Infographics are more than just words and images, it’s all about making sense of complex information, which is divided down into chunks. As designer Alberto Cairo once said: “Information graphics should be aesthetically pleasing but many designers think about aesthetics before they think about structure, about the information itself, about the story the graphic should tell.”
Information Art Accolades
The rise in popularity of infographics has helped spurred an infographics design awards called the Kantar Information is Beautiful Awards which claims to “celebrate excellence and beauty in data visualizations, infographics, interactives & information art.” The awards are judged by a panel of experts and through a public vote that reaches out to a community of 300,000, who helps decide who wins (for example, one of last year’s winning projects was a dataviz called the Travel Visa Inequality, which shows how citizens from different countries are treated while traveling the world).
The award ceremony for this year was held in early December in New York, and was purported to be the most special ceremony yet. The organizers had the largest amount of award entries ever, with designers from across the U.S., Europe, Asia and Latin America making infographics from Play-Doh, clay and even cigarette butts. And it focuses on showing what’s needed most today: The cold hard facts.
Over the past seven years, the awards has grown to include compelling categories for infographic design, from arts and culture to science, business and breaking news, maps, languages and even an “unusual” category, which features photos of Paris seen through the lens of over 1,000 photographers.
It seems as though any designer can create infographics, but only with the right balance of text, images and metaphor. That’s not all, however. We spoke to Tobias Slater, the editorial director of the awards, about dataviz in the era of fake news, what makes a stellar infographic design and why balancing text with images is sometimes a bit like alchemy.
Why did you create this competition?
Tobias Slater: The awards founder David McCandless wrote the bestselling data visualization book Information is Beautiful, and wanted to create a platform for the vast range of talent in this field from students and solo practitioners through to independent studios, big agencies and brands. From Kantar’s point of view, they want to encourage better use of dataviz and help the world see how it can help businesses to make better decisions.
How has it grown into what it has?
The awards are now in their seventh year, and this year we had over 1,000 entries. It’s very much a global affair; we have more entries from China, Russia and Latin America than ever before and we’re moving the ceremony from London to New York City. Because it’s so easy to soak up information visually, infographics and dataviz is really shareable and has become sewn into the fabric of the web.
What makes a great infographic? A good visualization for one is, according to your own infographic, a combination of storytelling, information and even sometimes metaphor. Can you explain?
Our judges are looking for something that communicates information clearly and beautifully. The underlying facts must be correct and well-organized, and the concept should be compelling. We also like to see a clear goal. What impact do you want the visualization to have on the audience? Do you want them to laugh, be scared or be encouraged to take action? Making a great information graphic requires alchemy of several different successful elements. Often the best work involves multiple people each with different areas of expertise – for example a journalist/researcher, a designer and sometimes also coders and illustrators.
What is the brief history of infographics?
Data visualization can be traced back to at least the 1800s, when Charles Joseph Minard created visualizations during the Napoleonic wars and Florence Nightingale presented stats on army mortality. Looking at the past seven years of the Awards we’re seeing data visualization and infographics being used for entertainment, for tracking the quantified self and for communicating complex political and social issues. We’re starting to see a lot more dynamic visualization produced using code so data sources can be filtered and examined by users whilst remaining compatible with multiple browsers and on mobile. In addition businesses are using infographics to help them make data driven decisions and present ideas internally or to clients. One of the most interesting evolutions has been the creation of visualizations using unusual media. We’ve more recently had entries made in clay and cigarettes. This year, one entry even used play-doh and another a marble run!
What can infographics do that many don’t know?
Most people are able to process visual information more quickly than they can process the spoken or written word. In the era of fake news, data visualization helps us to focus on hard facts. Data can of course be manipulated, but the nature of our the medium is that the underlying data can easily be critiqued and analyzed. It is inherently open to investigation. Some people might not know how long a great data visualization takes to make – some of our best entries took weeks or months to create – that’s why our new breaking news category is so fascinating, because they were made in hours or days.
What diverse subjects can infographics be used for?
Any subject can be tackled, and that’s the beauty of it. You can see from this year’s entries we have everything from the inferiority of women’s pockets to how America uses its land. Any subject is acceptable, and our judges are always fascinated by the diversity each year.
How can graphic designers use infographics more today?
Data visualization can be used at any level of communication and many graphic designers are already using the technique. Information is Beautiful is launching a new tool called VizSweet that allows you to create stunning visualizations in seconds. Experts on the other hand might want to challenge themselves using code to turn data into visuals with things like Processing, or making interactives rather than static visualizations.