Why Infographics Work

May 12, 2015 - Posted by Anna Mazereeuw

If you asked someone 10 years ago what an infographic was, most people wouldn’t know. These days, it’s rare to find the opposite – someone who doesn’t know what an infographic is. Between 2010 and 2012, searches for infographics increased by 800%. Infographics have enjoyed a clear jump in popularity.

But this raises an important question: why?  Why the sudden interest in infographics? Why have so many been published in recent years? Why do readers like them and more importantly, why do they work?

What is an infographic?

Before we dig further into why infographics work, we should first define what we mean by an infographic. An infographic is not simply a visual representation of data, although data visualizations may be included within infographics.

Infographics (1)

An infographic tells a comprehensive story through the use of text and images. Infographics present facts and figures, but they also teach and connect with readers in some way. The best infographics take complicated information and break it down into a visual message that is more comprehensible and relevant for the reader.

Why do infographics work?

1. Target natural visual processing

Humans are, by nature, very visual beings. 30% of our brains are engaged in the task of processing visual information, as compared with only 8% for touch and 3% for hearing. With so much of our brain dedicated to the task, our visual senses are extraordinary.

Reading text is a visual task, but we don’t understand text as quickly as we do images. This is a result of processing efficiency; some visual stimuli require more effort to process than others. Text is an example of stimuli that needs effortful processing as it’s viewed. Each letter represents a symbol, and the brain must decode each symbol in order to understand it. In contrast, images are relatively easy to process, especially if they make sense in context. As a result, images can actually make processing information easier, if they effectively illustrate the point being made.

Infographics are an excellent example of this in action. Great infographics use relevant graphs, charts, and images to effectively demonstrate what might be complicated to explain in text. Thanks to our visual processing abilities, an infographic can communicate complex information more efficiently and effectively.

2. Cut through the noise and capture attention

On the Internet, people are being exposed to more information than ever before in history. We receive approximately 174 newspapers worth of information every day. This is compared to only 40 newspapers worth in 1986. In order to deal with this massive influx of information, we tend tune a lot of it out, especially on the web.

Research has demonstrated that people only read about 20% of the text on an average web page. This means that 80% of information on the page is being overlooked. With so much being filtered out, how can you be sure that your readers are getting the important information?

According to eye-tracking studies, Internet readers pay attention to information-carrying images. In fact, when the images are relevant, readers spend more time looking at the images than they do reading text on the page. If you want to make sure your readers are paying attention to certain information, create a relevant image out of that information – aka an infographic- to catch their eye.

3. Break down complex information

Infographics can also make complicated information easier to understand. Lists of facts and figures may overwhelm readers and can be hard to understand on their own. But a well-crafted infographic can make that information clear and present it in a context that demonstrates its significance or relevance to the viewer.

For example, take the American Heartworm Society’s statistics on heartworm cases in the USA. Chances are, there is a table somewhere listing every state and the prevalence rates per clinic in each state. They could have published this table to their website. But instead, they condensed that same information into a visual representation that is easy to understand and quickly processed:

Looking at this map, a reader is easily able to identify their state and its incidence rates, thanks to the relevant image and use of color. This map makes it easy for the viewer to visualize and understand statistics that might otherwise require processing and considerable effort to understand.

The best infographics don’t just add relevant images to text. They also provide additional context to the information. It can be difficult to identify patterns when reading text, but through the use of images, colors, and shapes, readers can more easily recognize patterns and connections.

4. Improve memory retention

Infographics are not only easier to process and understand, they’re also easier to remember, thanks to the picture superiority effect. In psychology, the picture superiority effect refers to the fact that people are more likely to remember concepts when they are presented as pictures rather than as words. Research has shown that when people hear information, they are likely to remember only 10% of that information 3 days later. However, if a relevant image is paired with that same information, people retained 65% of the information 3 days later.

The picture superiority effect illustrates the ability of images to stick in our minds and increase how much information we can retain. Because of this effect, infographics can help your information stick in readers’ minds for longer.

5. Increase engagement through interactivity

Not all infographics are static images. There is a growing trend towards using interactive infographics. Like static infographics, interactive infographics combine text and images to visualize data and tell a story. But unlike static infographics, they also invite and encourage participation from readers.

An interactive infographic initially displays less text and fewer images than a static infographic. The reader is invited to click on or interact with the infographic in order to reveal new information. This gives interactive infographics the advantage of being less busy and more visually simple, while allowing them to reveal more information than a static infographic can.

Check out Future of Car Sharing for an example of a compelling interactive infographic. The viewer is invited to drive along the screen to reveal new information about car sharing. Hovering a mouse over the flags reveals what car sharing options are available in specific countries. The interactive element keeps the reader engaged, and it also allows information to be revealed gradually, which reduces clutter in the image.

When infographics don’t work

Unfortunately, not all infographics are created equal. In the tidal wave of infographics that have been published to the web in recent years, some have failed to achieve their purpose. Simply combining any text and images is not enough to effectively communicate a message. There are a few factors that are essential to creating an effective infographic:

  • Relevance: The images used in your infographics must be relevant. Irrelevant visuals do not improve memory and they also tend to be overlooked by readers. Images added just to jazz up the appearance of information are ultimately ignored by viewers.
  • Effective design: An infographic may also be beautifully designed, but ultimately ineffective. Some infographics sacrifice legibility for appearance. This is just as bad as presenting a wall of text. If your reader struggles to make sense of the jumble of words and images that make up your infographic, then you have failed to get your message across, no matter how pretty it looks.

Infographics can be a great way to connect with your audience. A well-designed infographic can catch the eye, break down complex information, and present it in a way that is understandable and directly applicable to the reader. Don’t let your audience pass over your content. Grab their attention, tell a visual story, and get your message across with an infographic.

Thinking about using infographics to communicate your story? LifeLearn can help you with that.