How Not to Use Illustrations and Infographics

Illustration of how not to use infographics and illustrations.

In our last installment on bad visuals, we talked about the dangers of relying on crummy stock photos. This time, we’re talking about bad and confusing illustrations — like cartoons, charts, graphs, and everyone’s new favorite, infographics.

It’s no wonder that health communicators (including us) love illustrations. Good ones can make your point more elegantly and directly than text alone. People tend to retain information better when it’s presented visually, too.

But they can go so, so wrong.

[Disclaimer: We’ve probably all created a bad illustration at some point in our careers. You know, people in glass houses and all that… But let us pick on a few in the name of health literacy.]

The Diuretic Water Slide

We’re pretty sure the message here is: A California Raisin is giving out tickets to yellow peanut M&Ms that are climbing and sliding through your innards, thereby giving you hairy, swollen, purple feet.

Air measles

The takeaway here is that nose-fired arrows can shoot through polka dots to your boyfriend’s nose.

Not all bad illustrations are confusing. Many of them just don’t need to exist. They may look fine at first glance, but then…

Okay, are all the cities really “DISASTER CITIES”? And who says that a score of above 69 is acceptable when measured in, uh, unspecified disaster preparedness units (UDPUs)? Why did this need to be infographic, anyway? It didn’t.

Infographic about phone use

When all you’ve got is 2 numbers showing a boring 10% difference, spice things up by adding some extra lines, a meaningless x-axis, and 4 different colors. Voila — argyle!

Heed these examples, dear readers. People expect that illustrations will help them understand what you’re talking about, so don’t make them try to understand nonsense.

A bad illustration is more than a distraction — it can undermine what you’re trying to communicate. All it takes is a pie chart of percentages that don’t add up to 100 to confuse your readers. They’ll scratch their heads and move on without understanding your message.

The bottom line: Don’t toss in illustrations or infographics because everybody’s doing it. Use them carefully — and make sure they communicate your message clearly.