Clear definitions help everyone

Quite a few people have said they agree with us that the term “whitepaper” is misleading. In our opinion, the same applies to “infographics”. It’s a term so broad as to be meaningless — and in our business, it can also be dangerous. If we suggest to a client that we produce an infographic and we’re thinking of this, but a client thinks we’re going to be making something like this, then we’re heading for trouble.

It’s a broad discipline

Last year the Gloo team attended a Guardian Masterclass on data visualisation. The speakers suggested using six categories from David McCandless: static infographics, data visualisations, interactive infographics, data journalism, motion infographics, and web tools.

This helps a little — proper “data visualisations” like those produced by Hans Rosling are very different to the kind of “infographics” that marketers turn out. But we’re left with a lot of variation even within the “static infographics” category, which is what most people think of when you mention the term.

A new taxonomy

We’ve come up with three categories that we think cover most of the infographics we see on our trawls across the web. What do you think?

1. Minigraphics

What they are:

Simple, bitesize graphics expressing one point as powerfully as possible — one that springs to mind is the Shelter Rent Trap.

Pros and pitfalls:

Nice and easy to create and share — but they fail unless there’s a clear, unified message backed by a powerful nugget of data.

How to spot them:

They fit on your smartphone screen.

When to use them:

When you’ve got one point that you really want to share.

2. Storygraphics

What they are:

Those long, linear jpegs that float around social networks, often containing a mix of graphs, stats, pictures and text. They take the place of an entire article, and (if we’re being honest) are more a typographic and layout exercise than anything else. Here’s a typical example.

Pros and pitfalls:

Flexible and easy to create from many different sources, but they’ll fail and become a “dumpographic” of meaningless big numbers unless there’s a strong narrative tying the facts together.

How to spot them:

They’re loaded with pictures, icons and percentages culled from sources across Google.

When to use them:

When you’ve got a broader story to tell.

3. Datagraphics

What they are:

Not necessarily a massive number-crunching exercise like 20th century death, but a unified distillation of a set of content that draws out patterns and relationships and represents an issue for exploration.

Pros and pitfalls:

Can be very valuable and weighty as a thought-leadership resource, but they’re impossible to create without the right data, and significant investment in skills and tools.

How to spot them:

There’s a lot of detail, and no linear way to read from start to finish.

When to use them:

When you’ve got a unique data set to share with the world.



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