Data visualisations and infographics: declaration or discovery?
If a picture is worth a thousand words and a graph a thousand data points then what’s the value of an infographic? And how do they differ from data visualisations anyway?
The results are in! The numbers crunched. Now comes the task of showing the meaning of this data to a patient, practitioner or an unwilling family member. Two powerful tools we can use to achieve this are data visualisations and infographics.
Data visualisation is the process of transforming data into an easy to interpret visual medium. Often this will take the form a graph or chart. These visualisations focus on the key messages the raw data can obscure by presenting the trends and patterns that matter most.
Data visualisations bring together data and design to make a clear statement.
Data visualisations bring data into sharp focus, so keep your intended audience at the forefront of your mind. While a researcher may wish for a complex, comprehensive graph; a patient, or healthcare provider may only want the take-home points. The first step in creating any data visualisation should be to choose the key message you want to deliver.
Clarity is king in data visualisations and unless you wish to fall afoul with the ABPI, it is paramount that your presentation is clean and clear. Visual aids can help identify trends in a dataset but their design should never hinder the data’s interpretation. However, this doesn’t mean that a data visualisation can’t be easy on the eye! A chart with a clean appealing aesthetic will help engage your viewer and focus their attention on your message.
Infographics pull data from one or more sources and knit them into a visual narrative. While they often make use of data visualisations, infographics can also incorporate text, images and design elements in the service of telling a story.
Infographics combine data, design & narrative to guide a viewer to explore and discover the meaning in a dataset.
Placing emphasis on story rather than a specific message makes infographics more open to interpretation than a data visualisation. Infographics seek to guide an audience towards the conclusion rather than hammering it home immediately. As such, a greater level of focus typically needs to be placed on flow and visual appeal to aid comprehension.
When to use them
The visually-focused and narrative-driven approach of an infographic means they typically work best when directed at a less specialised audience. Their eye-catching, sharable format works well for projects intended to raise awareness and encourage conversation on a given subject. They are often used in marketing content, blogs or case studies. The more focused nature of data visualisations means they lend themselves to a wider variety of formats; if your work includes more than a couple of data points, consider using one.
Chances are it will be clear from the outset whether your project would benefit from a data visualisation or infographic. However, if you do find yourself uncertain which route to go down ask yourself one simple question: do I want to declare the meaning of this data to the audience, or do I want them to discover it for themselves?
If its declaration then you’re in the biz of data viz.
If you want discovery then an infographic will drive that traffic.
Medical writer, pie chart reformist.