Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Beware: infographics are not the be-all and end-all of great communication

I’m a big fan of infographics: those nifty visual ways of presenting often complex information quickly and clearly. Done well they help make the patterns or trends in data highly visible. Perhaps the best, and most long-standing, being the London Tube map.

And if a cursory glance at Facebook or LinkedIn is anything to go by, the rest of the world is a fan as well.

Yet, I’m also worried by the proliferation of infographics, often to the exclusion of well-crafted copy. 

I happen to be someone who responds well to visual interpretations. My thought process is often aided greatly by the use of mind mapping techniques – in fact my articles on this blog start with a mind map.  Yet I’m also painfully aware that there are many people for whom the visual representation of data, facts or information leaves them cold and unengaged.  For them, the written or spoken word carries much more weight.

There can be no substitute for a well-argued piece of prose or a clever strapline. Why? Well, the written or spoken word can often engender something that visual representation may not:  an emotional reaction in the reader. That’s why novels have survived the advent of the movies and television.  Why speech radio continues to attract a sizeable audience.

By all means use infographics to enhance or simplify your messaging.  But please don’t assume it is a full substitute for copy if you want to engage all audiences fully.