How is Data Visualization Different From an Infographic?
We are always looking for new and better ways to relay information—to our coworkers, our clients, and our customers. A quick scroll through social media websites will often find dozens of images utilizing visual means to relay statistical data. What, exactly, is the difference between data visualizations and infographics? For now, there really is no clearly defined answer. Many of the visual elements used in data visualizations can and do extend into infographics, and vice versa, leading to confusion and even debate about how exactly to classify either. One of the more popular answers to the question goes something like this:
Data visualization is exactly how it sounds: it takes data of some variety, and represents it in a visual way. This can be via chart, some type of graph, 3D rendering, a map, or some combination. Its primary goal is to present the data to the viewer in a clear, meaningful manner; it is not necessarily trying to convince the viewer of anything, it is primarily meant to inform. Infographics are similar in that they often incorporate many types of data visualizations—for example, an infographic may contain a pie chart next to a map. The difference is that rather than focusing on the data itself, the data is only a part of the whole. Text is used in conjunction with the data visualizations to bring multiple parts of the overall story together, tying them in with the message the creator is trying to convey. They are intended to be persuasive, not only giving the user access to visual data, but also utilizing that data to bring him or her to the intended conclusion about the information presented.
As an example, data visualization about pet ownership might include a pie chart representing a surveyed ratio of cat owners to dog owners. Another data visualization may include a map of the United States, with certain areas colored differently to highlight pet ownership preferences from state to state. Both data visualizations give the viewer information about pets, but an infographic can tie the two together, including text to illustrate which states might be best for an entrepreneur to consider opening a new boutique dog clothing store.
Types of Data Visualization
Charts / Graphs
Charts and graphs are two of the most popular visual tools used today. The words “chart” and “graph” are often used interchangeably, and usually represent the same types of visualizations. Few people typically enjoy trying to contrast and compare spreadsheets full of numbers to determine trends or bottom lines. A chart cleans all of that up and tries to make that data more understandable, even to those who are unfamiliar with it. Anyone who has ever had to be involved in giving a presentation has likely utilized some type of chart to help relay information. Pie charts are one very common type of chart used, and many of us typically utilize a stock chart on a daily basis to keep us an eye on the market. There are many other varieties: column, bar, doughnut, radar, scatter, surface, line, area, and bubble charts.
So long as human beings have existed on this planet, we have been trying to make maps. They help us understand not only what things look like from afar, but also where we live in relation to everyone and everything else. Using a map for data visualization purposes can be one of the best ways of covering geographic areas without bogging down the viewer with text. Depending on the map, you can obtain information about the whole world—or you can get a snapshot of information about a tiny town. Maps aren’t just for getting directions—many people use them to help identify any number of differences from country to country, or state to state. From political tendencies to population shifts, from educational rankings to unemployment percentages, maps can be extraordinarily important tools in our lives.
As technology has expanded, so has our ability to create meaningful data visualizations. This is a process that involves giving a two-dimensional image the appearance of three dimensions—adding perceived depth. There are different types of renderings, including scanline rendering, radiosity, and ray tracing. 3-D renderings can often grab and keep a viewer’s attention more easily than a standard, “flat” data visualization.
Types of Infographics
Flow charts are diagrams that typically ask the viewer a series of questions. These questions are often visualized in little “bubbles” or text boxes, and are connected by different lines. As the viewer makes decisions about the questions being asked, their eyes move from question to question, “flowing” down the chart, until they arrive at the conclusion given. Flow charts are excellent infographic tools to engage the viewer because they don’t just encourage but require the viewer to make multiple choices. It is interactive, rather than static.
A timeline is a visual representation of any given period of time, including any important things that occurred within that period of time. They can include just a few minutes worth of time, or can stretch back into the earliest known dates of history. You would be hard-pressed to find a history textbook that did not include at least one timeline in its pages. Rather than giving the student a laundry list of dates and events to memorize, a timeline is often used to give a visual sense of what happened when. Timelines aren’t just for textbooks, though—they make remarkably versatile infographics.
One of the best contrast-and-compare infographics available today, the “versus” presents the viewer with two different, yet related, sets of data. It is presented in a way to allow the viewer to easily visually hop from one data set to the other, comparing and contrasting “this” vs. “that, back and forth. Versus infographics can be excellent tools for highlighting the benefits of one product against its competition. They can also be perfect for helping identify the difference between two closely related objects or concepts that are otherwise easy to confuse with one another.