Infographics, data visualizations, visual knowledgewhatever you call it, it’s suddenly ubiquitous and it’s pretty interesting.

What I appreciate about infographics is that they can be as simple as a street sign, an organizational chart, a family tree, or as complex and multi-layered as an interactive iPhone or iPad app, or a zoom-able map that shows the flight paths of 200 space missions over the past 50 years. But if you want to see something even more mind-boggling, check out the work of artist Aaron Koblin, the Creative Director of Google’s Data Arts team, who uses technology to generate visual data. You can see some of this work here, and his TED talk here.

What I appreciate even more is the fact that infographics is its own visual language, which allows me and my visual mind to better and more fully understand what may be uninteresting or confusing to read in words.

When I think about infographics that have really stood out to me—either ones I’ve seen in my environment, or ones that people have shared—and what makes them so interesting, it seems to come down to four general principles:

  • Compelling topic. We create infographics to tell a story, make a point, share a perspective, or simplify a data set. And the information we do share needs to be impactful and compelling enough to capture the audience, incite thinking, and encourage dialogue.
  • Great design. People should want to read/interact with it. It can be the most relevant, compelling, interesting, and fun topic, but if it’s visually tedious, the only audience you’re capturing is yourself. And maybe your mom.
  • Simple visualization. It doesn’t matter how detailed or general the information is. What does matter is that it’s visualized in a way that the audience can digest. Keep it intuitive and keep it simple.
  • Factual Data. Errors discredit the research, the author, and the design. Know the facts.

Sure, street signs may not always “encourage dialogue,” and there are many additional principles that can be applied, but overall, these are just a few things to consider.

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