Infographics from Hell

Every day countless infographics are posted, viewed, and shared.  Many of these infographics fall far below their potential.  Here are some common design pitfalls that will drag your infographic straight to Hell (I realize this is overdramatic, but it’s almost Halloween -give me a break).

PITFALL 1: FAILING TO VISUALIZE DATA

You are designing an infographic, right?  So why doesn’t your imagery visualize the data?
Consider the following examples:

A. Instead of typing out the percentages they should AT LEAST be visualized in pie charts. I guarantee the designer spent a lot more time drawing the characters than thinking about how to visually represent the percentages.

B. You can’t just plop a percentage on top of a random grid of people and call that effective data visualization. There are 70 people in the background and none of them visually represent the 51%.  A simple 2 minute tweak would significantly improve this.

C. At first glance this appears to be data visualization.  Again, take a closer look and you will find no relation between the icons and the numbers.  The unachieved goal was to help the reader visualize and comprehend the large number of people that have died.

Take away message:

Every time you insert an image/icon/graph/etc, into your infographic ask yourself “Does this visually represent the data?”  If it doesn’t, revise or get rid of it.
I’m not saying there’s no place for fun imagery that adds character and style to your Infographic.
But follow these basic rules:

  • First, make sure your data is visually represented and accurate.  This is priority #1.
  • Then, without stealing the focus from the data, spend the remaining time adding those elements.  If you spend 50% of your time drawing unnecessary graphics, then when the time comes to submit your work you will find that you have nothing more than a glorified linkbait article.

PITFALL 2:  MISREPRESENTING DATA

As infographic designers we have a responsibility to ensure that we are not misrepresenting data.  Unfortunately, this is a common occurrence on the web – many times by accident.

A. In this example the designer incorrectly used pie charts. Pie charts are used to visualize percentages. As you can see, this misuse of the pie chart is  confusing and misleading.

B. Designers commonly misrepresent data in bubble charts.  Here, the designer is attempting to visualize the large quantity of rice consumed by various countries (% of total world consumption). I added the correct sizes in yellow to show how off they were.  I am sure that the designer had no intention of misleading readers. They just didn’t know how a bubble chart worked.

There is more to creating a bubble chart than scaling a bunch of circles with the transform tool.  For a full explanation, click here.  Once you understand the principles behind the bubble chart try this simple suggestion:

  1. Create the bubble chart in Microsoft Excel. The software walks you through it step by step.
  2. Paste the chart into your design software (Illustrator, Photoshop or whatever) and trace the bubbles to ensure you scale them accurately.

Take away message:

Triple check your data visualizations.  Then, get someone else to check it again. There is nothing worse than posting your work online and getting it torn to pieces in the comments because you made a stupid mistake and your bubble chart is twice the size it should be.  As infographic designers we simply can’t make these kinds of mistakes.

PITFALL 3:  FORGETTING AN INFOGRAPHIC IS ABOUT DATA

Some designers seem to forget that an infographic is supposed to focus on the data.

A. In this infographic the designer crammed all the data into a stack of televisions. Yes, I will admit the designer drew a really nice old school television.  Unfortunately, in making the TV the main focus the data takes the back seat.  See the full infographic here.

B. Some people may not even notice this is an infographic at all. Enough said.

Take away message:

You may be an awesome artist, but don’t forget that that an infographic is about data.

CONCLUSION

Whether you want to visually display complex numerical data, tell a story, outline a workflow or whatever – your goal as the designer is to convey the message clearly and accurately.  This takes careful planning and consistent evaluation throughout the design process.

What other common design pitfalls do you guys see out there? What suggestions can you provide?

About the author

Josh Kunzler