Stop Calling Them Infographics, Already!

March 12, 2017 | Published by | Leave your thoughts

I noticed the other day, when I was researching keywords for SEO, the keyword “infographics” is rising in popularity (right along with “UX” and “UI” as the hot buzzwords for job titles, but don’t get me started with that).

I also read a lot of blog posts.

And, many of those posts feature those cute, brightly colored, flat graphics that attempt to make complex information clearer to me. Never mind that most of the blogs don’t contain anything complex. Or even all that unique. Or interesting?

Blah, blah, blah – oh here’s a cute graphic!

They pop up all the time. Many don’t really work well on my mobile devices either. I read articles in other design and marketing sites touting the importance of creating custom (flat…) infographics with blog posts too. I don’t just see them occasionally… I see them EVERYWHERE!

And, most of them are boring.

I have come to recognize after 30 years in the graphic design world when a trend or fad is about to over-saturate the marketplace. It’s when you can’t pull up a website without seeing them and when every one of them seem to be created by the same person (even though they aren’t). It’s when marketing managers rave on about it just for the SEO bump. When someone writes about them who don’t have any clue what they really mean or how to create them.

Call it a style. Call it trendy.

But, don’t think it’s a new thing. Really. It’s not.

And please! For the love of all that is holy, please stop calling those flat, cute illustrations in your blog posts online “infographics!” Most of them aren’t!

So, what is the difference?

Ever hear of Edward Tufte? No? How about Nigel Holmes? When I was in design school in the 90s, his work with “explanation graphics” was hard to miss. His work portrayed real data in ways that made the complex clear and entertaining. ( Tufte’s book on information design, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information ( was all the rage too. I used to pore over that book for hours, marveling at how complicated quantitative information could really be made simple. And interesting. Not cute, but meaningful.

So here’s the key distinction: An infographic relates complex, often quantitative (as in numbers), information in such a way as to make the data clear. It also appeals to human emotion and often indicates qualitative (as in relative importance or emphasis) information at the same time. It explains.

Infographics examples

By the way, these infographics are based on a made-up survey, in case you were wondering. We really don’t know alien dining preferences… so this makes it an illustration of an infographic, actually.

By way of contrast, an illustration amplifies the information, but does not engage with the quantitative aspects of the data. It seeks to emphasize and entertain, but not explain.

An illustration example

What is commonly called an infographic is actually an illustration.

So, what’s the big deal? Why use one form of graphic over another?

The reason is what you want to achieve by creating the visual. The goal of an infographic is to explain, and the goal of an illustration is to amplify. Illustrations are very effective in creating emotional affinity of the reader to your content.

An infographic can do this too. But an infographic primarily functions to create clarity. If your graphic is cute and fun, great. If it doesn’t really explain or clarify truly complex information, then it is an illustration – not an infographic!

Holmes and Watson discuss infographics

It’s not an infographic, it’s an illustration!

Artwork by Jon C. Wretlind, ©2016. All rights reserved.

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This post was written by jcwretlind

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