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Making good infographics great for a stronger case

publication date: Mar 26, 2012
 | 
author/source: Janet Gadeski
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The Calgary Foundation turned mountains of data into compelling visuals in its 2011 publication, Calgary's Vital Signs. Yet despite the high-impact presentation of what would normally be dry, eye-glazing statistics (reviewed here), their creator doesn't consider them to be true infographics. Designer Rick Thomas of Juice Creative calls them "illustrated facts."

"True infographics" go even further

True infographics, he says, are based on larger data sets gathered over time to demonstrate trends. And they're interactive - visit http://fathom.info/fortune500/ or http://visualization.geblogs.com/visualization/kitchen/ to see infographics that interactively plot thousands of data points and allow users to choose how they're presented.

Looking into the future for The Calgary Foundation, Thomas dreams of portraying larger data sets, perhaps comparing pollution or energy footprints across many cities, internationally or even globally. "Then you start to see a comparison," he enthuses. "We're talking about how to get the richness of a large dataset so we can compare ourselves to Stockholm, for example. That's how questions and dialogue can be generated."

Ethics of graphics

Thomas warns of the ethical considerations that arise when facts are turned into pictures. "Infographics can bend the truth," he cautions. For example, the core idea of the Occupy movement - that 1% of the population in North America controls most of the wealth - can be powerfully reinforced or disproven by two vastly different, but equally inaccurate infographics. Take a look at this example for the kind of data misrepresentation that Thomas criticizes.

"They're not objective," he says. "Someone's filtering that information and deciding how to plot it." Meaningful infographics are objective and purely factual.

Starting small

Small nonprofits with limited resources may not be able to create the highly interactive infographics that Thomas admires. But they can certainly illustrate their facts economically by using in-house computer programs that turn data into colourful bar graphs and pie charts.

Always remember, he counsels, that razzle-dazzle illustrations themselves are meaningless. They must serve the larger purpose of engaging donors, and for that, you must have meaningful data.

"‘This many dollars this year compared to this many dollars last year' isn't meaningful to a donor. You must have data showing how many people went through programs and how many lives were changed with those different amounts. You want to tell a story," Thomas urges. "If you don't have a good story, infographics won't help. Content is king."

Contact Juice Creative at 403-245-2123.



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