The key to using infographics to tell a story

BY DAN PARKER, CREATIVE DIRECTOR, INCISIVE WORKS

A few month’s ago, Robin Richards from Ripetungi came in to talk to us about infographics, and unexpectedly introduced us to the works of Florence Nightingale, Joseph Priestly and William Playfair.

Florence Nightingale we are all familiar with as the heroic nurse of the Crimean War, whose actions saved thousands of lives in numerous wars and permanently changd attitudes to medical care in the field. What few of us know about Nightingale is that she created her own infographic “The Nightingale Rose ” to illustrate the data she had gathered on how soldiers died. She used this to convince the government military chiefs to change their attitude to sanitation in field hospitals.


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‘THE NIGHTINGALE ROSE’


Priestly and Playfair may not have had the same dramatic effect but their impact on our modern obsession with infographics is no less great. History teacher Priestly’s chart visualising the various empires across time is one of the first recorded charts, while Playfair is credited with inventing the linegraph and the pie chart.


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‘NEW CHART OF HISTORY’ BY JOSEPH PRIESTLY IN 1796


What they all have in common is the way they condensed reams of statistical data into a simple visual story – and that is the essence of a great infographic. It should be easy to understand even if you are unfamiliar with the subject matter.

Nasa took this to the next level on when they sent an infographic into space . A plaque was attached to the unmanned Pioneer 10 and 11 spacecraft, launched in the early seventies featuring images that could easily be interpreted by intelligent alien lifeforms– from our position in the universe to the size and shape of our bodies. Although we lost contact with the pioneers decades ago they continue to drift through space unless they are exhited in some alien science museum.


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THE PLAQUE PLACED ABOARD THE 1972 PIONEER 10 AND 1973 PIONEER 11 BY NASA


Richard told us numerous other tales including sharks vs human (they kill eight of us a year, we kill 11,417 an hour), the state of the music industry and over-the-counter drug sales in the US. The result was always the same – a compelling story told in an engaging and highly visual manner.

This is the key to producing a great infographic – there’s no good just giving a designer a load of graphs and charts. It is the story you want to tell that is all important, so you need to add context engage the audience and present a compelling narrative.

There are a few main story types you can tell through infographics; comparing A to B; illustrating a trend; providing a resource; showing evolution; and simplifying a complex concept.

Creation is a collaborative process – you need different skill sets to make an infographic work. Leave it all to the designer and you’ll get something pretty but it may not actually work. Ideally the designer works alongside a data analyst who knows the numbers inside out, and a writer who knows what the audience wants and what the story is. The process should go something like this – understand the data, develop the story, produce the visual and then check it all works (show it to someone who hasn’t been involved).

Finally, three simple rules to ensure you’re creation works and will stand the test of time – let the data lead, be accurate and keep it simple!