5 tips to manage 3 important issues

1. When do infographics add value?
2. How to confirm that an infographic’s information can be trusted.
3. What are the ropes to skip when preparing or sharing an infographic?

This post builds on an earlier one I wrote in August 2011 where I asked, what makes a great infographic? There, I noted:

“The question is, can viewers see the overall shape of the data more easily and quickly with infographics than any other visual aid? Most infographics fail this acid test.”

Things sure have changed since then. One major challenge has been big data, of which have increasingly more. Unfortunately, we are therefore also more vulnerable to misinterpreting information, which in turn leads us to make the wrong decisions.

These days, running a poll on Twitter or a survey with an online tool is quick and easy. Nevertheless, how one frames the question – see Scottish referendum – can affect responses. The British competition authorities have a 39-page guide on framing questions correctly. They are concerned about ‘acquiescence bias’.

Here respondents fail to challenge assumptions implicit in a question, such as, Did you do some physical exercises today?, which implies that you should have done so. Instead they recommend adding something like, Did you do some physical exercises today or did you not do any? Such clunky questions require giving the subject two response options:

1. I did not do physical exercises today, or
2. Yes, I did physical exercises today.

These type of questions lead to more robust results. Without robust data, answers needed for our questions are on shaky ground. In turn, making smart decisions could be a sheer impossibility (see Guest Poster Karen Dietz’ Storied infographics: Why do they fail?).

Here are five tips to reduce the risk of wasting ink and time by producing a rather useless infographic.

Tip 1: Actions speak louder than words

People often say one thing but do another. For instance, Jeff Bullas re-posted an infographic on his blog. In the post, one is advised to always give credit to the original poster
(see below).

But does Jeff Bullas follow his own rule? Nope. Nowhere can a hyperlink be found to the original post with this infographic. Bullas is in great company, though. Most blogs that re-posted this infographic failed to give credit where credit is due. But you have to, especially if you consider yourself an authority on your subject.

Where is the added value of this infographic compared to a table?

Where is the added value of this infographic? Would a table have done a better job?

Tip 2: Make it easy for your readers

As the above example illustrates, sometimes graphics are hard to find. Instead, a string of words is added to some graphic elements.
The question we always need to ask:

Is the information we have best suited to an infographic?

CLICK - The turnover rate in the control group was 47.2 percent higher than that of the individual identity group, and 16.2 percent higher than that of the organizational identity group. And turnover was 26.7 percent higher in the organizational identity condition than in the individual identity condition.

The MIT Sloan Management Review did not think so about the above information, but the table also illustrates that, if done well, infographics can do much to clarify the keypoints of a study for the uninitiated.

Tip 3: Trust but verify

President Ronald Reagan told President Mikhail Gorbachev that the SALT Treaty they both signed in Washington, DC would need to be verified. Always verify that the links posted in the bottom of an infographic work before republishing it. For instance:


The above link (listed under sources in the infographic above) did not work for me. To minimise such errors:

a) use a URL shortener, or
b) give a short link to where you found the data.

After some digging, I found the post that the above misspelled URL should have led to:


The lesson here? Long URLs increase the chances of a typing error if a reader wants to go check things out. Something a reader should do, before believing or re-posting the data.

Tip 4: Check your numbers

Based on the above link issues, I wanted to read the 12 pointers about how to use Pinterest as a business from Jackie Raiford.

“Jackie is a graduate student studying Conservation Biology at Antioch University in Keene. She is the Social Media Specialist at ParagonDigital.”

She tells us what she thinks works or not on Pinterest. It sounds very useful and sensible, but I cannot tell whether it is based on data or just her opinion. Do you want to invest several thousand dollars each month in your social media officer?

Because, as Jackie rightfully suggests, that is what it means if this is properly managed. Your expert will spend several hours each week posting the right things and engaging with fans and clients on Pinterest. That does not come cheap, does it?

Another interesting issue in the same vein comes up when the graphic below is studied a bit more carefully. For instance, do the city character and real estate values correlate? What is city character, exactly? How do you measure it? Are commuting times in London or Mumbai a factor?

Sure, Savills got great PR out of this graphic – we will definitely get a repeat performance in 2015, and the FT managed to fill more than a page based on this graphic. Singapore and Moscow have few high rises and high real estate values, while New York has many skyscrapers and also has high real estate values. So what have we learned? That there does not seem to be a trend!

This is an example of an infographic – produced by a reputable firm and published by a highly esteemed newspaper – whose merit should be questioned by readers and editors alike.

CLICK - Are population size, persons per hectare, number of buildings over 150 metres, and density/building height USEFUL indicators that HELP us measure the city's urban identity? Or even a city's character? I think what we have here is #BigFail, lack of #Usefulness, #SmallData

Tip 5: Spell out your methods

As we have seen, experts often post some tips while suggesting that doing the same will also lead you to success. In other cases (see above), the infographic insinuates a causal relationship where there seems to be none.

These things can be done correctly. For instance, in the research below, weather data was used to learn how it might correlate with restaurant reviews. In combination with thousands of restaurant evaluations from thousands of patrons across the country, the authors concluded that bad weather leads to more negative reviews.

The difference is that this study is not a quick and dirty exercise. It uses a thoughtful definition of the issue being investigated. Second, time, effort and financial resources were spent collecting the data. Such studies are not done in a week or two (see below).


Experiments are best conducted in the lab. Field studies should try to control for certain variables, such as the day and time tweets were posted.

Bottom line

We all use simple visualization techniques for quantitative or qualitative analysis, which does not mean we analyze data for its own sake. Instead, we want to make informed decisions, so we analyze our data to gain an accurate and thorough understanding. Almost all effective visualization of quantitative or qualitative analyses are two-dimensional, X-Y axis type visual aids, such as bar or line graphs, and scatterplots. We want an overview, so we zoom in and filter, then study the details.

However, if the details are not to be trusted, visualization may result in more confusion that clarity. To illustrate, you may start with a table to allow the reader to get an overview (see DrKPI Blog Benchmark).

DrKPI Blog Benchmark shows how to improve content marketing for Barclays Wealth Blog and foster more dialog with target audience

DrKPI Blog Benchmark shows how to improve content marketing for Barclays Wealth Blog, to foster more dialogue with its target audience.

The above table gives you an overview with lots of information in context (e.g., country and same industry). Once you dig deeper, graphics get added.

These must be designed to display content easily, without wasting ink. UNFORTUNATELY, more often than not, infographics are a string of words. Through dazzle and a splash of color we may want to convey more than our data permit. That means we are trying to snowball our audience or at least wasting their time.

If we look again at the images above, the US map is relatively simple. Nonetheless, it conveys a lot of information. Also, the table about onboarding at Wipro (see earlier above) conveys interesting findings in non-technical language to managers. Both images use little if any color but add a lot of insight for the reader.

Better safe than sorry – buyer beware

Infographics may offer much color and splash. Nevertheless, their data may be boring or less valid and reliable in comparison to quality work. Keep that in mind.

So before giving away the farm, use the 5 tips in this blog post to check things out. Is trusting an infographic you found advisable? It could be based on invalid data riddled with bias and therefore make you look stupid if you re-tweet or post it to your blog!

Lots of collor and images - but where are the numbers

Lots of color and images – but where are the numbers?

What is your opinion?

– Have you recemtly found an infographic you liked? Please share the link!
What do you recommend doing FIRST when putting together an infographic?
– What other recommendations would you make?

I love to read your comments below and look forward to answering them. Merci.

Source: Can infographics show you the money? 


Bakhshi, Saeideh, Kanuparthy, Partha, and Gilbert, Eric (April 7, 2014). Demographics, weather and online reviews: A study of restaurant recommendations. Paper presented at the 23rd International World Wide Web Conference, in Seoul, South Korea on April 10. DOI 10.1145/2566486.2568021 Retrieved April 6, 2014, from http://labs.yahoo.com/external_publication/2014/02/27/32842/

Cable, Daniel, M.; Gino, Francesco; and Staats, Bradley, R. (March 2013). Breaking them in or eliciting their best? Reframing socialization around newcomers’ authentic self-expression. Administrative Science Quarterly, Vol. 58(1), 1-36 DOI: 10.1177/0001839213477098. Retrieved May 27, 2014, from http://d26f1zbt4c3e98.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/Reframing-socialization-research.pdf

Easier summary article: Cable, Daniel, M.; Gino, Francesco; and Staats, Bradley, R. (March 2013). Reinventing Employee Onboarding. MIT Sloan Management Review, Retrieved May 28, 2014, from http://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/reinventing-employee-onboarding/

Few, S. (2011). Data visualization for human perception. In Mads Soegaard and Rikke Dam (Eds.), Encyclopedia of human-computer interaction. Retrieved September 30, 2014, from http://www.interaction-design.org/encyclopedia/data_visualization_for_human_perception.html

Few, Steven (2009). Now you see it. Oakland, CA: Analytics Press. See http://www.analyticspress.com/nysi.php

Gattiker, Urs E. (July 9, 2012). Why do infographics fail? ComMetrics Blog. Retrieved September 30, 2014, from http://commetrics.com/articles/2012-ultimate-guide-for-marketing-part-1/

Schrage, Michael (September 3, 2014). Learn from your analytics failures. Harvard Business Review – Blog Network. Retrieved September 4, 2014, from http://blogs.hbr.org/2014/09/learn-from-your-analytics-failures

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11 replies
  1. Francois Benner
    Francois Benner says:

    Great detailed post!
    Here is one of my favorite infographic: http://ow.ly/Cp5PK

    The first step before you even start designing an infographic is to have
    – ONE strong structure with
    – significants data.
    Both, of course, relevant to your target audience!

    Then use extravagant style and use bold colours!

    • Urs E. Gattiker
      Urs E. Gattiker says:

      Dear Francois
      Thanks so much for taking the time to comment
      I love your two points

      – strong structure, with
      – statistically significant data…..

      Naturally, unless it is relevant for your target audience it is simply useless.
      The infographic you link to is of course interesting, since it addresses hashtags.
      I was wondering though, if it uses not as Flew says “a splash of ink … where maybe none is needed?”

      The original of the infographic I found here: http://www.social-media-team.de/die-geschichte-des-hashtags/

      What you think too much ink or just right…. It is probably a preference issue and I am maybe a bit too conservative :-)

      Thanks Urs

      • Gerry
        Gerry says:

        Super post
        I checked the info graphic

        I like your point about not wasting any ink… Tufte brought that one up a long time ago.
        I find Francois’ example great but for me it wastes a lot of ink to bring across its message.
        But maybe I am too minimalistic on this issue.
        I wonder what Francois thinks about this.

        • Urs E. Gattiker
          Urs E. Gattiker says:

          Dear Gerry
          Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. I really appreciate this.
          Francois states below:
          “… in this case a personal preference….”
          So as you can see…. it is a point of preference and tase. But sometimes, I think I cannot get the message at first glance. For me a good infographic helps me understand complex things easier than without a picture.

          Most infographics fail this acid test.

      • Francois Benner
        Francois Benner says:

        As you say.. too much, or just right… in this case a personal preference. It’s important to give some kind of uniqueness to the infographics.

        The bird’s-eye view of the infographic is also important, as the images are quite big and this is the (over)view you may see once posted onSocial Media networks.

        • Urs E. Gattiker
          Urs E. Gattiker says:

          Thanks for stopping by again and explaining your viewpoint further. Yes I agree with you, size is an issue especially if people want to share on Pinterest and other networks.
          But many infographics come and go….. few stay with us for a while. Such infographics are usually based on really great data. The latter we come by with good research which takes time, resources and great skill.

          I look forward to see more of these great infographics and continue to make a big circle around splashes of color that communicate little insight.

  2. Urs E. Gattiker
    Urs E. Gattiker says:

    For your convenience I copied here: the Xing Group Discussion about infographics and numbers.

    Friederike Gonzalez Schmitz – 30/09/2014, 8:57 pm
    Hello back,
    I think most importlanty “compelling data” counts. To attract as many readers as possible, it makes sense to have a good/ viral title.
    Best regards,
    Read more…

    Urs E. Gattiker Prof. Dr. Urs E. Gattiker PremiumModerator – 30/09/2014, 9:16 pm
    Compelling data and a good headline / viral title.
    Merci for the feedback.

    Urs E. Gattiker Prof. Dr. Urs E. Gattiker – 05/10/2014, 10:44 am
    Often we post graphics like the one below where as a reader I wonder.if these are needed:
    1. Is all this ink needed to communicate my message?
    2. Does the infographic withstand scrutiny?
    Read more…

    Urs E. Gattiker Prof. Dr. Urs E. Gattiker – 05/10/2014, 5:27 pm
    Praise from an expert…. but I wonder what is missing in my blog post.
    Please add your thoughts http://blog.drkpi.com/show-me-the-numbers-1/

    Tilmann Schaal Tilmann Schaal – 08/10/2014, 3:33 pm
    Hello everybody
    yes the data itself counts – however the data has to be relevant for the audience. That’s where a catchy headline comes in as well as a creative and meaningful visualization…
    For the ladder, check a new book reviewed at Wired: http://www.wired.com/2014/10/behind-scenes-look-infographics-made/?mbid=social_fb#slide-id-1542551
    Imageserver?op=get image&url=http%3a%2f%2fwww.wired.com%2fwp content%2fuploads%2f2014%2f10%2finfographic howto ft.jpg&error url=%2fassets%2fcommunities%2ficn link nopreview
    A Behind-the-Scenes Look at How Infographics Are Made | WIRED
    It’s been said that we’re living in the golden age of data visualization. And why shouldn’t we be? Every move we make is potential fodder for a bar chart or line graph. Regardless of how you feel about our constant qu…

    Urs E. Gattiker Prof. Dr. Urs E. Gattiker – 08/10/2014, 6:22 pm
    Read the comments to the above Post from Francois and others.
    ===> http://blog.drkpi.com/show-me-the-numbers-1/#comment-301
    Discussion about using too much or just right amounts of ink…. Danish minimalism
    Imageserver?op=get image&url=http%3a%2f%2fblog.drkpi.com%2fwp content%2fuploads%2f2014%2f09%2f2014 09 30 barclays bank blog needs overhaul to improve influence.png&error url=%2fassets%2fcommunities%2ficn link nopreview
    5 tips for using your infographic smartly
    Use an infographic when you can better and more easily convey data than with a table or text. Most infographics fail this acid test.

    Urs E. Gattiker Prof. Dr. Urs E. Gattiker – 09/10/2014, 9:12 am
    Thanks for this great comment. I wrote a reply in our blog to your comment. Here is a summary:
    “Thanks so much for this link to the Wired review. I went and looked of course. And then I found another book that was really interesting as well from these two authors:
    Raw Data – ==> http://www.thamesandhudson.com/Raw_Data/9780500517451
    Read more…
    Thames & Hudson Publishers | Essential illustrated art books | Raw Data | …
    A detailed look at the creative and analytical process of visualizing complex data, shown in works by over 60 international designers

    Tilmann Schaal Tilmann Schaal – 09/10/2014, 2:10 pm
    Thanks for the additional research. Regarding the validity of data, here’s kind of a heretical statement: Is there any false data out there, that should be relevant? ;-)

    Urs E. Gattiker Prof. Dr. Urs E. Gattiker – 15/10/2014, 3:30 pm
    Dear Tilmann
    Not really :-) Data can be reliable but not valid …. so it could be the incorrect data but still be relevant to our audience… kind of :-)
    We hope to have valid and reliable data that is of interest to our target audience, of course.
    Thanks fos sharing.

    • Urs E. Gattiker
      Urs E. Gattiker says:

      Dear Edoardo

      Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving this comment. Yes I like visual.ly myself. Although the challenge remains, are the data we have good and does the figure explain more than 1,000 words.

      Often, how people apply these tools makes things more complex and often confusing than they need to be.

      Thanks also for leaving your list of tools, useful for readers.

      Have a great day.

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