Data visualization is an area that has exploded in popularity in the past decade which means the lines between science and art are constantly blurred, challenged and redrawn. The blending of statistics with art lies on a spectrum, with design-heavy infographics on one end and data-centric visualizations on the other end. There is an ongoing debate about the differences between an infographic and a data visualization. Will an infographic or a data visualization give you more traction as an inbound marketer, and is there any real difference between the two? To me, the two are just terms assigned to the idea that presenting data in a visual way makes it more understandable and more shareable. These are some guidelines to help you decide the best way to present your data visually, and tips to keep in mind throughout the process.
Generally infographics tend to be more design-focused with icons and symbols. Data visualizations tend to be more data-focused and are presented in a way that may look more familiar because they follow predetermined rules, with coordinates, lines, bars, etc. Are you a pro at Photoshop? What about R or SQL? Play to your strengths, whether they lie in aesthetically pleasing design or pure numerical analysis.
Both infographics and data visualizations are intended to make a large amount of data more consumable, but which one is right for your audience? This depends on a few things. First, familiarity is important because if the audience is familiar with the data you’re presenting, a more standard level of presentation is preferable (a data visualization) because there is less of a learning curve that would need to be addressed through narrative. However, if the audience is likely to be new to the presented subject, the narrative that infographics provide can be helpful in laying the groundwork for comprehension.
The second consideration is whether you’re targeting a mass or niche market. Let’s say you work for a local food company and data on when certain produce is in season. Your target consumer is someone who is buying produce at a grocery store within a 50 mile radius, but you want the data to be accessible to anyone who buys produce anywhere. Since infographics skew toward the design side of the spectrum, they can be “prettier” and gain more virality as a result. An infographic on peak season of produce is more likely to be shared than a bar chart on the same subject. However, data visualizations may be more appropriate for a niche market, where you know that more data will support your presentation. For example, the TED talk below addresses an academic audience that is likely interested in the numbers on that specific subject.
Aside from the audience, consider the way in which your audience will “consume” the data. If you know that you will only have a captive audience for a short amount of time, use a standard and static chart that can be understood quickly. If your audience is waiting in line at a coffee shop, they’ll likely be more captive and thus this would be an opportune time to use an infographic. Likewise, consider the medium where your audience will see the visualization. On the internet or in a magazine, infographics are consumable. However, say you’re putting up black and white flyers, standard visualizations are easier to understand and are more recognizable.
If we return to the produce example from earlier, that data isn’t overly complex, though still very useful. The underlying spreadsheet would just be two columns with the fruit and peak months. It’s two categorical variables that are not difficult to understand but not something you’d want to tweet out either. Similarly, the champagne infographic above provides room for anecdotes, quotes, and categorical data. The income disparity visualization on the other hand provides multiple variables and their relationships in a clear cut but interactive format. Similarly, the underlying data for the TED talk mentioned above would be nearly incomprehensible in spreadsheet format. The data visualization takes that multi-layered information with many variables and presents it in a way that is understandable and more consumable
Infographics lend themselves to telling a story through data and images. They’re usually hand-crafted and are an insular unit of storytelling from the perspective of the author and so lend themselves to persuasion. In contrast, data visualizations are more conducive to exploration and let the viewer deduce a story on their own. The surrounding narrative of a data visualization may provide context, but the visualization itself (whether static or interactive) does not provide the context. It is a more objective presentation than an infographic.
Let us know what you think about presenting data visually as an inbound marketer in the comments below. Also, if you’re interested in how DataHero fits into the equation, check out this post on our mission to empower our users through data visualization.
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