Infographics – When Familiarity Doesn’t Breed Contempt

CaveArt Infographics are a hot topic these days, but the truth is infographics have been around for more than 30,000 years. From the first moment a person drew a picture with a stick in the dirt we’ve been using infographics.  Infographics are simply images used to tell a story.  Those images can be anything from drawings, symbols, photos, charts and even letters of a language.  They are all a means to visually communicate.

The key to effective infographics is familiarity to your audience.  Consider the petroglyphs found in caves.  Some images are easily interpreted, such as the story of a hunt showing stick figures with spears and images of animals.  Other images, like spirals and the outlines of hands, are less clear.  We can guess what the artist meant, but we can’t really know for sure. Additionally many of these images are drawn very close together or right on top of one another, increasing the difficulty in understanding the message.

The same concept applies to written languages, we must understand the symbol (or letter) and how each symbol is grouped with other symbols to understand the message.  Many of the ancient languages did not use spacing which makes it additionally challenging for experts to translate.

When used effectively, infographics are a very powerful medium for telling your story.  The right infographic can  transcend language barriers allowing your message to be universally understood by all who view it.  For happyexample, the image of a happy face is easily recognized globally across all races, cultures, genders and even ages.  The smallest child will recognize a happy face even when it’s nothing more than a circle with two dots for eyes and a curved line for the smile.

Familiarity is one of the Gestalt Principles of Perception and, unfortunately, one of the weakest principles.  As I’ve illustrated in my narrative, even if the audience is completely familiar with the images and symbols used, the message can become muddied when the principle of proximity is not used correctly.  By effectively applying the principles of perception to your infographics you can achieve pragnanz, the perfect clarity of your message.  If you aren’t familiar with the Gestalt Principles of Perception, I invite you to view my tutorial, The Gestalt of Slides.

I’ve recently written a series of articles for creating infographics using PowerPoint 2013.  Although these articles are specific to techniques in PowerPoint, the methodology is also applicable to other tools.

PowerPoint 2013 Visualizations: Infographics

These articles also introduce you to the Hierarchy of Knowledge and explain how using infographics can transform your data to wisdom.