The appeal of visual information & infographics

As the old saying goes, "A picture is worth a thousand words."

Word cloud

Word cloud


A RECENT STUDY BY MICROSOFT* says today's typical reader has a shorter attention span than a goldfish. That's right, in a world saturated with information, people have become notoriously picky about what's worthy of holding their interest. Failure to immediately engage the reader too often means a lost opporunity.

Well-designed infographics help cut through the deluge of clutter by quickly communicating facts and statistics in visually compelling ways. They can simplify a complicated story and transform an otherwise tedious subject into engaging, useful and memorable information.

The ups and downs of stock prices make a great example of how complex information can be made visually intuitive and easy to understand. Simply listing figures in a table requires readers to carefully analyze and compare the numbers to identify trends. Alternately, plotting them onto a fever chart can bring life to those numbers and make their relevance more easily understood.

Fever Chart

Infographics also play a double role as artistic elements, and they attract reader attention in much the same way as photographs. A gray, visually intimidating article about facts and figures can be made more approachable by including an informative and attractive infographic.

This past winter, I created the following infographic on ice fishing safety for the Society of Conservation Information. Instead of writing an article on how thick ice must be to support anglers and equipment, I condensed it all into an easy-to-understand infographic. In the two weeks after posting it to Facebook and Twitter, at least 220,000 people had seen or shared it when the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources used it.

Ice thickness graphic
Ice fishing safety infographic created for the Society for Conservation information (Download free PDF)
Ice thickness infographic
Ice fishing safety infographic created for the Society for Conservation Information (Download free PDF)

We're all familiar with basic pie charts and bar graphs, which are really just simple infographics. Exported directly from a spreadsheet, these graphics can be a bit rough. With a little help from a designer and Adobe Illustrator, those numbers can be converted into a work of art that will double and triple readership.

Okay, so not all of us are graphic designers or have easy access to a designer. Fortunately, options exist that non-designers can turn to. Many of these options are inexpensive or, even better, free.


For those preferring to build things from scratch (with a little help), both Shutterstock.com and iStockPhoto.com sell low-cost infographic kits. These packages containing symbols, drawings and other basic elements that can be mixed, matched and modified to create custom infographics. If you would rather hire a designer to create a custom infographic, consider shooting me an email.

If you really want to know more about what makes great infographics, I highly recommend Edward Tufte's classic book, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information.

* Link to external article: You now have a shorter attention span than a goldfish

Cory Maylett

Cory Maylett

I'm a proponent of developing practical solutions to communication problems through good design. My career has included newspapers, magazines, books, websites, corporate branding and typefaces.