Monday, March 14, 2016

Infographics: Why and Why Not!?

Jonathan P. Bell
INFO 266
March 14, 2016

McDermott, I. E. (2014). Show, don't tell. Online Searcher, 38(4), 35-37.

Why we should use infographics
Infographics are indispensable tools for libraries, says San Marino City Librarian Irene McDermott. A well-designed infographic can make complex data sets comprehensible to laypersons -- a group that can include users, elected leaders, and library board members.

Infographics are examples of data visualization, which “liberates” raw data by translating it from bland spreadsheets into captivating graphic design. As McDermott notes, data visualization is powerful because it “allows [data] to be instantly understood, telling a story and changing minds.” The most effective infographics are ones that covert dull numbers and mundane facts into a compelling narrative.

In this era of plummeting library budgets, it’s more important than ever to show the public and elected leaders -- quickly and clearly -- just how valuable the library is. No expensive design consultant is needed, says McDermott, because free data visualization services are available online. These include, GoogleCharts, and, while apps like Adobe Kuler help users select effective infographic color palettes. These services are designed for beginners and can be learned quickly. For individual product reviews, please read the original article.

The core takeaway is that an effective infographic uses images to communicate your story. Data and text must be translated into visual representations. Hence the advice, “Show, don’t tell.” Viewers should grasp the narrative, the story you’re telling, from your infographic’s design.

Why we might NOT use infographics
McDermott also includes an important sidebar critiquing infographics, and the points are well-argued. Citing marketing and information science analysts, she points out that infographics have become trite, often lack source citations, are difficult to index, and aren’t fully accessible to users with disabilities. This last point merits closer scrutiny.

Reliance on color schemes, visual cues, and graphic design techniques can make the infographic’s messages inaccessible for the visually impaired, while viewers with cognitive disabilities might perceive the visual data field as distracting or complex, thus undermining the very point of infographics as communication tools.

McDermott also tells the story of an infographic she drafted examining her library’s “relationships” showing city residents comprised only 33% of users whereas non-residents made up 66% of library users. McDermott works for the Crowell Library in the extremely wealthy and fiscally conservative City of San Marino in Los Angeles County. According to McDermott, publishing that infographic could’ve led to a city council outcry alleging “money wasted” on non-residents. McDermott chose to leave that data buried in her Excel sheet.

I chose this article because of our turn to infographics as communication tools in our presentations. One of my first impressions from my initial scan is that there are many competing, and perhaps redundant, free infographic services online. McDermott’s reviews were helpful in sorting out the details, though, I was surprised the author didn’t review Piktochart, one of the industry-leading free infographic tools and a favorite in our class.

The points outlined in her article are quite simple -- and familiar. It’s essentially the same advice we learned after years of viewing text-heavy PowerPoint presentations in college and the workplace. The advice is to use images to tell your story, and include minimal text. It’s that simple. Granted there’s a bit more room for text and numbers in infographics but the advice is effectively the same: say it with images.

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