Skip to content

Infographics sound like they are new but they’ve been around for at least a century. Florence Nightingale used them to make the case for better sanitation for British soldiers during the Crimean War.

Infographics work because they tell effective visual stories. Nightingale’s report on sanitation ran to more than 800 pages. Her illustrations aimed to make sure that no one could be in any doubt about her central finding – preventable diseases were causing more deaths than combat.

Why do infographics work?

Because we’re a visual species. Half of our brain is tied up with visual processing. We can assess and give meaning to an image in a tenth of a second. Humans are just hard-wired for decoding images. And that’s why you’re seeing more and more infographics in books, newspapers and, especially, on the Web.

Infographics are in the sweet spot where visual storytelling overlaps with data journalism. They reduce what might be complex ideas to something visual and usually far more friendly than text.

But there’s another crucial aspect of infographics that isn’t so widely discussed – they are particularly effective in social media when used as the post image for two reasons:

  1. Attention-seeking behaviour: They distinguish your social posts from other posters’ lazy use of stock photos
  2. Trust-signalling: They suggest that you’ve taken the trouble to make your content digestible and thus that the viewer can trust you not to waste their time

Online everyone is impatient. And they hate accounts that waste their time. That’s why infographics score in social media streams – they draw attention and they suggest the underlying content will be well thought through.

In my time at the World Economic Forum, social posts with some kind of an infographic did 5x better than those with the more common stock photos.

What types of infographics are there?

There are many styles to choose from. They range from the very simple to the artist-designed. And one thing I’ve learnt is that often simplest is best.

  1. The league table
  2. The pie chart
  3. The timeline
  4. The map