Today data surrounds us in the media, in articles and published works, weather reports, news articles, manuals, research. Information graphics, or infographics, are visual data representations used to show information that can be unwieldy. These infographics convey a “highly focused message” in a visual snapshot to quickly and clearly present the data and knowledge. With these infographics, using a single symbol, scientists, mathematicians, and statisticians can communicate complex concepts, as well as the story behind the data.
Lillian Pierson, a professional environmental engineer, spatial data scientist, and “digital humanitarian”, talks about this process of “boiling down” the data using infographic design, in Spectrums in Data Presentation. She says that the art of finding the perfect story in raw big data involves one part data visualization, one part storytelling, and one part infographic design.
In her article, Pierson presents an interactive pie-chart you can play with to visualize possible balances of narrative, contextual data, size of data, degree of focus, trend-spotting and presentation in three distinct types of data visualization. She describes how the infographic focuses on the story the data tells, recommending that you, “Make your story blatantly obvious in the data’s visual presentation. Also make sure that every sentence of narrative, every chosen color, every dataset, and every visual element used in the presentation adds meaning and value to the highly focused story you are telling.”
Pierson and Alberto Cairo both seem to agree that an Infographic has a higher degree of focus and narrative, which means more direct interpretation of the data by the creator. In an infographic, the creator is more likely to be telling a specific story, as distinct from a data visualization, which includes more of the raw data being displayed (contextual data from the Pierson chart), with certain trends highlighted. This approach often suggests a potential story but leaves much more room for narrative creation from the perspective of the viewer rather than the creator.