Make More Persuasive Infographics By Balancing Context With Simplicity

A colleague shared a recent Harvard Business Review article with me after I mentioned seeing The Best American Infographics on display in my local bookstore. The article was a brief interview with the series editor, Gareth Cook, and covered some of his thoughts on what makes a great infographic.

If there was one overall theme, it would be persuasiveness. In fact, this was presented as self-evident — an almost inherent quality of any great infographic — so the interview primarily focused on what makes an infographic persuasive.

“First, I’d say, they all have a clear focus. The designer has gone in and removed all the extraneous details so you see just what you need to understand the message behind it.”

I couldn’t agree more. In my own graphics, I am constantly trying to simplify and boil them down to the essential elements — from the text and layout to the colors and icons — that help make the point of the graphic clear.

But in the process of simplifying my graphics, I have sometimes found myself approaching a line — and it’s one that you do not want to cross — after which the graphic is too simple, lacks sufficient context, and loses all its weight. For example, I’ve simplified the pie chart below and used color to help emphasize the point of the graphic.

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Data Visualization: Catering To Your Audience

When you’re creating content — whether it’s a film, a sales presentation, or an article on maximizing your Thanksgiving leftovers — it’s always important to consider who your audience is; this also holds true for data visualization. I’ve touched upon this in my previous blog posts, but let‘s take a closer look at the audience spectrum specific to data visualization.

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Building Better Bar Charts

In my previous post, I covered the increasing popularity of "infographics" — both the term and the wide range of examples. I cautioned against unthinking imitation; like most trendy things, their surface shine can distract from their bad qualities, and it’s easy to lose sight of basic principles and objectives. And this distraction is partly to blame for the currently polarized perception of bar charts, which are seen as both antiquated and ideal.

Both Forrester clients and internal colleagues often tell me “We want something better than bar charts” when describing how they would like to see their data visualized. At the same time, I also hear from others, jaded by the onslaught of overdesigned data graphics, who insist there is nothing better or more accurate than bar charts when it comes to visualizing and comparing data points. They don’t need all the “bells and whistles.” “Edward Tufte!” they cry.

So, what’s causing this divide? How can a chart type be so polarizing? I think the answer lies in both the implied perception of bar charts as this basic, limited chart and the array of bad examples of both alternative visualization methods and bar charts themselves.

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Infographics: Where To Begin?

As the newest blogger for the Data Insights blog, please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Ryan Morrill, and I am a senior data visualization specialist at Forrester. In that role, I’m responsible for creating insightful and engaging graphical stories by exploring the most effective ways to visually represent data and information. I’m really looking forward to sharing my thoughts and lessons learned about data visualization through this blog.

Infographics are popular —or at least the idea of them is popular — and everyone wants to know if, how, and when they should jump on board. Most of the questions I receive from Forrester clients about data visualization relate to "infographics": Should we be using them? How effective are they? What are infographics exactly? How do we make them ourselves?

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