Why I hate infographics

Like my title, they suck in their current incarnation

If you ask my friends, they’ll probably tell you that I hate a lot of things. So many. I hate little yippy dogs. I hate Two and a Half Men. I hate when people inject fucking cursing into situations where it isn't necessary.

One of the things I hate on a rational level, though, are infographics. I think they’re overdone and overrated, and that in terms of conveying information, we can do so much better.

I’m going to say upfront that I’m not writing this because I want infographics to go away. In fact, quite the opposite: I want everybody to think in terms of infographics. There is so much data out there, beautiful, powerful data that can change the world if it can make its way to the right people. But its confined to this:

This is a table in latex. Sorry for any PTSD I may have induced

Infographics are GREAT. They present information clearly and cleanly. They aren’t boring. The graphs actually make sense. Just so everybody knows, I’m referring to these:

Typical infographic from Flowtown: http://www.flowtown.com/blog/the-new-marketing-trifecta

Colorful, chock full of relevant information, and, in a weird way, fun.

Compare to this:

Bad infographic from Storagemadeeasy: http://storagemadeeasy.com/

The colors are flat, the information is linear and inaccessible, and most importantly, the bunnies are irrelevent. They’re there simply for—ahem—fluff.

There’s one problem, though: the top one still isn’t good enough. When it comes to the whole point of an infographic, its highest ideal, the proverbial all it could be, it’s lacking.

At its core, an infographic conveys information visually. I think it’s a common misconception that information = data. Information is not simply a series of data points; it comprises (as we saw above) color, images, and words.

What was missing, though, was soul. So what? 97% of US households use email, and 66% of marketers are integrating social media with their e-mail marketing campaigns. SO WHAT.

So if you don’t keep up, you’re going to be left behind. If you’re in the C-suite, you’re going to see angry investors. If you’re in R&D, you’re going to be churning out shitty products that nobody needs. If you’re in marketing, you’re not doing your job.

Nobody ever bought a product based on a data point. Look at the iPhone. Every year its processor is xx% faster and xx% smaller, but all you need to know is that it lets you do the things you need to do faster than before. When the display PPI (pixels per inch) went from 163 to 363, it became the Retina display. People bought it for the story, they bought it for Apple’s heritage of ruthless engineering and finesse-driven design, they bought it because it was cool, because it was revolutionary, because if they didn’t, they would be left behind.

So how do you build a story around your data?

At the base you need a few things:

  1. Good data
  2. Good design sense

Once you’ve got those, you need to start thinking about different kinds of support you can bring in. One of the greatest lines I’ve ever heard was:

An image or a quote can be just as convincing as a data point, sometimes even more so.

So for Flowtown, I would toss in this quote from Katy Keim, CMO of Lithium Technologies

“There is no excuse anymore, when you consider the simplicity and sophistication with which marketers can monitor social customer experiences, engage and build communities around the brand, and clearly measure business value using tools like Lithium provides.”

I would also put in a little case study in Bonobos’ customer service, which uses live chat, a ridiculously active Facebook, and freaking ninjas to convert lifelong customers and brand ambassadors.

So there you have it: why I hate infographics as they stand today. I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed.

As an aside, it should be noted that most companies are not seeing much return from their investment in social media and that Big Data seems to be the new Holy Grail of customer segmentation.