“Infographics” are very useful, and a new book shows you how to design them. “The Power of Infographics,” by Mark Smiciklas, $24 from Que Publishing takes us through it with lots of illustrations.
Infographics refers to the visualization of data. It’s not new and it can be done in a number of ways. What is new is the computer’s ability to do it quickly with lots of choices. You see it in newspapers and magazines all the time. In its simplest form it can be a graph of monthly changes in car sales shown as stacks of cars. In more complex situations, visualizing the structure of molecules in a new way led to a breakthrough in understanding organic chemistry.
The author doesn’t pretend the idea of mixing words and pictures is brand new. He says Egyptian hieroglyphics are a kind of infographics. (He’s wrong about that; hieroglyphics are text, not a pictorial representation of what happened.) In more modern times, Florence Nightingale used bar and pie charts to help convince Queen Victoria to improve conditions at hospitals.
A good example of a modern infographic is the weather page in your newspaper, showing hot and cool regions, rainfall and other conditions in an easily viewed form. (In August, nearly the whole U.S. map was blazing red.) Infographics are used in ads, resumes, Facebook pages, websites, timelines, sales charts, you name it.
The book isn’t long enough to explain how to use software to create an infographic, but it does give you the design principles for making a rough sketch. The author suggests a number of programs, some free, some not: Gimp, Gliffy, Hohli, SmartDraw, Microsoft Publisher and “Smart Art,” built into Microsoft Word. For quick results with very little learning curve, we suggest using a greeting card program like Greeting Card Factory from Nova Development. It may sound stupid, but it’s useful.
Here are some of good infographic sites:
- InformationIsBeautiful.net. Click “visualizations” and take a look at the “Billion Dollar O Gram,” showing how money is spent worldwide. The big purple square is the $3 trillion dollars spent on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. By the way, that’s 20 percent of our gross national product.
- DailyInfographic.com has a new one every day. We looked at “Life Hacks,” with its dozens of tips, like putting your closet hangers in backward once a year and then giving away the clothes your haven’t turned around a year later. And … on many elevator systems you can get a nonstop ride by holding the “door close” button and the floor number button at the same time.
- Visual.ly is one of the largest infographics communities on the web and has tools for creating your own.