Bad Infographics – how they happen and how you can avoid making them

Photo by spike_dennis via Flickr

Infographics were meant to the next best thing in link-building, we all saw the awesome graphics, we all admired the clever use of facts and figures, and most of all we coveted the traffic they generated. But then people started trying to crank them out at a rate of 5 an hour, and things started going wrong…

But do not despair! Infographics can be saved, we can rebuild their reputation, we have the technology, and more importantly we can still have the traffic and the links.

Let’s start off here by considering some of the infographic types that are most problematic…

The Map

a.k.a “stereotypes of the world”, a.k.a “Did you know that In France people eats snails”. Easy to do, just endlessly recycle the same template map of Europe with a succession of lazily researched, vaguely in theme facts. “Foods of the world”, “clothes of the world”, “best travel destinations of the world + the one that we are promoting”. You know the score, but you might not have seen many of these lately, because people aren’t even bothering to share these things on Twitter anymore.

The reheated industry stats

The same endlessly recycled industry statistics that have been used a million times already, and will be used a million times more. Five minute fact finding mission on Google, stick them together in purple or orange text on a black background, and job’s done. Never mind that the statistics came completely unhinged from context three blogs, 2 charts, and a wiki ago, never mind that you have failed to realize that they don’t have any relevance to the point you are trying to make, or the other statistics on the page. You have created insight, be proud.

The style over substance

Some dude in the office knows how Photoshop works, so all your infographics look awesome. Properly laid out with thematically appropriate fonts, images that aren’t just created by stealing someone else pictures and torturing them with filters until even TinEye wouldn’t recognise them. These infographics are works of art. Just ignore the misspellings, dodgy figures, and nonexistent point. People will re-tweet the thing anyway, because, hey it’s pretty, and no one reads them anyway, do they?

 

At this point you may be asking “Why Matthew, how can we reverse these terrible trends?” and assuming that you did, then, well I’m glad you asked!

Go to the source of the figures

Don’t go to Google for your stats. National statistics are free online for the UK, EU, US, even Canada.  Statistics are readily available for specific topics, for example if you are making a winter flu infographic go to the CDC. Insight companies such as Nielsen often share a lot of data online. Use these facts, mine them for ideas, sign up to report releases, and get the stories fresh. This is important because…

Being topical can pay off

Infographics work best when they are simplifying complicated information. So if you can be on the pulse about what exactly people are confused about right now, this can pay dividends. My favourite infographic ever is probably this offering from the popular webcomic XKCD. This was produced shortly after the Fukushima disaster, when every journalist was  attempting to explain radiation dosages to the frightened masses despite the fact that they personally didn’t understand them either.

So some guy gets together with a reactor operator, makes a chart, and suddenly it’s all over the internet. Seriously go look at the links to this page. The infographic was everywhere. This isn’t a one off, Randall Munroe the author of this web comic is the source of many of the most pernicious infographics on the internet, and I’d suggest that this happens not just because he knows his stuff, but because he actually spends time conceptualizing, researching and designing them properly…

Understand that viral media grows exponentially

Content which is widely picked up and shared on the internet isn’t just a few times more successful than your 20 minute map of the day. It can be millions of times more successful. Chances are that if, by devoting all the man hours of the average press office over an entire month to a single chart, that it would become a guaranteed internet sensation, then that would be a good decision. Reality doesn’t work like this of course, but the point remains. Quantity over quality is not always a virtue.

Don’t reward other people’s lazy content

Makes sure that you actually read other people’s infographics in full before you re-tweet. This is a pretty sensible thing to do anyway. For a start, you won’t look like an idiot if the recipient actually does read the thing, and realizes that it doesn’t make sense. Then spend twice as much time promoting other peoples good stuff, especially if it hasn’t hit the mainstream yet.

So what do you think? Is it worth devoting the extra effort to produce genuinely worthwhile infographic content? Is it too late, should we just give them a rest for a bit?

 Let us know in the comments below…

  • Brent Nau

    I think when the price drops so low that “anyone” can crank out infographics we will see a further flood of low quality infographics.

  • Brent Nau

    I think when the price drops so low that “anyone” can crank out infographics we will see a further flood of low quality infographics.

  • http://www.lakestarmedia.com/blog Tom Clark

    Definitely, which is only going to lower to the overall value of infographics – can’t be too long until we see some kind of infographic spinning software!

  • http://www.lakestarmedia.com/blog Tom Clark

    Definitely, which is only going to lower to the overall value of infographics – can’t be too long until we see some kind of infographic spinning software!