Virtually all infographics are indeed terrible visualizations of information.
They tend to know not, nor care, a thing about visual design of quantitative information. They think they're executing a strategy because their fingers are moving on the keyboard.
Then they don't get results and wonder why. The point is to tell them they aren't even in the right ballpark.
I do not agree. I've seen quite a bunch that – although obviously not a definitive source of information – give a good sense of perspective. Here's one  that came back to mind.
I agree that the XKCD "radiation" chart is an instance where an XKCD-style comic does a better job of explaining something than an equivalent well-written paragraph. But I don't agree that it's a particularly great visualization.
The "radiation doses combined" transition seemed fairly clear to me. In every case the collective doses are measured in the new SI-prefixed unit delineated by the scale on the left. If I were to criticize anything I would be a little more wary of the color choices and the box labeling. The = sign and parenthetic dose notation seems a little confused (the blue box dose size uses a different convention from the others).
While the chart could layout some things a little more clearly, I think that Minard's chart shows that one shouldn't reduce information content solely for the sake of simplicity.
It's clearly within Munroe's capability to make such a graphic; he did this one on a deadline. I'm not criticizing Munroe (though: not an XKCD fan), just making an objective assessment of the graphic.
And, like I said: here's a case where a graphic, even an imperfect one, probably communicates rich information more effectively than prose. Unlike the "relative sizes of data" infographic upthread.
Scale of the Universe, Radiation, IPv4 space, lakes & oceans, gravity wells, and Money all come to mind.
(You can curse me later).
By contrast, the infographic you like uses illustrations incorrectly; for instance, isn't it confusing the area and radius of circles? Notice how it uses multiple pictures each drawing a single comparison on a single axis. Think about how many words the same comparison takes in prose (not hard, because all those words are included in the infographic in gigantic type above the illustration, often in radioactive neon green).
--- Also: note that this [unfavorable] comparison is against a relatively weak example of explanatory illustration --- the best examples in _VDQA_ are way, way better than these NYT examples, which are a bit chartjunky themselves. If there's a good critique to be leveled at E.T., I think it may be that he tends to be overly favorable to friends, students, and, most importantly, people who share the same aesthetic sense that he does: simple line drawing style, low-saturation colors, arts & letters themes. Look at that "Game of Life" illustration, for instance; ouch.
Look at the "airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow" by, I believe, one of his students --- a truly excellent, effective example of an information graphic done in E.T.'s favored style [literally, with E.T.'s favorite palette]:
Graphics like this seem more like posters promoting an idea than tools for understanding complex data.
Of course this one being ordered by Mozy should trigger some warnings about it being a covert ad, but it does not detract from the potential veracity of the data.
This one is admittedly quite simple, but should we discard all infographics on the merit they're not of Tufte level?
Can you really? I work with video every day. Terabytes are nothing when we're talking HD content and lots of it. It's still pretty hard for me to visualize, even sitting at a system with the details up in front of me, what exactly a petabyte is. Let alone hundreds of thousands of them.
It's like asking an average person to visualize a trillion dollars. There exists a point once a quantity becomes sufficiently large that you tend to stop consciously processing it.
-edit, realize this sounds really snarky, it's not. I am legitimately curious how you quantify that much stuff.
In text it states that Hitatchi came out with the first terabyte drive which holds 1000 GB. Later, in graphic form, it shows 1024 GB = 1 TB.
In the Internet Users by millions chart the author uses a bar graph (time is continuous, why use a bar graph) with no x-axis labels and then to express hard drive price over time we get a line chart (still no x-axis label). The missing labels are okay because there are callouts specifying the dates, but the change in graph type is weird.
As for Hitatchi creating a 1TB drive that holds 1000GB, but later stating that 1TB is 1024 GB, isn't 1 terabyte technically 1000GB which the hard drive companies use, but also frequently used—incorrectly—to reference 1024 GiB or 1024^4 bytes? This other number, 1024GiB is actually a tebibyte, not a terrabyte. They are technically incorrect, but from the standpoint of the majority of the population, the difference between a terabyte and a teribyte is just small print on the back of box. The infographic could be clearer, but honestly, do you think this detail is worthwhile for trying to show the scale of what a petabyte is? That is what, a 5% difference in size? I think that is, when looking a petabyte. If I did my math correctly, there is 50GB of loss (or is that GiB?)
In the end, they are trying to show that a petabyte is a fuck-ton of data. More data than many people can wrap there mind around. They are trying to show scale. How you define the numbers are complicated because we have SI units for both binary and decimal which don't match up and IEC units for the binary side as well. The average consumer isn't going to know or care. They could care that a petabtye is HUGE. The infographic portrays this without trying to bog the consumer down in differences in technical jargon that most of use technical people know but don't bother using correctly ourselves most of the time.
Does your "infographic" add clarity? If no, it's not an infographic.
Does your "infographic" actually use data? If no, it's not an infographic.
Does your "infographic" communicate more compactly than a paragraph or a spreadsheet? If no, it's not an infographic.
Does your "infographic" tell a story or make an argument? If no, it's not an infographic.
Basically, infographics are yet another one of those academic things that got subverted by marketers in service of the masses. Now that they have a different audience, it's a lot harder for them to hold onto their original identity of "a piece of tri-fold cardboard at the science fair".
Lurie links to Mark (Mapstone?) who, also, complains about infographics. I'd like to take a shot at how they could make better infographics. Especially a graphic by Mashable Infographics about the 1.8 zettabytes of data produced every year.
The "1.8 zettabyte"-graphic from Mashable shows a lot of (meaningless) comparison, but absolutely no causality. Imagine if they instead talked about all the different sources of information, adding up to the enormous quantity of 1.8 zettabytes. Like the amount of video uploaded to YouTube everyday, the number of Tweets and there size in gigabytes per day, the increasing number of cameras being bought, growth on Wikipedia and probably many more.
Side note: are you serious about people paying for this?
I contribute to a site that does a lot of interactive visualizations and works with artists that do more static infographics.
Because we display them time to time we get massive amounts of email from companies that paid to have an infographic made (usual on a subject not related to their biz) and slap ads on the bottom. I've never posted one and can't for the life of me figure out why any legit business (maybe that's my answer) would do that.
The data part seems to be the biggest thing people fail to understand. If you don't have compelling data or the graphic doesn't lend itself to understanding the data... then what's it for?
I think they're hoping it'll "go viral". And they pronounce that with the quotes.
It might be the greatest piece of info design ever, but it will draw less attention than a lame "infographic".
I think "Infographics" have huge potential, just like blog slide shows do. Both are universally reviled by "serious" thinkers, but are incredibly popular. I see them revealing a need for more condensed, actionable information, not a scourge. There is signal in that noise.
If you don't need the information that it conveys, there's no reason for you to study it. If you do want the information, then you'll take the time necessary to understand it.
To me, if your graphical elements are running the show in a conference presentation setting or in a newspaper, you're already doing something wrong. Those aren't the right media for infographics (well, newspapers would sometimes find them useful).
Don't conflate media unnecessarily. If you need something flashy, make something flashy. If you need something informative, make something informative. Don't repudiate something meant to be flashy for being uninformative, nor something meant to be informative for being insufficiently flashy.
He may not be your cup of tea but he's certainly not the cheap PR stunt kind of internet marketing guy (I'm not sure you're insinuating that, just wanted to let folks who are interested in web marketing topics that he's worth paying attention to IMO).
I'm seeing more and more of this kind of article on HN recently. Solid blogger or not, if I had a penny for every "$current_trend sucks" screed posted here and frontpaged, I'd be retiring by now.
Honestly, it gets old hearing people complain about everything under the sun after a while. (And I say this as someone who complains a hell of a lot on his own blog, but then again I've never been posted here..)
Did we really need a breathless blog article to tell us that some infographics suck? Stop the presses!
Isn't the quoted statement from your comment a "$current_trend sucks" statement? I guess you see the need to decry some current trends, just as all of us do from time to time.
I guess what I was getting at is that seeing the same thing over and over again tends to get old.
I recall reading a good article on it a while back, but oddly enough, "SEO infographics" is now a sufficiently desirable niche that there are junk infographics just waiting to take your call.
Self respecting graphic designers won't create these awful "info graphics"
The problem is you can't know if they're worth your time until you actually spend the time to look at them.
Yes, but at some point what each one calls something stops, and they have to face objective reality.
Now, if you were talking about bad syntax/grammar/spelling, a blinking grey font over a white background, or something like it, yes, we could count that as "attention to detail". But not reading an article because of a mismatch with the title and it's URL (which isn't even targeted at humans) is an attention to useless detail, i.e to a triviality. I don't think there are "ifs and buts" about it.
>And your remark about OCD is offensive.
I'm sorry for that. But it could also be true. And those kinds of things are a sure-fire sign.
In which case, would it be less offensive (because it would then be just an observation) or more (because it would be tactless to point it out)?
Then again, I was trying to defend the article (which I found quite good) from a non warranted attacked over something less than a typo.
(Not that it's a big deal, I have some myself).
Well, other people sometimes are in the right on telling you to consider useless what they consider useless. For example, if someone tells you to consider "creationism" useless, they would be right. It's not like everything is a matter of personal choice --or that they just say it to impose their arbitrary opinion.
Same here, it's not like anybody else would have found the "url/title mismatch as a reason NOT to read an article" reasonable.
(We've ventured too far off into off-topic land, but what the hell)
>I'm just glad that the OP gave an actual answer... rather than just ridicule me.
And doesn't he being that kind make you regret suggesting people drop his article for a trivial typo?
If I had actually suggested that people not read the article then, yes, I would regret that. Fortunately, I did not do that. Instead I said why I did not read the article. Perhaps you find that distinction trivial. That is fine. But I do not.