often accompanied by a short introduction, even this is usually unnecessary. The purpose of an infographic is to tell a complete story, so you can share infographics nearly anywhere. Some of the common uses of infographics are in the following:

  • Case studies
  • Brochures or flyers
  • Blog posts

Infographics also translate well to posters if you’re interested in producing print media. If you’re looking for something that’s highly sharable, a concise infographic might work on Pinterest. Pull a blurb from the infographic for more effective sharing on Twitter or Facebook.

Tips for Successful Data Visualization

Data visualizations are often presented with minimal fanfare and introduction. They may highlight the statistics used in a newspaper article, blog, or other printed piece, living alongside the text. Graphic design is less important with a data visualization than an infographic. The primary focus here is on effective presentation of information.

When you’re designing a data visualization, make sure that it has these characteristics:

  • Easily understandable at a glance
  • Concise
  • Neatly presented
  • Focused on a single point

Tips for Effective Infographics

Infographics present a lot of information, so it’s important to organize them well. An infographic can become a confusing mess if it covers too large a topic, offering facts that are seemingly unrelated to one another. Ideating for an infographic is more complex than choosing a topic for a data visualization. Infographics need several relevant data sets, facts, or blurbs that relate to the same overall topic.

If you’re creating an infographic about film franchises for an entertainment blog, for example, you need to make sure you can find accurate, comparable information for several different film franchises. Your visualizations might elaborate on gross revenue, opening weekend viewers, and merchandise sales. If you can find these details for only a few of the franchises in your piece, it will seem unbalanced and incomplete. Creating an infographic requires careful thought and planning.

When you’re designing an infographic, keep in mind the things that it should do:

  • Tell a single story
  • Flow sensibly from beginning to finish
  • Be easy to follow
  • Present a single, cohesive picture

How to Choose the Right Approach

If you’re still feeling a bit lost as to whether you want a data visualization or infographic, determine exactly what you want to share with your audience. Are you presenting concrete details that accompany your text and helping users better visualize a particular subset of the big data you have on file? Though the ultimate scope of your research may be large, if the topic is small and laser-focused, you’re looking for a data visualization.

If you can’t boil your topic down to a single image, you’re after an infographic. Remember that an infographic can contain multiple data visualizations, but the reverse isn’t true. Any topic that’s subjective, exploratory, or consists of multiple questions is suited to an infographic. Flowcharts, timelines, comparisons, maps, and lists are all examples of infographics that may help illuminate your information.

Both infographics and data visualizations have their place in a well-rounded content marketing strategy. Choosing the right option for your piece will help you communicate your point as effectively as possible to viewers, so that your content has the impact you’re after.

About the author

Mandi Rogier

Mandi Rogier lives and writes in central Indiana. Over 8 years of freelance writing, she's covered everything from finance and business to culture and crafts. She spends her free time traveling, hiking, and exploring the Midwest with her two sons.