December 27, 2011, 10:57 am
The Infographic Dump
By Henry Woodbury
I’ve been meaning to write about a spate of bad infographics I’ve been seeing recently in blog posts and social media feeds, but Megan McArdle beat me to it:
If you look at these lovely, lying infographics, you will notice that they tend to have a few things in common:
- They are made by random sites without particularly obvious connection to the subject matter. Why is Creditloan.com making an infographic about the hourly workweek?
- Those sites, when examined, either have virtually no content at all, or are for things like debt consolidation–industries with low reputation where brand recognition, if it exists at all, is probably mostly negative.
- The sources for the data, if they are provided at all, tend to be in very small type at the bottom of the graphic, and instead of easy-to-type names of reports, they provide hard-to-type URLs which basically defeat all but the most determined checkers.
- The infographics tend to suggest that SOMETHING TERRIBLE IS HAPPENING IN THE US RIGHT NOW!!! the better to trigger your panic button and get you to spread the bad news BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE!
The infographics are being used to get unwitting bloggers to drive up their google search rankings. When they get a link from Forbes, or a blogger like Andrew Sullivan–who is like Patient Zero for many of these infographics–Google thinks they must be providing valuable information. Infographics are so good at getting this kind of attention that web marketing people spend a lot of time writing articles about how you can use them to boost your SEO (search engine optimization).
As summarized in point 3 above, McArdle goes into some detail on the misuse of data. But another strange thing about these infographics is that they seem to spring for the same design template. I added this comment to McArdle’s post:
These graphs suffer from more than misappropriated data. They also suffer from low data density and horrible design. The best charts, graphs, and visual explanations inspire insight by providing numbers in context, hopefully in multiple dimensions of data. Derek Thompson’s Graphs of the Year are hardly objective but they at least force some thought in figuring out their flaws.
What we see in many of these charts are isolated numbers accompanied by a cartoonish graphic. The design is boilerplate baroque, apparently created by underemployed battle-of-the-band poster designers. The long vertical is a dead giveaway. I’m starting to see it over and over and I know, almost as soon as I see the aspect ratio, that what I’m seeing is hack work.
Sadly, I think the “success” of this format is generating well-intentioned imitators. Click through for examples. I’m not posting any here.
p.s. My apologies to battle-of-the-band poster designers. There’s nothing wrong with boilerplate baroque in context.
And then there are the intentionally lying infographics. Check this out:
Posted by Kirsten on January 19, 2012 at 2:41 pm