What Is an Infographic? What They Are and Why They’re Useful

What is an infographic? Though the popularity of the infographic has risen dramatically in the past few years, we still commonly receive questions about the various terms used to describe this field of design. Data visualization, information design, visual content, and infographics are just some of these terms, and the confusion is understandable. Many of the labels thrown around are not only overlapping but also open to individual interpretation.

As an agency with a decade in the infographics game (and a book to boot), we’re here to demystify the term for you and give you the understanding—and language—to help you explore this exciting medium.

What Is an Infographic?

Well, let’s start with the word itself. “Infographic” is a portmanteau of the words “information” and “graphic.” In essence, an infographic is a form of visual communication meant to capture attention and enhance comprehension. In this era, “infographic” has become the broadest descriptor of a specific type of visual communication that includes graphics showing data, copy, or both. You’ve probably come across infographics in magazines, online, or on the wall at your doctor’s office.

Example: This educational infographic for the American Heart Association is an overview of atrial fibrillation. 

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The word “infographic” has experienced a meteoric rise in popularity over the last decade, largely due to the use of this medium for both branded and editorial content on the web. But as the buzz surrounding this word has grown, so have the arguments about the real answer to the question, “What is an infographic?” There are many schools of thought, but we believe the term should remain open and inclusive as the medium evolves.

What Types of Infographics Are There?

While there are many different presentations of infographics, there are three general categories that infographics can fall into:

  1. Data visualization
  2. Information design
  3. Editorial infographics

Each serves its own purpose and can be a powerful storytelling tool—when applied properly. Let’s explore the difference between them.

1) Data Visualization Infographics

Data visualization is, simply, a visual representation of data. We consider it an artistic science, as it uses design aesthetics to increase data comprehension, synthesis, and ultimately recall. Whether you’re looking at meta patterns or single data points, data visualization translates that data into a visual language you can easily and instantly understand.

In the age of big data, this is especially important. We need to both make sense of numbers and be able to easily share the story they tell. To see how and why data visualization is so powerful, take a look at this video. (If you’ll note, we did indeed create a video that visualizes the power of data visualization—case in point.)

Now, want to see the power of data visualization at work? Take a look at the data visualization below.

Example: You probably don’t speak Italian, but you can likely decipher the information presented in this graphic by Francesco Franchi. This illustrates why data visualization is the most interesting and universal way to make information accessible and understandable to a wide audience.

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In application, the practice of data visualization is the most numbers-heavy—and typically is what a purist would describe as a “true” infographic. But, as with all infographic design, the display method is rooted in the context and desired message.

You may be familiar with data visualization in the form of basic charts and graphs.

Example: This GOOD infographic features classic data visualization in the form of bar charts, pie charts, and graphs. 

what is an infographic charts

Traditional data visualizations tend to be more complex, as they often are attempting to display a great number of data points. In some cases, though, data visualization graphics functionally serve only as art pieces, if no specific message can be extracted.

Example: Reddit user andrew_elliott created this stunning data visualization of his baby daughter’s sleep habits.

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When properly executed, however, they should be both beautiful and meaningful, allowing the viewer to decipher data and recognize trends while admiring its aesthetic appeal. (To dive deeper, learn more about why you should embrace the power of data storytelling.)

2) Information Design Infographics

Information design is a subset of graphic design that focuses on the display of information efficiently and effectively. It’s a broad category, encompassing many functional design disciplines.

It differs from data visualization because it is not made from specific data points but rather concepts or other information, such as process, anatomy, chronology, or hierarchy.

Example: This piece of information design by GOOD compares prison food to school lunches.

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Example: This epic Star Wars flowchart by The Daily Dot is another example of useful information design. 

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In your day-to-day life, you may encounter information design in the form of flowcharts, organizational diagrams, or timelines, clarifying structure and order in a way not possible solely using text. Instructional diagrams, anatomical illustration, and some applications of cartography would also fall under this label.

Example: This map by AppliedTrust uses geographic information design. 

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For information design, the goal is to use design to communicate a message that is both clear and universal.

3) Editorial Infographics

Although major publications have been featuring infographics for decades, there is a shift in the style and type of visual content they are producing. This trend has also been spurred by the rise of social. Infographics have become highly shareable content, so publications are embracing the medium to better engage readers.

Previously, editorial infographics were limited to simple bars, lines, and pie charts, using illustration solely in more complex features to map an area or show the anatomy of an object.

Example: A classic editorial infographic from USA Today. 

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But there has been a dramatic increase in the number of publications utilizing graphic content to replace more traditional editorial features.

Example: A GOOD Magazine infographic on gun ownership.

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This adoption has also spread into the commercial sector, with many start-ups and larger corporate blogs using graphic content or “charticles” to display thought-leadership within an industry and bring attention to their site.

Example: This editorial infographic by Upwork gives hiring managers insight into how to hire in the tech industry. 

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While some of these infographics can cross the fine line over to advertorial, the good ones do not. The value of editorial content is best realized when providing interesting insight from uniquely informed sources.

This doesn’t mean that infographics aren’t an incredibly valuable tool in marketing. They are, but they are most powerful and effective when they present an editorial narrative vs. a branded message. (For more on that, explore how infographics can benefit brands.)

Infographic Design Styles

Regardless of the content or data depicted—editorial or branded—infographics are more flexible than ever in terms of their design format. There are more ways to tell your story through infographics than ever before, but the most common formats are:

  1. Static infographics
  2. Animated infographics
  3. Interactive infographics

Again, each has their own unique benefit. The story you’re telling, as well as the platform you’re using to tell that story, should influence what format you choose.

1) Static Infographics

These are the simple infographics you’re probably most used to seeing. These can include line art, illustration, photography, papercraft, and more. These are often best used to accompany blogs, articles, brochures, print, etc. Even though static infographics don’t “move,” there are ways to mix up your design style. Here are 7 infographic design styles to try if you’re looking to experiment.

Example: This static infographic by Jive is a useful piece of content marketing, easily shared online or published alongside thought leadership. 

what is an infographic static

2) Animated Infographics

Animated infographics are, as their name implies, animated. You may recognize these as GIFs of infoGIFs. They are particularly engaging if you want to grab attention, making them ideal for use on social (where you want to stand out in someone’s content stream). They can also be used to enhance online articles, tutorials, etc.

Example: This animated infographic by Can Capital looks at how small businesses are adapting to tech. 

what is an infographic

If you want to experiment with this format, here are 3 ways to turn your static infographics into animated infographics.

3) Interactive Infographics

Interactive infographics are infographics that require some sort of action or input from the viewer. These are best utilized for large data sets, where a simple static infographic wouldn’t be able to tell the story sufficiently. With interactive infographics, the viewer can either explore data at will, or be guided through a contained narrative.

Example: The interactive data visualization we created for Northwestern University of Qatar turned a staggering 10 million cells of data into an easily navigable experience. 

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For more, find out how interactive infographics can tell your story and how to choose the right format for your data story.

How to Start Creating Infographics

When talking about infographics, we need to acknowledge the room for change and growth. Design is inherently about using innovation and imagination to provide clarity, and so infographics will continue to evolve over time. We just hope that as they do, creators will maintain a commitment to quality and integrity in the medium.

In the interest of accomplishing this, we always want to provide useful resources to help you create effective infographics. If you’re inspired to start a new project, here are a few things that might help:

Of course, if you need a little help creating your own, we’re happy to chat.