Good, Bad and Ugly Infographics – How to Tell the Difference
We all know that infographics are the in, cool thing to do.
Create a simple, compelling graphic and everybody will “get” your story. Customers love them. Marketers and PR folk love them. Media love infographics — sometimes so much that they’ll use whatever image that marketing/PR teams give them.
But don’t let the love fest fool you — great infographics are as rare as great blogs or great press releases, and they require the same kind of strategic decision-making.
What is our story? And what is the most powerful way to tell it?
One of the best infographics I’ve seen in a long while, $2 Trillion Reasons Why We Love Telecom, comes from Razorsight, a specialist in cloud-based analytics solutions that uncover revenue leakage for telecom operators and make them more profitable. Why I like this work:
- Targeted Audience: From the outset, the infographic clearly targets operators and the media and analysts who follow them.
- Upbeat Opening: Gets my attention by revealing the huge scope of the industry and its pivotal role in contributing to global economic growth.
- Saying Something We Didn’t Know: Carrier profitability is undermined by billing errors that annually cost the companies $460 billion in lost revenue.
- Makes a Point: Razorsight can fix that problem and has a track record, to date helping clients eliminate $400 million in “revenue leakage.”
I didn’t mind the last point at all, even though it’s a straightforward pitch. Razorsight has provided a helpful infographic that scopes the industry and points to that market’s promising future, but also reveals a little-known problem that telecom companies need to address. I like that they provide the solution. It rounds out the story — and it’s a good one with big heroes, treasure, a bad guy adding drama, his undoing by a white knight, and a happy ending. If I were a journalist, I’d be delighted that Razorsight has done all the work for me.
Of course, not everyone is a Michaelangelo or Leonardo of infographics.
We’ve seen published work that appears Dadaist or surreal in origin — the message is abstract and hard to fathom, or conveys a message the artist did not intend — as in the case where the New York Times published an image that looks like a cross-section of a septic tank. Still others prefer the exquisitely detailed (some would argue “crowded”) style of Pieter Bruegel the Elder, known for packing each canvas with thousands of images, each telling its own story as part of broader theme only the artist can fathom. An infographic in the current Business Week strikes me as Bruegelian. Initially, at least, my eye wanders all over the image in search of the meaning.
Going to the opposite extreme, a handful of graphic artists are so dedicated to simplicity that they forego text altogether and rely strictly on images. The progenitor of this pre-verbal innocence in infographic communications is the famous Pioneer Plaque cruising the universe affixed to a deep-space exploratory vehicle. The plaque, designed for extraterrestrials who might one day find Pioneer, shows a nude man and woman waving in friendship, and the location of earth in the solar system and our galaxy. The idea is to show we’re friendly and how to drop by. Of course, for all we know, creatures from the Planet Gog might see different messages, perhaps like:
- “Hi, we’re your new neighbors. Mind if we take a dip in your pool?”
- “‘Bye now — we’re off to the tanning salon.”
- “We work for DirecTV and we’re here to fix your satellite dish.”
Great infographics never confuse the audience or leave them in doubt. They use simple, high impact images that drive home the accompanying text. They tell a good story, and build toward a climax. In short, they have a point and make it — simply and with economy of design.
Jim Crawford is the president and founder of Crawford PR. In Crawford blogs, he offers hard-earned perspective on public relations for the tech and broadband industries.