25 Jun 2012
Colourful, rectangular infographics featuring a lovely mash-up of facts and figures that are more confusing and offer little more insight than if you’d read them as a simple number. Sound familiar? There is a large possibility you have already seen one today, but if not here are a couple of gooduns…
Telling stories through the visualisation of information and data is nothing new, dating back to ancient cave paintings and no doubt even before that. The Internet however has meant that any old Joe Bloggs can give it a go, leading to a barrage of pointless infographics like the two above. As with anything repeated time and time again, these have become tired, but this doesn’t mean that this way of communicating is dying a slow death; in fact this couldn’t be further from the truth. The typical image in our heads only accounts for a small percentage of infographics, when in fact we are continuously coming across them in the form of installations, annotated photographs and videos, augmented reality applications, product interfaces and more. Often we aren’t even aware that many of them are infographics. The London Underground Map is a fantastic example of one that many of us encounter daily. Rarely do we acknowledge it as an infographic, but trying to consume this information in long form would be both confusing and time consuming, making it a very clever piece of data visualisation.
It’s therefore this common misconception that we need to rid ourselves of, rather than the infographics themselves. In the right context and with the right design, an image really can speak a thousand words. Visualisations have the ability to tell several stories at one time and can unearth insights that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. What’s more, they often require users to interact and make there own insights from the information, making the message all the more compelling.
We’ve already seen a glimpse of what’s next and thankfully it’s not just more of the same. One nice example is the use of personalisation in performance enhancing products such as the Nike+ Fuelband. The Fuelband can sync with your computer or smartphone enabling you to view and compare your exercise data, set tasks and view routes. There is also a simple infographic on the Fuelband itself in the form of led lights – arguably one of the strongest selling points of the product. The technology itself isn’t particularly special… the Fuelband doesn’t measure heart rate like Motorola’s Motoactv does and so is effectively just a glorified motion sensor. So, what is so alluring about seeing our exercise data converted into the made-up currency of ‘Nike Fuel’ and displayed as some simple led light graphic? The answer: It’s easy to digest and with minimal effort, allows people to do what they love most – compete with themselves and their friends. There’s something strangely satisfying seeing that green light at the end of the day and much more appealing than looking at a set of numbers. By presenting data in a way that people can interact with it to gain relevant insight and utility, brands can add a great deal of value to their products and services.
Nike’s more recent NG 360 Golf app is another lovely tool that uses data visualisation to improve athlete performance, but the increased need for user interaction means that the user base is likely to be much smaller and more intense than the Fuelband’s. The Nest thermostat and new wifi plant sensor by Koubachi are other great examples of how infographics can be used to add utility to everyday objects or in everyday circumstances.
The role of infographics in today’s world doesn’t just have to be in the context of utility and personal enhancement however; sometimes they are just a great way of presenting data to make your point both powerful and clear to the audience. This is usually what people are trying to do when they create these generic data mash-ups we see everyday on the web, but sadly they all to often miss the mark. CHI & Partners print campaign for the Sunday Times Rich List is a fantastic example of how this can be done. By layering photos with data, they have created a fun, simple and engaging campaign, proving simple ideas really are the best.
New and exciting visualisations are beginning to pop up all over the shop. Live feeds that change in real-time as the data evolves, real world installations, product interfaces and even as tools in the workplace. People get bored of seeing the same thing all the time – the infographic as we know it has to change and is changing. Brands now have access to huge amounts of data and the smartest brands are adapting by telling powerful stories through this data with targeted campaigns and clever visualisations.
A lovely and again simple example of this is the ‘Recipe Receipt’ campaign by Hellman’s.