The whole infographics thing was undoubtedly born from fine intentions. But we’re tired of them and think there are some important reasons behind this cynicism. The problem is that they’ve become shorthand for information – to get all semioticsy about it, they connote knowledge but don’t always denote it. Sometimes they look a bit like medieval astrological charts. They gain their power from the fact they are confusing, not because of the information they contain.
We realise that McCandless et al meant to achieve exactly the opposite and in many cases they have, but ‘infographics’ have become a trend, not a practice. They have a requisite look and feel, they have a chummy tone that could be employed to make the notoriously dark art of statistics appear more reliable than it is. They’ve been presented to us as a new thing – but the idea of effectively sharing information with people is not new at all, as a recent post on the Creative Review highlighted when it reproduced a number of London Transport posters from an exhibition at the Transport Museum.
‘Infographics’ is a portmanteau that should never have been born. It allows us to avoid the issue at hand, it leads to questions like “can we use infographics here?” in order to make things look slick and cool when the question should just be “how do we represent this information well?” The London Transport posters were able to do this long before anyone even whispered infographics. And good designers will be doing it long after. There is a danger that people will be so distracted by the novelty of it that those who need to present information will simply turn it into information that looks a certain way instead of actually thinking about how it should best be communicated.
*When two words are shoved together to make a new word. Like Brangelina or Mompreneurs.