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Infographic vs. Data Visualization (Who Cares?)

Reading Time: 2 minutes

The more visually inclined we become in our quest to consume information, the blurrier the line between data vis and infographic gets. To the great dismay of art directors, designers, etc. these terms are even being used interchangeably. For clarification, I went digging around the Web and found a pretty great summation of the differences from Nick Iliinsky:

“Infographics are the ones that are usually illustrated by a graphic designer; they’re probably done in Illustrator, there’s some data in them, but they’re not necessarily data-rich. They tend to be manually authored, manually constructed — obviously on a computer — but somebody sat down and said, “we’re going to put the big windmill here for ‘more windpower’ and more sunshine for ‘more solar power’ and a smaller oil barrel here” or whatever. That’s an infographic. A data visualization tends to be generated automatically or algorithmically. Someone sets those (algorithms) up, but from there you can point to the data source and, as the data changes over time, you can regenerate the graphic trivially. It’s not something somebody had to draw.”

In other words, the real difference between these guys is in the process. For data vis, it’s about visually representing raw numbers and using those visualizations to come to interesting conclusions. For an infographic, it’s about curating already processed data.

In the end, they’re both lookers.

Communication Rules

There’s a lot of digital distress over keeping data visualizations and infographics in their own camps, but how important are their distinctions, really? Meeting expectations is certainly one thing, but in general most viewers are  just looking to quickly learn something about a given topic. And that’s why these methods of communication have been taking the Web by storm. In a world that’s increasingly bogged down by data, they’re quick to process and, done right, full of incredibly useful. They are sharable, digestible pictures of knowledge. How delicious.

What’s more interesting than definitions here is how often we’re utilizing these methods of communication. Our response to information overload is pushing us all head first into an era of visual thinkers, and the growing awareness of the power of design begs a very interesting question: What else can a visual approach help with?

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