Like many other fans of infographics, we were excited about today's launch of Visual.ly, a site that helps normal folk create infographics. The program just requires users to upload data, and it generates a pretty JPG with charts, graphs, and icons -- no PhotoShop skills required. Given the service's ease and availability -- it's free to join -- it will probably mean the proliferation of more infographics.
The definition of what an infographic is can be pretty broad. (Wikipedia's history of the form starts out with cave paintings.) But it's pretty clear to us that there are two crucial parts: information and graphics. Leave one out and you're stuck with info or graphics. So as the popular form continues to proliferate, here are a few of our rules of what makes a good, and bad, infographic.
1. Don't pack in too much info and not enough graphic. Some of the data visualizations out there rely to heavily on the stats and aren't very distinguishable from their less popular cousins: charts and tables. This graphic provides interesting information comparing data from three different schools in the Vancouver School District, in Washington. The accompanying charts don't do the stats justice.
2. Putting text in a JPG does not make an infographic. Back in the day when magazine front-of-the-book sections were the main conduit for information and graphics (a period slightly after those cave paintings), this would be called a charticle.
On this Mac vs. PC comparison there are some charts up top followed by a bunch of facts next to cute graphics. It is fascinating, but it is not an infographic.
3. Don't pack in too much graphics and leave out the info. We all love pictures! But putting them together to express an idea is usually called an illustration or editorial cartoon. Many so-called infographics use colors, fonts, and pictures, but are very short on info. This musing on what the world would be like sans Twitter, for example, has a few chuckle-worthy moments, but it is not an infographic.
4. Fake information does not belong in an infographic. This artistic look at the future of iPhones has some interesting ideas for future features, but slapping percentage points next to illustrations doesn't give us any useful information. This is tough to defend as an infographic.
5. Graphics and information should match. A perfect balance does exist, but it means getting the stats, graphics, colors, fonts, text and photos just right. This infographic is chock full of good stats, but it doesn't scare the reader away. It also gets bonus points for using Facebook's fonts and graphics, which reminds us what we're reading about.
6. Infographics should tell a story. With the easy-to-scroll "tower" approach dominating infographic design, people read infographics like scrolls of papyrus (a reading device that came between cave paintings and magazine charticles). So infographics need a beginning, middle and end. Other wise it's just a bunch of random charts, numbers and graphics plopped onto one big JPG. Here's an good example on mobile phone privacy: it starts with a question, describes a problem and finishes with what to do about it. Plus, the data doesn't overwhelm, and the mix of charts, graphs and stats make this an easy read.