Note: I’m taking the 6-week Introduction to Infographics and Data Visualization course offered by the Knight Center and taught by Alberto Cairo. I wrote this blog post as one of the first week’s assignments. Don’t miss my related post "A Redesign Critique of the ‘Social Web Involvement’ Infographic: Part 2."
The GlobalWebIndex is a marketing and PR firm based in the UK. It specializes in social media research. What they may not specialize in is creating infographics.
For instance, take their "Social Web Involvement" infographic, which RedCandle Research included in a blog post titled "10 Useful Social Media Infographics." The blogger is correct in that a) the topic is social media usage, and b) it is an infographic — a reader or viewer cannot interact with it to peel back multiple layers of information, like they can with a data visualization. However, the infographic is not “useful.”
To break the critique of the infographic down, let’s utilize chapter 2 of Alberto Cairo’s book, "The Functional Art: an introduction to information graphics and visualizations." Cairo states that a graphic must accomplish four tasks for readers:
1. Present multiple variables.
2. Allow for comparison.
3. Help the reader organize information.
4. Clearly show a correlation between the data.
The “Social Web Involvement” infographic only meets the first requirement. The graphic fails at conveying its core function: providing a look at how people use the Web and social media world wide. At a glance, a viewer cannot gather this information. Sure, it is brightly colored, and the continents are in the correct locations. Yet it requires the reader to think and remember too much. By the time I zoom in or scroll to look at a country’s stats, I cannot even remember what the colors represent, much less the numbers.
Additionally Cairo states that “one of the most important principles to remember when dealing with infographics and visualizations: The form should be constrained by the functions of your presentation” (36).
In this example, the map is unnecessary, and the donut charts do not clearly convey the true numbers of the data. The latter is especially alarming because it misleads readers. The little icons don’t help either. The icons are only a distraction, repetitive and add clutter. The same applies to every country having Access and User columns — they too are unnecessary and an inefficient use of space.
It is critical for data journalists to think like a reader and to expect what questions a reader would have about the data. A data journalist succeeds when a reader walks away as a more informed citizen.