11 reasons your infographic isn’t an infographic

Ian Lurie

my infographic

My infographic. Ain't it great!!!!!?

My infographic. Ain't it great!!!!!?

OK everyone. Take a deep, freaking breath. I can’t sneeze right now without spraying germs on someone’s attempt at a data-driven work of art.

Here’s why the poster you paid someone $400 to make isn’t an infographic:

  1. Lack of clarity. Infographics should ease and speed the consumption of information. If you take something you can express in 25 words and turn it into 1000 x 3000 pixels of eye-watering garbage, it’s not an infographic. It’s a waste of paper.
  2. Lack of data. Infographics used to communicate data. Like this. Now, apparently, I can turn a fax machine manual into a poster and get it posted to 55 different infographics directories. Retch.
  3. Low information density. An infographic is more effective than words describing the same subject. Otherwise it’s art. Which is cool and all. But it’s not an infographic.
  4. Lack of flow. An infographic should lead me from introduction to conclusion, somehow. It should help me solve or understand a problem. If it doesn’t, it’s a graphic, minus the info. This Visually piece is a great example of infographic flow.
  5. Flatland (read Edward Tufte’s work for the full description). It’s a two-dimensional drawing that describes two dimensions of data. Look at this chart showing Napoleon’s army as the Russian winter destroys it. How many different dimensions are there? I counted at least four.
  6. Chartjunk (again, read Tufte): Extra crap that doesn’t help me understand the data.
  7. Yeck. It’s as visually appealing as a spit wad.
  8. You stole your data. Infographics cite their sources. If you didn’t cite, it’s a stash, not an infographic.
  9. It’s pointless. Just go read Mark Mapstone’s post. You’ll see what he means.
  10. Terrible writing. ‘Graphic’ doesn’t mean ‘you have permission to write drivel.’ The writing has to be extraordinary. It can’t be awful.
  11. Someone who can’t even use Excel told a room full of people, “Let’s create an infographic!” and everyone nodded sagely. You might get lucky, I guess, and still create something worthwhile. It’s more likely, though, that the result will have all of the above problems.

A colored background, a few stick drawings and bizarre font choices don’t make something an infographic. You’re hunting the word into extinction. Please, stop.

Ian Lurie

Ian Lurie is the founder of Portent. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (that's more than 25 years, if you're counting). Ian's recorded training for Lynda.com, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Ian is now an independent consultant and continues to work with the Portent team, training the agency group on all things digital. You can find him at www.ianlurie.com

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  1. Nice one Ian.
    I’ve been working on an infographic for nearly two months now. Guess you can see how hard that I find it is to do the real research and create the images in it and to make it have instant impact as an INFORMATIONAL graphic as opposed to a fancy image with bits and bobs of detials that mean nothing visually to the the viewer.
    Some cracking tips and insights here … bless your cotton socks today 🙂

  2. You lose points for your infographic only including one font. =)
    Great post though, the recent blog on SEOmoz about Facebook’s IPO comes to mind as a really effective infographic, I’d love to know, now that you mention it, what they paid to have that put together.

  3. Infographics have something interesting (usually) that forces people to read it from the beginnig to the end – and sometimes it takes a lot of time, because of the chaos-placed info, Yeah, you’re right – maybe infographics are not very handy, but I think they are completing their job very good – I think it is because of mix of fancy images, bright colors and comedy way of giving information (not every time, but very often).
    BTW. I never ever done any infographic, but I read every single one, which I found – dunno exactly why 😉

  4. Ian, thanks for the nice post. Did you mean you liked the Indian Railways graphic? I found it terribly difficult to understand, as a resident of the city. (the top-down order of the locations is bizzarre it starts from the center and includes places in the extreme north and extreme south next to each other, and also no one knows what the dotted lines mean.

    1. That infographic was designed for a very specific purpose, which it did well. It’s very hard to understand from the standpoint of someone who wants to actually KNOW the schedule. I believe it was for a statistical transportation study.

  5. Thanks for this Ian. I tried to explain to my partner what an infographic was and then showed her an example of one. She responded by saying: “So…. it’s a poster then?” And therein lies the problem with many infographics as was the case with the example I showed her. More art than information as per your third point. I’ve only just started getting involved with infographics in my company, so I’m on a fast learning curve and your points have helped clarify some things.
    I’m also grateful that you provided some useful links to further illustrate your points.

  6. My biggest pet peeve with infographics has nothing to do with your list… it’s a matter of whether the subject matter is actually relevant to the audience. If I see another major tech company put out some stupid infographic on European Football because they’re trying to get some press in Europe, I’m going to throw up.

  7. Excellent post! I would have laughed harder, but I’ve seen too many awful excuses for infographics. Agree with Douglas Karr above re: an infographic’s relevance. Many people are illiterate when it comes to charts and graphs, and will fall for just about anything you work up with Excel and stick in front of them.
    And with that, I’m off to tinker a little more with an infographic I’ve been working on since mid-April.

  8. Great post! It seems like these days, everyone jumps at the idea of making an infographic without spending some time actually figuring out the content and design. The result is usually a long, jumbled mess that does little to simplify the data and get the message across effectively.
    The key to infographics is keeping it simple, the information clear and the design clean. I like to treat infographics as a story told visually, with an over-arching message and a clear progression from start to finish.

  9. Great points Ian. I’m seeing lots of ‘infographics’ these days that don’t really have any valuable conclusion or storyline. People aren’t going to remember numbers or percentages, but they might get the point if your infographic has a compelling narrative.

  10. Bahahahahahaha…..hold on let me catch my breath….whew.
    I love the article. I’m going to disagree on point #2, though, in cases where your point #3 is fulfilled, like a fax machine manual, for example, or maybe a better example would be IKEA’s assembly directions that are written without words, but convey meaning concisely, and probably better.
    The rest of it, I am afraid, is a confirmation of the sad state of written communication everywhere. We are in a world where (too many) people with college degrees can not spell or figure out how to group ideas into things called paragraphs. Perhaps this will assist them with at least being able to communicate with the pictures.

  11. Nice post. I think this correlates nicely with what Matt Cutts was saying the other day, i.e. turning something into a visual has to add value. If the information is dull it’s not going to be any less dull when it’s coloured in.
    This is a great example of data that works better as a visual (I’m starting to hate the word infographic) than as text – http://www.mnn.com/health/fitness-well-being/stories/10-reasons-not-to-start-smoking-infographic
    P.S. in point 4 did you mean to link to this page? – http://visual.ly/what-are-odds

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