- Information graphics
Information graphics or infographics are visual representations of
information, dataor knowledge. These graphicsare used where complex information needs to be explained quickly and clearly Doug Newsom and Jim Haynes (2004). "Public Relations Writing: Form and Style". p.236.] , such as in signs, maps, journalism, technical writing, and education. They are also used extensively as tools by computer scientists, mathematicians, and statisticians to ease the process of developing and communicating conceptual information.
Today information graphics surround us in the media, in published works both pedestrian and scientific, in road signs and manuals. They illustrate information that would be unwieldy in text form, and act as a visual shorthand for everyday concepts such as stop and go.
In newspapers, infographics are commonly used to show the weather, as well as maps and site plans for newsworthy events, and graphs for statistical data. Some books are almost entirely made up of information graphics, such as
David Macaulay's The Way Things Work. Although they are used heavily in children's books, they are also common in scientific literature, where they illustrate physical systems, especially ones that cannot be photographed (such as cutaway diagrams, astronomical diagrams, and images of microscopic or sub-microscopic systems).
Modern maps, especially route maps for transit systems, use infographic techniques to integrate a variety of information, such as the conceptual layout of the transit network, transfer points, and local landmarks.
Traffic signsand other public signs rely heavily on information graphics, such as stylized human figures (the ubiquitous stick figure), icons and emblems to represent concepts such as yield, caution, and the direction of traffic. Public places such as transit terminals usually have some sort of integrated "signage system" with standardized icons and stylized maps.
Technical manuals make extensive use of diagrams and also common icons to highlight warnings, dangers, and standards certifications.
prehistory, early humans created the first information graphics: cave paintingsand later maps. Map-making began several millennia before writing, and the map at Çatalhöyükdates from around 7500 BCE. Later icons were used to keep records of cattle and stock. The Indians of Mesoamericaused imagery to depict the journeys of past generations. Illegible on their own, they served as a supportive element to memory and storytelling.
Christopher Scheinerpublished the "Rosa Ursina sive Sol" which used a variety of graphics to reveal his astronomical research on the sun. He used a series of images to explain the rotation of the sun over time (by tracking sunspots).
William Playfairpublished the first data graphsin his book The Commercial and Political Atlas. The book is filled with statistical graphs that represent the economy of 18th century Englandusing bar charts and histograms. In 1801 Playfair introduced the first area chartin "Statistical Breviary".
1861 saw the release of a seminal information graphic on the subject of
Napoleon's disastrous march on Moscow. The creator, Charles Joseph Minard, captured four different changing variables that contributed to the failure, in a single two-dimensional James Joseph Sylvesterintroduced the term "graph" in 1878 and published a set of diagrams showing the relationship between chemical bondsand mathematical properties. These were also the first mathematic graphs.
The development of a visual language in the 20th century
Otto Neurathintroduced a system of pictographsintended to function as an international visual or picture language. Isotype included a set of stylized human figures which were the basis for the ubiquitous modern stick figures.
Isidore Isoupublished the Lettristmanifesto.
Munich Olympicswere the venue for Otl Aicherto introduce a new set of pictogramsthat proved to be extremely popular, and influenced the ubiquitous modern stick figuresused in public signs.
Also in 1972 the
Pioneer Plaquewas launched into space with the Pioneer 10probe. Inscribed into the plaque was an information graphic intended as a kind of interstellar message in a bottle, designed by Carl Saganand Frank Drake. The message is unique in that it is intended to be understood by extraterrestrial beings who would share no common language with humans. It depicts a picture of a man and a woman standing in front of a simplified silhouette of the probe in order to give a sense of scale. It also contains a map locating the sun relative to a number of pulsars, and a simplified depiction of the solar system, with the probe's path from earth into outer space shown with an arrow.
Information graphics subjects
Information graphics are visual devices indended to communicate complex information quickly and clearly. The devices include, according to Doug Newsom (2004), charts, diagrams, graphs, tables, maps and lists. Among the most common devices are horizontal
bar charts , vertical column charts, and round or oval pie charts, that can summarize a lot of statistical information. Diagrams can be used to show how a system works, and may be an organizational chartthat shows lines of authority, or a systems flowchartthat shows sequential movement. Illustrated graphicsuse images to related data. The snapshots features used every day by "USA Today" are good examples of this technique. Tablesare commonly used and may contain lots of numbers. Modern interactive maps and bulleted numbers are also infographic devices.
Elements of information graphics
The basic material of an information graphic is the
data, information, or knowledgethat the graphic presents. In the case of data, the creator may make use of automated tools such as graphing software to represent the data in the form of lines, boxes, arrows, and various symbolsand pictograms. The information graphic might also feature a key which defines the visual elements in plain English. A scale and labelsare also common.
Interpreting information graphics
Many information graphics are specialised forms of
depictionthat represent their content in sophisticated and often abstract ways. In order to interpret the meaning of these graphics appropriately, the viewer requires a suitable level of graphicacy. In many cases, the required graphicacy involves comprehensionskills that are learned rather than innate. At a fundamental level, the skills of decodingindividual graphic signsand symbolsmust be acquired before sense can be made of an information graphic as a whole. However, knowledge of the conventions for distributing and arranging these individual components is also necessary for the building of understanding.
Interpreting with a common visual language
In contrast to the above, many other forms of infographics take advantage of innate visual language that is largely universal. The disciplined use of the color red, for emphasis, on an otherwise muted design, demands attention in a primal way even children understand. Many maps, interfaces, dials and gauges on instruments and machinery use icons that are easy to grasp and speed understanding for safe operation. The use of a rabbit and a turtle icon to represent fast and slow, respectively, is one such successful use by the
John Deerecompany on the throttle of their tractors.
A statistician and sculptor,
Edward Tuftehas written a series of highly regarded books on the subject of information graphics. Tufte also delivers lectures and workshops on a regular basis. He describes the process of incorporating many dimensions of information into a two-dimensional image as 'escaping flatland' (alluding to the 2-dimensional world of the Victorian novella " Flatland").
The work done by Peter Sullivan for The Sunday Times in the 1970s, 80s and 90s, was one of the key factors in encouraging newspapers to use more graphics. Sullivan is also one of the few authors who have written about information graphics in newspapers. Likewise the staff artists at
USA Today, the colorful United States newspaper that debuted in 1982, firmly established the philosophy of using graphics to make information easier to comprehend. The paper received criticism for oversimplifying news and sometimes creating infographics that emphasized entertainment over respect for content and data, sometimes referred to as chartjunk. While worthy of much of this derision, its role in establishing infographics as a practice cannot be ignored. Nigel Holmesis an established commercial creator of what he calls "explanation graphics". His works deal not only with the visual display of information but also of knowledge - how to do things. He created graphics for "Time" magazine for 16 years, and is the author of several books on the subject.
Close and strongly related to the field of information graphics, is
information design. Actually, making infographics is a certain discipline within the information design world. Author and founder of the TED (conference), Richard Saul Wurman, is considered the originator of the phrase, "information architect", and many of his books, such as "Information Anxiety", helped propel the phrase, "information design", from a concept to an actual job category.
While the art form of infographics has its roots in print, by the year 2000, the use of
Adobe Flash-based animations on the web has allowed to make mapping solutions and other products famous and addictive by using many key best practices of infographics.
Likewise, their use in television is relatively recent, for in 2002, two Norwegian musicians of Röyksopp issued a music video for their song
Remind Methat was completely made from animated infographics. In 2004, a television commercial for the French energy company Arevaused similar animated infographics and both of these videos and their high visibility have helped the corporate world recognize the value in using this form of visual language to describe complex information efficiently.
A picture is worth a thousand words
Graphic image development
List of information graphics software
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