First, a word about terminology.
Data visualization, information design, infographics,
graphics, visuals, illustrations etc. are terms often used
in ways that overlap. No single definition is used
consistently by those who create these products.
Some use the term infographics to mean a subset of
data visualization, and others restrict the phrase data
visualization to its own category.
No matter what they are called, however, all
visualizations rest upon theoretical foundations.
Two of the leading theorists are Edward Tufte and Nigel
American statistician and professor emeritus of political
science, statistics, and computer science at Yale University. He
is noted for his writings on information design and as a
pioneer in the field of data visualization.
His books on analytical design have received more than 40 awards for content and
design. The next few slides discuss his views about data visualization from the
second chapter of The Visual Display of Quantitative Information.
Tufte coined the term
chartjunk to refer to
useless, non informative
pictorial representations of
data that oversimplify,
obscure, or distort
Data Rich Visualizations
Tufte advocates complex data rich visualization such as
this example that plots data points in the damage to the O-
ring that caused the Challenger disaster. His point is that
visualizing data in this way helps us interpret what is
significant about the data.
Tufte uses this graphic from the statistician FJ Anscombe to
demonstrate this point. The quartet Anscombe graphs consists
of four sets of data that have identical simple statistical
properties. They are, however, very different when graphed.
As Tufte points out, the key take-away here is that graphics do
not simply represent the numerical data in visual form, they
reveal what the data means.
Tufte also uses this early example of a data
map to explain how visual representations of
data solve vexing problems.
In 1854, Dr. John Snow plotted the location
of deaths from cholera in London for
September in 1854.
By analyzing the scatter of dots (which
marked deaths), Snow observed that cholera
occurred almost exclusively among those
who lived near (and drank from) the Broad
Street water pump (circled on this map).
With this information, he ended the
epidemic that had killed over 500 people.
Nigel Holmes is one of the first information designers to
bring data visualizations to general audiences. He worked at
Time magazine creating explanation graphics. His
visualizations explained complex topics to mainstream
audiences. He is often viewed as the anti-Tufte (more on
Explanatory Graphic by Holmes
How bar codes work.
Holmes expanded the use of visual elements to tell other types of
stories such as this explanation of “two mindsets.” His graphics
use icons, design elements, and visual metaphors.
Tufte vs. Holmes?
Although Tufte and Holmes are often viewed as having
opposing views, I think their theories are simply
pointing out different data visualization concerns.
When creating your infographic, keep both of their
following concerns in mind.
Tufte is concerned that some visual elements can
encourage oversimplification of the data in ways
that obscure or distort its meaning.
Sometimes decorations can help
editorialize about the substance of the
graphic. But it's wrong to distort the data
measures—in order to make an editorial
comment or fit a decorative scheme.
Holmes is concerned with making complex
information more easily understood and
retained by the audience.
Too much illustration gets in the way of
the information; too much reliance on
abstract data can leave the reader
floundering in a sea of lines and
Watch David McCandless talk about visualizing data.
Definition of an Infographic
Information graphics or infographics are graphic visual
representations of information, data or knowledge intended
to present complex information quickly and clearly.
The process of creating infographics can be referred to as
data visualization, information design, or information
Infographics are not posters.
Posters are designed to be printed and displayed on walls.
The goal is to catch the eye of the person passing by them.
Scientific Posters vs. Infographics
A scientific poster is designed to be next to a researcher at a
conference or in a hallway next to a laboratory and attract
viewers’ attention as the viewer walks by them.
The audience for scientific posters have often have very high-
levels of technical expertise.
Infographics are designed for the web.
Their aim is to make
easier for audiences to
And because they are
designed for the web,
many are often longer
to assist scrolling.
A common ratio of
width to height is 1:4.
Often this complexity is best conveyed in
an interactive infographic.
This infographic demonstrated how oil leaked from the engine of a Boing 787, raising
concerns about the plane’s safety. Engineers and scientists are increasingly involved in
creating such infographics. Even if they do not create them, engineers and scientists
work with others to convey this information visually.
To see how the interactive infographic works: view it here.
Aaron Koblin visualized flight pattern data.
His time lapse videos help us
understand the complexity of
these traffic patterns, and
how difficult air-controllers
You can view his work here.
Expert Audiences: many data visualizations are for
audiences with a high level of scientific or engineering
expertise who need new ways to interpret complex data.
Not all infographics visualize data.
Explanation-type infographics often do not contain
data or, if they do, the data is not the main point.
Infographics often visualize data for audiences with
low-levels of technical expertise.
For this project, you your aim is to
create this type of infographic.
It doesn’t need to be complex nor
does it need to tell a huge story.
It does need to visualize the data in
an interesting and non-standard
And that data must tell a story. Here
the story is showing pre-vaccine
deaths compared to most recent.
This infographic was created by
one of my former students.
She used PowerPoint, customized
the page size, and adapted a
PowerPoint theme to create it.
Notice how the data is emphasized
and text is at a minimum. That’s
your goal for the data infographic,
but how much of a data story you
tell is up to you.
A particular slide catching your eye?
Clipping is a handy way to collect important slides you want to go back to later.