WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT – using infographics to tell your story
You know when you’re about to start reading through a big block of text – yeah, that’s right, like now – what do you do? You might give it a quick scroll up and down – you want to see how long it is, and work out at a glance if it’s worth investing your time in.
You certainly aren’t alone. A study conducted last year by Microsoft found the human attention span has dropped to just eight seconds – less than that of a goldfish – and analysis into website reading habits by US firm Chartbeat found that people rarely get to the end of a webpage they’re reading, in fact most people don’t even make it halfway through.
You know it’s true of you, so when you’re telling your story you have to accou–
Stay with me!
You have to take account of that and be as concise and engaging as possible.
That’s where the power of images comes in. US manufacturing giant 3M – they make the post-it notes and sticky tape in front of you on your desk right now – turned their science department onto understanding the human brain and determined that 90% of the information we process comes to us visually.
PR heavyweights Bell Pottinger, in their annual Digital Trends report, claim that blog posts with visuals enjoy 180% more engagement than those without.
But then, you already knew that, didn’t you? Because you’ve already scrolled through this blog and seen the infographic below.
There are a couple of different ways of thinking about your infographic.
The first is: with only eight seconds to make your point and grab the reader’s attention, it’s important to make that time count.
In internet speak, the relevant term is TL;DR. Too Long; Didn’t Read. That acronym is usually followed by a short passage that gets to the point. Save the time, put down the novel, she marries Mr Darcy.
That’s what our image above is about. Two quick bits of information we’d like people to come away with, even if they don’t absorb any of the rest.
Thinking of your infographic like your TL;DR, it’s easy to see the value. It can allow a reader short of time or attention span to leave the page with your key points in their mind, and for those who have a bit more stamina, it can draw them in with the promise of more detail and more explanation.
But there’s a second way of thinking about infographics too. They can also be a tool to make large sets of data palatable and useful.
A great example of this is The Guardian’s method of breaking down government spending. Rather than an impenetrable table of figures – the way the Treasury presents it – the paper takes the data, groups it logically and visualises the differences in budgets.
There’s a lot of data there, but in visual form it’s legible and the reader can start to draw their own conclusions – ‘look how small DEFRA and DfID are’, ‘if we got rid of BIS and Culture, Media and Sport, we could pay our debt interest’.
Presenting the TL;DR version, you’ve done the filtering yourself – telling your reader just the important parts. In the big data version of visualisation, you’re leaving that final step to them, giving them what they need to make up their own minds.
When creating your infographic, it’s important to choose the right approach. Data visualisation can allow you to present huge amounts of data succinctly – and usefully – but too much information without explanation or purpose is just as overwhelming to a time-pressed reader as too many words.
It’s about understanding your audience and appreciating their level of knowledge about the subject you’re presenting.
The good folks at Information is Beautiful have boiled down how you might go about that.
All too often, people try to make do with just information and goal. It’s easy to understand why – data is what you have and goal is what you want people to do – but without all the elements in place you might not succeed in having the impact you want.
The Guardian’s Budget spending graphic has these elements – there’s the data, there’s the grouping, linking, colouring and sizing of the circles which mix the story and the visual form. And knowing their readership as they do, The Guardian knows that presenting the information that way is practically begging them to voice their own opinion and point out what they’d do differently.
The required thought and planning behind them is why infographics can be good for the people producing them too – they make you focus on distilling the information you have, working out what’s compelling to your audience and understanding exactly what it is you’re trying to say.
Lots to think about the next time you skip over the words to get to the pictures…
If you need any help communicating with your audiences, please get in touch.