There are some very good infographics out there but most are rubbish. No surprises there – that’s Sturgeon’s Law for you. They’re also very popular at the moment, with otherwise respectable people spewing the good and (more often) the bad into my RSS reader and Twitter stream. Although I think this one by lunchbreath has a lot to say:
To address the balance there are a few people prepared to address the inaccuracies, point out the need for substance, rather than style and generally describe junk as junk. My metaphorical hat is doffed to the people undertaking this sisyphean task.
Notwithstanding all of that, I wanted to draw a line between the ongoing infographic boom and a Smashing Magazine post from a few years back discussing a micro-trend for bespoke designs for individual blog posts. Warning: that post contains the word ‘blogazine’.
It was a designer’s reaction to seeing millions of people using the same old blog layouts to express themselves. However, interesting as it was, one look at the advantages and disadvantages at the end of the article would tell you it was never going to take off in a meaningful way. In fact, the trend has swung towards ever more flexible content types to cope with things like responsive design and dynamically-generated pages.
Still, despite everything, the idea had its merits and I see some of those in the way that infographics have been taken up – particularly by many websites and marketers/campaigners*. The key thing is that they solve problems for many of the people involved in their propagation:
- readers like them because (at their best, at least) they make large amounts of information/data more easily digestible and are more interesting to look at than standard blog posts
- websites like embedding them because they’re a quick and easy form of content and a shortcut to something like having a single blog post with its own bespoke design. Also, readers like them
- marketers/campaigners like making them because websites will embed them (without editing them) and readers will share them around. They can also be good for communicating a message effectively
A final thought on this – it might help to have the vocabulary to differentiate between types of visually-presented content. Overuse of the info- prefix means that the format is less likely to be used for opinion, questions, mindless invective, whimsy or any number of other uses. Or maybe we just call those ‘graphics’.
*I think journalists tend to take a slightly different approach to this, although don’t ask me to back that up or explain/justify differentiating between journalists and website owners.