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Can We Please Stop With the Info-Free Infographics?

Jul 13, 2012

By: Vanessa Horwell, Founder & Chief Visibility Officer of ThinkInk

Back in 2010, the New York Times published a front-page article about a 2009 Afghanistan war strategy meeting in Kabul where Gen. Stanley McChrystal, leader of the American and NATO troops, was shown what is possibly the most convoluted and confusing PowerPoint slide of all time.

McChrystal was quoted as having said: “When we understand that slide, we’ll have won the war,” cracking up everyone in the room. Because, let’s face it, uncomfortable truths can be hilarious.

I couldn’t help thinking about the now-infamous “Spaghetti” PowerPoint slide when I read this blog entry from tech commentator Erick Schonfeld about the utter uselessness of far too many of the infographics that litter the Internet like virtual rubbish.  And it’s not just Schonfeld complaining about lousy infographics that contain little useful information.

Writers at TechCrunch, Poynter and dozens of other outlets have been grumbling about the info-free infographic epidemic for some time.

It’s not sufficient for an infographic to appeal visually with sexy charts, lots of data points and pop-art colors. It needs to appeal to cerebrally. If it contains no useful information, or buries it in a jumble of irrelevant numbers and shapes, what good is it? It’s just a graphic. Period.

At ThinkInk, we do huge amounts of research. We have branded ourselves as a PR company that gets great results in part because we make it our business to know our clients’ businesses. To make that happen, we spend many hours collecting data then combing through it to find information that can support our clients’ business and objectives. We also use that data to support pitches and press releases, to show potential clients that we understand what their business is about and to author intelligent thought leadership articles, trend reports and whitepapers.

Because, as humans, we are such visual creatures and because it’s so much easier to look at an infographic than to glean needed data from a long list of numbers or a scholarly article, it’s incredibly easy to yield to the temptation of relying on infographics more than we should. We’ve all succumbed here at one point or another when racing against the clock on a particularly challenging task. The problem is, as Anthony Ha of TechCrunch points out, many infographics are created by companies that are biased and have little knowledge of the infographic’s subject.

So I tend to view a lot of infographics with some degree of suspicion. Let’s hope that Schonfeld, who applied for a Knight Foundation grant to create a data-visualization tool that is actually useful, gets the funding money and gives us something brilliant.

And speaking of brilliant, I will sign off with a very funny – and spot-on – infographic about…bad infographics. Ah, the irony.

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